How to write a research plan: Step-by-step guide

Last updated

30 January 2024

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Today’s businesses and institutions rely on data and analytics to inform their product and service decisions. These metrics influence how organizations stay competitive and inspire innovation. However, gathering data and insights requires carefully constructed research, and every research project needs a roadmap. This is where a research plan comes into play.

There’s general research planning; then there’s an official, well-executed research plan. Whatever data-driven research project you’re gearing up for, the research plan will be your framework for execution. The plan should also be detailed and thorough, with a diligent set of criteria to formulate your research efforts. Not including these key elements in your plan can be just as harmful as having no plan at all.

Read this step-by-step guide for writing a detailed research plan that can apply to any project, whether it’s scientific, educational, or business-related.

  • What is a research plan?

A research plan is a documented overview of a project in its entirety, from end to end. It details the research efforts, participants, and methods needed, along with any anticipated results. It also outlines the project’s goals and mission, creating layers of steps to achieve those goals within a specified timeline.

Without a research plan, you and your team are flying blind, potentially wasting time and resources to pursue research without structured guidance.

The principal investigator, or PI, is responsible for facilitating the research oversight. They will create the research plan and inform team members and stakeholders of every detail relating to the project. The PI will also use the research plan to inform decision-making throughout the project.

  • Why do you need a research plan?

Create a research plan before starting any official research to maximize every effort in pursuing and collecting the research data. Crucially, the plan will model the activities needed at each phase of the research project.

Like any roadmap, a research plan serves as a valuable tool providing direction for those involved in the project—both internally and externally. It will keep you and your immediate team organized and task-focused while also providing necessary definitions and timelines so you can execute your project initiatives with full understanding and transparency.

External stakeholders appreciate a working research plan because it’s a great communication tool, documenting progress and changing dynamics as they arise. Any participants of your planned research sessions will be informed about the purpose of your study, while the exercises will be based on the key messaging outlined in the official plan.

Here are some of the benefits of creating a research plan document for every project:

Project organization and structure

Well-informed participants

All stakeholders and teams align in support of the project

Clearly defined project definitions and purposes

Distractions are eliminated, prioritizing task focus

Timely management of individual task schedules and roles

Costly reworks are avoided

  • What should a research plan include?

The different aspects of your research plan will depend on the nature of the project. However, most official research plan documents will include the core elements below. Each aims to define the problem statement, devising an official plan for seeking a solution.

Specific project goals and individual objectives

Ideal strategies or methods for reaching those goals

Required resources

Descriptions of the target audience, sample sizes, demographics, and scopes

Key performance indicators (KPIs)

Project background

Research and testing support

Preliminary studies and progress reporting mechanisms

Cost estimates and change order processes

Depending on the research project’s size and scope, your research plan could be brief—perhaps only a few pages of documented plans. Alternatively, it could be a fully comprehensive report. Either way, it’s an essential first step in dictating your project’s facilitation in the most efficient and effective way.

  • How to write a research plan for your project

When you start writing your research plan, aim to be detailed about each step, requirement, and idea. The more time you spend curating your research plan, the more precise your research execution efforts will be.

Account for every potential scenario, and be sure to address each and every aspect of the research.

Consider following this flow to develop a great research plan for your project:

Define your project’s purpose

Start by defining your project’s purpose. Identify what your project aims to accomplish and what you are researching. Remember to use clear language.

Thinking about the project’s purpose will help you set realistic goals and inform how you divide tasks and assign responsibilities. These individual tasks will be your stepping stones to reach your overarching goal.

Additionally, you’ll want to identify the specific problem, the usability metrics needed, and the intended solutions.

Know the following three things about your project’s purpose before you outline anything else:

What you’re doing

Why you’re doing it

What you expect from it

Identify individual objectives

With your overarching project objectives in place, you can identify any individual goals or steps needed to reach those objectives. Break them down into phases or steps. You can work backward from the project goal and identify every process required to facilitate it.

