Social Research

Fourth edition

by Sotirios Sarantakos

Chapter 5 - Research Design

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Educational objectives
After completing this chapter, you will:
  1. have knowledge and a critical understanding of the structure and elements of the research design;
  2. be able to construct a research design in quantitative and qualitative research;
  3. have an understanding of the need for and justification of systematically planned research studies;
  4. be able to distinguish between the various designs of research in general, and between the different types of design within qualitative research in particular;
  5. be in a position to assess the value, relevance and suitability of a research design.


  1. The research process
  2. Design and execution of research
  3. Research design in quantitative research
  4. Research design in qualitative research
  5. Research design in critical research
  6. Examples of research designs
  7. Designing your project

Points to remember

The following are the major points introduced in this chapter. Ensure that you are very confident with their meaning, content, context and significance.
  1. The research design is presented in the form of a well thought out and systematic model.
  2. Researchers speak of conceptual frameworks, research process, and research models, when referring to research design.
  3. Research is assumed to progress in a set of steps that are executed in a prescribed order.
  4. The use of a research model guides research planning and action and brings many advantages to the research project.
  5. The steps of a research model are the choice of the research topic and methodology, methodological construction of the topic, sampling, data collection, data analysis and intrerpretation, and reporting.
  6. The methodological construction of the topic entails an accurate definition of the research topic, exploration, operationalisation and formulation of hypotheses.
  7. Sampling refers to the selection of the participants and of the methods of data collection and analysis, as well as to arrangements of administrative procedures.
  8. Data collection entails decisions and action regarding the collection of the information required to address the research question.
  9. Data analysis entails grouping, presentation, processing and interpretation of the findings.
  10. Reporting refers to the process of publication of the findings.
  11. Qualitative research does not adhere strictly to the rules described above. Nevertheless, some form of a model is employed in this type of research.
  12. Overall there are fixed and flexible research designs.
  13. Grounded theory research falls within the parameters of qualitative research.
  14. Grounded theory perceives research units as autonomous units, sees scientific interpretation of reality as the work of an artist, sees continuity from everyday thinking to scientific thinking and assumes openness of social scientific formation of concepts.
  15. Grounded theory employs three analytical techniques; this are open coding, axial coding, and selective coding.

Short-answer questions

Answer each question carefully (there is no need to write down the answer). Consult your Social Research text when your memory fails you or when you are in doubt about the accuracy of your responses.
  1. What are the basic assumptions about employing a research design in social research?
  2. What is the purpose of a research design?
  3. List five major decisions that are usually made during the planning of a research design.
  4. What are the major steps of the research design?
  5. Why is it necessary that a decision is made early in the study about the research methodology to be employed in the project?
  6. How different are the research designs employed by qualitative and quantitative researchers?
  7. List three major differences between the research designs employed by quantitative and qualitative researchers
  8. Is grounded theory 'grounded'? What does 'grounded' mean in this context?
  9. Give a clear description of what is meant by grounded theory.
  10. What are the central criteria of grounded theory?
  11. List the main procedures and elements of grounded theory research.
  12. What is meant by 'concept-indicator model' in grounded theory?
  13. Describe the nature and types of coding as employed in grounded theory.
  14. What are 'key categories' in grounded theory research and how are they developed?
  15. Explain the structure, process and purpose of theoretical sampling.
  16. What is 'saturation', how does it work and how useful is it for social research?
  17. Describe the nature, types and purpose of theoretical memos.

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Practical exercises

  1. Assume you are researching husband abuse in London. You have adequate resources to investigate this family issue and you are ready to begin the project.
    a) Show the steps of your research design, if you were to employ a quantitative methodology.
    b) Show the steps of your research design, if you were to employ a qualitative methodology.
    c) Explain the major theoretical and methodological differences between these two models and their advantages and disadvantages.
  2. Following the path described in the previous example, construct the research design that is appropriate to study attitudes of same-sex couples in a small country town.
  3. Using grounded theory research, devise a research design to study the views of Anglican clergy on the ordination of women. Explain how such research will begin and what kind of decisions have to be taken to make this project possible.