Five Research Design Tips
Good research happens by design. That is one of the reasons we enjoy writing research proposals. Writing proposals is an exercise in research design, which is the place and time where you must think in strategic and smart ways about what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. You must do it, that is, if you want your research to be any good.
How do we begin the research design process to ensure incisive and smart research that really helps our clients answer their critical questions? Here are five key elements of the process for us, which we offer to you as tips for your own success when launching an internal research effort:
1. Focus on the questions that need to be answered, not on research methods.
It is tempting to start the research process by saying “I need a survey about toothpaste preferences” or “We need focus groups about our advertising message.” A critical first step in research design is to separate the business questions from the methods that will be used to answer them. (Need help? See our recent article on this topic, The Art of Asking Questions.)
2. Consider how the research will be used.
Sometimes research findings are for internal strategic insight, while other times they are needed for communications and public release. Whom you include in your sample, the kinds of questions you ask, and the answer scales you choose all depend on who needs to see the results, and how they will use them.
3. Know what is known.
By this we mean that you must do your homework, because many aspects of a problem are likely known from other research, or could be answered easily with existing data. Good research will build upon what is known, rather than replicating it.
4. Play with opposites.
If your first impulse is to conduct a survey, consider what would happen if you did qualitative research instead. And vice versa. We recently conducted a powerful conjoint study that started out as an idea for focus groups, until the client realized how compelling it would be to have a mathematical model of preference. The findings from this research informed a crucial and profitable decision for the company, and was deliberated at the highest executive levels in the company.
5. Plan all steps.
Write a full plan for all steps of the research process, including sampling, questionnaire design, fieldwork, data collection, timing, budget, analysis, and reporting. Believe it or not, every one of these steps will affect the questions you will want to ask in your research, and how you will ask them.
We’re serious when we say we love writing research proposals. It’s because we love designing research, which is where brainpower and high level expertise add significant value. Need help? We’ll write one for you. Or, if your current project is strictly do-it-yourself, call us anyway and we would be happy to offer ideas and tips.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.