Be mindful to identify each unique task so that you can assign responsibilities to various team members. At this point in your research plan development, you’ll also want to assign priority to those smaller, more manageable steps and phases that require more immediate or dedicated attention.

Select research methods

Research methods might include any of the following:

User interviews: this is a qualitative research method where researchers engage with participants in one-on-one or group conversations. The aim is to gather insights into their experiences, preferences, and opinions to uncover patterns, trends, and data.

Field studies: this approach allows for a contextual understanding of behaviors, interactions, and processes in real-world settings. It involves the researcher immersing themselves in the field, conducting observations, interviews, or experiments to gather in-depth insights.

Card sorting: participants categorize information by sorting content cards into groups based on their perceived similarities. You might use this process to gain insights into participants’ mental models and preferences when navigating or organizing information on websites, apps, or other systems.

Focus groups: use organized discussions among select groups of participants to provide relevant views and experiences about a particular topic.

Diary studies: ask participants to record their experiences, thoughts, and activities in a diary over a specified period. This method provides a deeper understanding of user experiences, uncovers patterns, and identifies areas for improvement.

Five-second testing: participants are shown a design, such as a web page or interface, for just five seconds. They then answer questions about their initial impressions and recall, allowing you to evaluate the design’s effectiveness.

Surveys: get feedback from participant groups with structured surveys. You can use online forms, telephone interviews, or paper questionnaires to reveal trends, patterns, and correlations.

Tree testing: tree testing involves researching web assets through the lens of findability and navigability. Participants are given a textual representation of the site’s hierarchy (the “tree”) and asked to locate specific information or complete tasks by selecting paths.

Usability testing: ask participants to interact with a product, website, or application to evaluate its ease of use. This method enables you to uncover areas for improvement in digital key feature functionality by observing participants using the product.

Live website testing: research and collect analytics that outlines the design, usability, and performance efficiencies of a website in real time.

There are no limits to the number of research methods you could use within your project. Just make sure your research methods help you determine the following:

What do you plan to do with the research findings?

What decisions will this research inform? How can your stakeholders leverage the research data and results?

Recruit participants and allocate tasks

Next, identify the participants needed to complete the research and the resources required to complete the tasks. Different people will be proficient at different tasks, and having a task allocation plan will allow everything to run smoothly.

Prepare a thorough project summary

Every well-designed research plan will feature a project summary. This official summary will guide your research alongside its communications or messaging. You’ll use the summary while recruiting participants and during stakeholder meetings. It can also be useful when conducting field studies.

Ensure this summary includes all the elements of your research project. Separate the steps into an easily explainable piece of text that includes the following:

An introduction: the message you’ll deliver to participants about the interview, pre-planned questioning, and testing tasks.

Interview questions: prepare questions you intend to ask participants as part of your research study, guiding the sessions from start to finish.

An exit message: draft messaging your teams will use to conclude testing or survey sessions. These should include the next steps and express gratitude for the participant’s time.

Create a realistic timeline

While your project might already have a deadline or a results timeline in place, you’ll need to consider the time needed to execute it effectively.

Realistically outline the time needed to properly execute each supporting phase of research and implementation. And, as you evaluate the necessary schedules, be sure to include additional time for achieving each milestone in case any changes or unexpected delays arise.

For this part of your research plan, you might find it helpful to create visuals to ensure your research team and stakeholders fully understand the information.

Determine how to present your results

A research plan must also describe how you intend to present your results. Depending on the nature of your project and its goals, you might dedicate one team member (the PI) or assume responsibility for communicating the findings yourself.

In this part of the research plan, you’ll articulate how you’ll share the results. Detail any materials you’ll use, such as:

Presentations and slides

A project report booklet

A project findings pamphlet

Documents with key takeaways and statistics

Graphic visuals to support your findings

  • Format your research plan

As you create your research plan, you can enjoy a little creative freedom. A plan can assume many forms, so format it how you see fit. Determine the best layout based on your specific project, intended communications, and the preferences of your teams and stakeholders.

