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Types of Research Design: A Complete Guide

If you’ve just enrolled into the Ph.D. degree program, you might have little idea about research design.

Research design is actually a research technique and methods framework that the researcher has to choose to conduct their dissertation study.

Let’s face it!

Have you ever imagined working on anything without an adequate plan? Probably not. Be it an assignment, research paper, essay, or anything else, we all need an adequate plan to research the given topic. We all have some strategies and tactics in our minds to collect, thoroughly study and evaluate the data.

In academic terminology, it’s called the research design. This design helps us address the topic and come up with a logical and consistent model for data analysis.

In this blog post, we are going to tell you in detail about all the research designs that exist and how you can choose one for writing your PhD dissertation.

If you want to learn how to choose the right research design

What’s the Purpose of Research Design?

Developing a research design enables you to make choices regarding:

  • Your overarching research goals and approach.
  • Your methods for collecting data.
  • Your sampling methods or the criteria for selecting participants.
  • Whether you will utilize primary research or rely on secondary research.
  • Your data analysis techniques.
  • The protocols you will adhere to when gathering data.

Types of Research Design

The research design can be broadly divided into two major types;

  • Quantitative Studies
  • Qualitative Studies

Quantitative Studies

In quantitative studies, all the data collection and analysis take place in numerical forms. It relies on numbers and statistics rather than assumptions and predictions.

Quantitative research design can be further broken down into four sub-categories;

  • Descriptive Research Design
  • Correlational Research Design
  • Experimental Research Design
  • Quasi-experimental Research Design
Quantitative Research Design Description Example
Descriptive Research Design  

  • Descriptive research design focuses on presenting current conditions, behaviours, or characteristics.
  • It gathers information systematically without changing any variables.
  • The researcher’s role is solely to collect data and not intervene.
  • The primary feature is describing the situation as it exists.
  • It does not explore relationships among variables or their potential causes.

Conducting research on a group of students to understand their study habits, such as the amount of time they spend studying, preferred study locations, and study materials used. This design aims to describe these habits without changing them or exploring why students have these particular habits. It provides a snapshot of the existing conditions.

Correlational Research Design



  • Correlational research measures relationships between two or more variables without manipulation.
  • It’s chosen to determine and quantify the associations between variables.
  • This method is useful for assessing if changes in one variable coincide with changes in another variable.

Investigating the relationship between the frequency of smartphone usage and academic performance among college students. By collecting data on students’ smartphone usage hours and their grades, researchers can determine if there is a correlation between increased smartphone usage and lower academic achievement without intervening in their behaviours.

Experimental research design


  • Experimental research design assesses causal relationships between variables.
  • Researchers manipulate independent variables and measure their impact on dependent variables.
  • Involves two primary variables: dependent and independent.
  • Focuses on cause-and-effect connections between variables.
  • Requires continuous observation of both variables’ responses under various conditions.
  • Commonly used in psychological and social research to study human behaviour.

Experimenting to examine the effect of a new drug on reducing blood pressure in patients with hypertension. They would randomly assign participants into two groups: one receiving the new drug and the other a placebo. By measuring and comparing the changes in blood pressure levels between the two groups over a specified period, researchers can determine whether the new drug has a significant and causal impact on lowering blood pressure.


Quasi-Experimental Research Design


  • Quasi-experimental research design identifies causal relationships.
  • Researchers use existing groups or pre-existing conditions.
  • Comparison groups are formed without random assignment.
  • Valuable when random assignment isn’t possible, often due to practical or ethical reasons.
  • Allows for larger-scale research and more statistically powerful results.

Investigating the impact of a new teaching method on student performance. Instead of randomly assigning students to groups, they might compare the outcomes of students in different schools, with one school implementing the new method and the other using the traditional approach. This approach helps assess the effectiveness of the new teaching method while respecting practical constraints and ethical considerations.


Descriptive Research Design

Descriptive research design, as the name suggests, concentrates on presenting the current state of conditions, behaviours, or characteristics by systematically gathering information without altering any variables. In other words, the researcher does not intervene; their role is solely data collection.

The key defining feature of this research design is its exclusive emphasis on describing the situation as it is. In simpler terms, descriptive research design does not investigate potential relationships among different variables or the potential causes behind those relationships.

Correlational Research Design

The correlational research method is a commonly chosen approach by researchers who aim to determine and measure the relationship between two or more variables without any manipulation. In other words, this research design is useful when you want to determine if changes in one variable tend to occur alongside changes in another variable.

