Research 101: An Introduction to Research Approaches

Research 101: An Introduction to Research Approaches

 Dr. Niall McElwee, MD & Senior Editor, Dissertation Doctor’s Clinic



There are several goals to undertaking research. The research process has been conceptualised as requiring the researcher to respond to five key questions which include

1          Why do you want to do this particular research?

2          What is your research question?

3          Who are the subjects you want to study?

4          Where do you do the study?

5          How are you going to collect & analyse the information needed to answer your research question?

1          The Why?

This question related essentially to purpose. Quite simply, is the research theoretical, or is it practical, or is it both?

2          The How?

Here, we get into the dynamic debate surrounding what have, very often, been presented as two entirely opposing philosophies of research method. On the one hand, there is the scientific method (or quantitative methods) and, on the other, we have qualitative methods.

3          Where to carry out the research?

Often, this requires a decision to be made between:

1          Research laboratory; analogue studies; or

2          Natural setting; field research

4          Research designs

 There are two basic research designs with a third used also:

  • Cross sectional (referred to as between subjects/groups designs)

Most research designs are cross-sectional – they are ‘snap-shots’ taken at one point in time. Here, all data is collected once approximately at the same point in time. Each participant contributes responses on variables once.

            2          Longitudinal (referred to as within subjects/groups designs)

Longitudinal designs aim to track groups or cohorts of people over relatively long periods of time. Here, data is collected at two or more points in time where each participant contributes data at each data collection point. It could be months or years apart – as has been done on the very successful ‘Child of Our Time’ series on BBC.

A third design can be composed of a combination of both cross-sectional and longitudinal design features (for example, the evaluation of the immediate and longer term impact of a careers intervention with a matched control group)

One’s Worldview

In the qualitative tradition, the design of one’s research should commence with the selection of a topic and a paradigm. A paradigm is a word one frequently hears in the research community and may be understood as, an entire framework of beliefs, values and methods within which research takes place. A quantitative study, consistent with the quantitative paradigm, relates to an inquiry into a social or human problem, based on testing a theory composed of variables, measured with numbers, and analyzed with statistical procedures, in order to determine whether the predictive generalizations of the theory hold true.” 

*As an aside, you might be interested to know the origins of that pesky word ‘Plagiarism’ which you will hear more and more about as students scour the web for, ahm, original ideas…It derives from the Latin plagiarius meaning a ‘kidnapper’, ‘literary thief’. Interesting one that.

Useful References & Reading

Craig, G. (1996). Qualitative research in an NHS setting: uses and dilemmas.  Changes, 14, 180-186.

Creswell, J.W., Hanson, W.E, Plano Clark, V.L. (2007).  Qualitative Research Designs: Selection and Implementation.  The Counseling Psychologist, 35, 236-264.

Elliott, R., Fischer, C.T. & Rennie, D.L. (1999). Evolving guidelines for publication of qualitative research studies in psychology and related fields. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 38, 215-229.

Lee, R. M. (2000).  Unobtrusive Methods in Social Research.  Buckingham: Open University Press.

Morrow, S.L. (2007). Qualitative research in Counseling Psychology: Conceptual Foundations.  The Counseling Psychologist, 35, 209-235.

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2009).  Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Theory, Method and Research.  London: Sage.

Warner, S. (1996).  The drive towards numbers for credible research in clinical psychology. Changes, 14, 187-191.