Find format inspiration among the following layouts:

Written outlines

Narrative storytelling

Visual mapping

Graphic timelines

Remember, the research plan format you choose will be subject to change and adaptation as your research and findings unfold. However, your final format should ideally outline questions, problems, opportunities, and expectations.

  • Research plan example

Imagine you’ve been tasked with finding out how to get more customers to order takeout from an online food delivery platform. The goal is to improve satisfaction and retain existing customers. You set out to discover why more people aren’t ordering and what it is they do want to order or experience. 

You identify the need for a research project that helps you understand what drives customer loyalty. But before you jump in and start calling past customers, you need to develop a research plan—the roadmap that provides focus, clarity, and realistic details to the project.

Here’s an example outline of a research plan you might put together:

Project title

Project members involved in the research plan

Purpose of the project (provide a summary of the research plan’s intent)

Objective 1 (provide a short description for each objective)

Objective 2

Objective 3

Proposed timeline

Audience (detail the group you want to research, such as customers or non-customers)

Budget (how much you think it might cost to do the research)

Risk factors/contingencies (any potential risk factors that may impact the project’s success)

Remember, your research plan doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel—it just needs to fit your project’s unique needs and aims.

Customizing a research plan template

Some companies offer research plan templates to help get you started. However, it may make more sense to develop your own customized plan template. Be sure to include the core elements of a great research plan with your template layout, including the following:

Introductions to participants and stakeholders

Background problems and needs statement

Significance, ethics, and purpose

Research methods, questions, and designs

Preliminary beliefs and expectations

Implications and intended outcomes

Realistic timelines for each phase

Conclusion and presentations

How many pages should a research plan be?

Generally, a research plan can vary in length between 500 to 1,500 words. This is roughly three pages of content. More substantial projects will be 2,000 to 3,500 words, taking up four to seven pages of planning documents.

What is the difference between a research plan and a research proposal?

A research plan is a roadmap to success for research teams. A research proposal, on the other hand, is a dissertation aimed at convincing or earning the support of others. Both are relevant in creating a guide to follow to complete a project goal.

What are the seven steps to developing a research plan?

While each research project is different, it’s best to follow these seven general steps to create your research plan:

Defining the problem

Identifying goals

Choosing research methods

Recruiting participants

Preparing the brief or summary

Establishing task timelines

Defining how you will present the findings

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Published by Nicolas at March 21st, 2024 , Revised On March 12, 2024

The Ultimate Guide To Research Methodology

Research methodology is a crucial aspect of any investigative process, serving as the blueprint for the entire research journey. If you are stuck in the methodology section of your research paper , then this blog will guide you on what is a research methodology, its types and how to successfully conduct one. 

Table of Contents

What Is Research Methodology?

Research methodology can be defined as the systematic framework that guides researchers in designing, conducting, and analyzing their investigations. It encompasses a structured set of processes, techniques, and tools employed to gather and interpret data, ensuring the reliability and validity of the research findings. 

Research methodology is not confined to a singular approach; rather, it encapsulates a diverse range of methods tailored to the specific requirements of the research objectives.

Here is why Research methodology is important in academic and professional settings.

Facilitating Rigorous Inquiry

Research methodology forms the backbone of rigorous inquiry. It provides a structured approach that aids researchers in formulating precise thesis statements , selecting appropriate methodologies, and executing systematic investigations. This, in turn, enhances the quality and credibility of the research outcomes.

Ensuring Reproducibility And Reliability

In both academic and professional contexts, the ability to reproduce research outcomes is paramount. A well-defined research methodology establishes clear procedures, making it possible for others to replicate the study. This not only validates the findings but also contributes to the cumulative nature of knowledge.

Guiding Decision-Making Processes

In professional settings, decisions often hinge on reliable data and insights. Research methodology equips professionals with the tools to gather pertinent information, analyze it rigorously, and derive meaningful conclusions.

This informed decision-making is instrumental in achieving organizational goals and staying ahead in competitive environments.