Experimental research design

This type of research design is employed to assess causal relationships between variables. Researchers manipulate or change one or more independent variables and measure their impact on the dependent variable(s). Thus, experimental research design encompasses two variables: a dependent variable and an independent variable.

The relationship between these variables is determined by the cause-and-effect connection between them. This research entails continuous observation of both the dependent and independent variables, documenting their responses to each other under various conditions.

This research design is particularly useful for studying human behaviour, which is why it is commonly employed in psychological and social research.

Quasi-Experimental Research Design

Quasi-experimental research design is employed when the research goals include identifying causal relationships, but random assignment of participants to different groups is either not feasible or undesirable, often due to practical or ethical reasons. In such cases, researchers rely on existing groups or pre-existing conditions to create comparison groups. Quasi-experimental designs remain valuable in research contexts where random assignment isn’t possible and can often be conducted on a larger scale than experimental research, leading to more statistically powerful results.

Qualitative Studies

In the field of qualitative studies, there are numerous research design types available. However, here we will narrow our focus to explore four prominent designs:

  • Phenomenological Design
  • Grounded Theory Design
  • Ethnographic Design
  • Case Study Design

Qualitative Research Design

Description Example

Phenomenological Research Design


  • Explores real-life experiences and how individuals perceive them.
  • Aims to understand people’s viewpoints, emotions, and actions in specific situations.
  • Seeks to uncover the essence of human experiences without imposing preconceived ideas.

Investigating the experiences of first-generation immigrants adapting to a new culture. Through in-depth interviews and analysis, the researcher seeks to understand the immigrants’ personal viewpoints, emotions, and challenges during the acculturation process, allowing for a deeper exploration of their lived experiences in their new cultural context.


Grounded Theory Research Design


  • Develops theories by continuously analysing and comparing data from many participants.
  • Utilizes an inductive (bottom-up) approach, prioritizing data-driven insights over existing theories or researcher biases.

Conducting research on workplace dynamics might begin by collecting employee interviews and systematically analysing emerging themes, ultimately generating a theory on how organizational culture shapes employee satisfaction. This approach allows theories to evolve organically from the data rather than being imposed beforehand.


Ethnographic Research Design


  • Focuses on studying culture within its natural context.
  • Aims to understand behaviours, beliefs, and values.
  • Emphasizes natural settings over controlled environments.
  • Requires extended researcher immersion, observation, and field note-taking.
A researcher might live with a remote tribe to understand their cultural practices, observe daily rituals and engage in interviews to gain deeper insights into their way of life. This approach allows for a holistic understanding of the culture and social dynamics within it.
Case Study Design


  • Investigates a single individual or a specific group.
  • Aims for a comprehensive understanding of experiences, behaviours, or outcomes.
  • Offers in-depth exploration within a well-defined context.
  • Contrasts with designs using larger sample sizes.

Investigating individuals with a rare psychological disorder. Researchers would collect data through interviews, observations, and psychological assessments to gain a deeper understanding of the person’s unique experiences and the effectiveness of various treatment approaches. This case study approach can contribute to our knowledge of rare conditions and inform therapeutic interventions.


Phenomenological Research Design

Phenomenological design involves exploring the meaning of real-life experiences and how individuals perceive them. This research design aims to understand people’s viewpoints, emotions, and actions in specific situations. Here, researchers aim to uncover the essence of human experiences without assuming or imposing preconceived ideas on their subjects.

Grounded Theory Research Design

Grounded theory, also known as “GT,” aims to develop theories by continuously and iteratively analysing and comparing data collected from a relatively large number of study participants. It takes an inductive (bottom-up) approach, focusing on allowing the data to speak for itself without being influenced by existing theories or the researcher’s preconceived ideas.

Ethnographic Research Design

Ethnographic design encompasses the observation and study of a community of people who share a culture within their everyday surroundings, with the objective of understanding their behaviours, beliefs, and values. The emphasis lies in observing participants in their natural settings rather than in controlled surroundings. Typically, this requires the researcher to spend an extended duration with the participants in their environment, making careful observations and recording field notes.

Case Study Design

In the case study research design, the researcher examines a single individual or a specific group of individuals to acquire a comprehensive understanding of their experiences, behaviours, or outcomes. In contrast to research designs that focus on larger sample sizes, case studies provide an in-depth exploration of the particular circumstances related to a person, group, event, or phenomenon, typically within a well-defined setting or context.

Final Words

In conclusion, understanding the various types of research design is essential for researchers to select the most suitable approach for their specific research questions and objectives. The choice of research design plays a pivotal role in shaping the success and impact of research endeavours across diverse fields and disciplines.


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