Contributing To Academic Excellence

For academic researchers, adherence to robust research methodology is a hallmark of excellence. Institutions value research that adheres to high standards of methodology, fostering a culture of academic rigour and intellectual integrity. Furthermore, it prepares students with critical skills applicable beyond academia.

Enhancing Problem-Solving Abilities

Research methodology instills a problem-solving mindset by encouraging researchers to approach challenges systematically. It equips individuals with the skills to dissect complex issues, formulate hypotheses , and devise effective strategies for investigation.

Understanding Research Methodology

In the pursuit of knowledge and discovery, understanding the fundamentals of research methodology is paramount. 

Basics Of Research

Research, in its essence, is a systematic and organized process of inquiry aimed at expanding our understanding of a particular subject or phenomenon. It involves the exploration of existing knowledge, the formulation of hypotheses, and the collection and analysis of data to draw meaningful conclusions. 

Research is a dynamic and iterative process that contributes to the continuous evolution of knowledge in various disciplines.

Types of Research

Research takes on various forms, each tailored to the nature of the inquiry. Broadly classified, research can be categorized into two main types:

  • Quantitative Research: This type involves the collection and analysis of numerical data to identify patterns, relationships, and statistical significance. It is particularly useful for testing hypotheses and making predictions.
  • Qualitative Research: Qualitative research focuses on understanding the depth and details of a phenomenon through non-numerical data. It often involves methods such as interviews, focus groups, and content analysis, providing rich insights into complex issues.

Components Of Research Methodology

To conduct effective research, one must go through the different components of research methodology. These components form the scaffolding that supports the entire research process, ensuring its coherence and validity.

Research Design

Research design serves as the blueprint for the entire research project. It outlines the overall structure and strategy for conducting the study. The three primary types of research design are:

  • Exploratory Research: Aimed at gaining insights and familiarity with the topic, often used in the early stages of research.
  • Descriptive Research: Involves portraying an accurate profile of a situation or phenomenon, answering the ‘what,’ ‘who,’ ‘where,’ and ‘when’ questions.
  • Explanatory Research: Seeks to identify the causes and effects of a phenomenon, explaining the ‘why’ and ‘how.’

Data Collection Methods

Choosing the right data collection methods is crucial for obtaining reliable and relevant information. Common methods include:

  • Surveys and Questionnaires: Employed to gather information from a large number of respondents through standardized questions.
  • Interviews: In-depth conversations with participants, offering qualitative insights.
  • Observation: Systematic watching and recording of behaviour, events, or processes in their natural setting.

Data Analysis Techniques

Once data is collected, analysis becomes imperative to derive meaningful conclusions. Different methodologies exist for quantitative and qualitative data:

  • Quantitative Data Analysis: Involves statistical techniques such as descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and regression analysis to interpret numerical data.
  • Qualitative Data Analysis: Methods like content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory are employed to extract patterns, themes, and meanings from non-numerical data.

The research paper we write have:

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  • High-level Encryption
  • Authentic Sources

Choosing a Research Method

Selecting an appropriate research method is a critical decision in the research process. It determines the approach, tools, and techniques that will be used to answer the research questions. 

Quantitative Research Methods

Quantitative research involves the collection and analysis of numerical data, providing a structured and objective approach to understanding and explaining phenomena.

Experimental Research

Experimental research involves manipulating variables to observe the effect on another variable under controlled conditions. It aims to establish cause-and-effect relationships.

Key Characteristics:

  • Controlled Environment: Experiments are conducted in a controlled setting to minimize external influences.
  • Random Assignment: Participants are randomly assigned to different experimental conditions.
  • Quantitative Data: Data collected is numerical, allowing for statistical analysis.

Applications: Commonly used in scientific studies and psychology to test hypotheses and identify causal relationships.

Survey Research

Survey research gathers information from a sample of individuals through standardized questionnaires or interviews. It aims to collect data on opinions, attitudes, and behaviours.

  • Structured Instruments: Surveys use structured instruments, such as questionnaires, to collect data.
  • Large Sample Size: Surveys often target a large and diverse group of participants.
  • Quantitative Data Analysis: Responses are quantified for statistical analysis.

Applications: Widely employed in social sciences, marketing, and public opinion research to understand trends and preferences.

Descriptive Research

Descriptive research seeks to portray an accurate profile of a situation or phenomenon. It focuses on answering the ‘what,’ ‘who,’ ‘where,’ and ‘when’ questions.

  • Observation and Data Collection: This involves observing and documenting without manipulating variables.
  • Objective Description: Aim to provide an unbiased and factual account of the subject.
  • Quantitative or Qualitative Data: T his can include both types of data, depending on the research focus.

Applications: Useful in situations where researchers want to understand and describe a phenomenon without altering it, common in social sciences and education.

Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research emphasizes exploring and understanding the depth and complexity of phenomena through non-numerical data.

A case study is an in-depth exploration of a particular person, group, event, or situation. It involves detailed, context-rich analysis.

  • Rich Data Collection: Uses various data sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents.
  • Contextual Understanding: Aims to understand the context and unique characteristics of the case.
  • Holistic Approach: Examines the case in its entirety.

Applications: Common in social sciences, psychology, and business to investigate complex and specific instances.

Ethnography

Ethnography involves immersing the researcher in the culture or community being studied to gain a deep understanding of their behaviours, beliefs, and practices.

  • Participant Observation: Researchers actively participate in the community or setting.
  • Holistic Perspective: Focuses on the interconnectedness of cultural elements.
  • Qualitative Data: In-depth narratives and descriptions are central to ethnographic studies.

Applications: Widely used in anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies to explore and document cultural practices.

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory aims to develop theories grounded in the data itself. It involves systematic data collection and analysis to construct theories from the ground up.

  • Constant Comparison: Data is continually compared and analyzed during the research process.
  • Inductive Reasoning: Theories emerge from the data rather than being imposed on it.
  • Iterative Process: The research design evolves as the study progresses.

Applications: Commonly applied in sociology, nursing, and management studies to generate theories from empirical data.

Research design is the structural framework that outlines the systematic process and plan for conducting a study. It serves as the blueprint, guiding researchers on how to collect, analyze, and interpret data.

Exploratory, Descriptive, And Explanatory Designs

Exploratory design.

Exploratory research design is employed when a researcher aims to explore a relatively unknown subject or gain insights into a complex phenomenon.

  • Flexibility: Allows for flexibility in data collection and analysis.
  • Open-Ended Questions: Uses open-ended questions to gather a broad range of information.
  • Preliminary Nature: Often used in the initial stages of research to formulate hypotheses.

Applications: Valuable in the early stages of investigation, especially when the researcher seeks a deeper understanding of a subject before formalizing research questions.

Descriptive Design

Descriptive research design focuses on portraying an accurate profile of a situation, group, or phenomenon.

  • Structured Data Collection: Involves systematic and structured data collection methods.
  • Objective Presentation: Aims to provide an unbiased and factual account of the subject.
  • Quantitative or Qualitative Data: Can incorporate both types of data, depending on the research objectives.

Applications: Widely used in social sciences, marketing, and educational research to provide detailed and objective descriptions.

Explanatory Design

Explanatory research design aims to identify the causes and effects of a phenomenon, explaining the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind observed relationships.

  • Causal Relationships: Seeks to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Controlled Variables : Often involves controlling certain variables to isolate causal factors.
  • Quantitative Analysis: Primarily relies on quantitative data analysis techniques.

Applications: Commonly employed in scientific studies and social sciences to delve into the underlying reasons behind observed patterns.

Cross-Sectional Vs. Longitudinal Designs

Cross-sectional design.

Cross-sectional designs collect data from participants at a single point in time.

  • Snapshot View: Provides a snapshot of a population at a specific moment.
  • Efficiency: More efficient in terms of time and resources.
  • Limited Temporal Insights: Offers limited insights into changes over time.

Applications: Suitable for studying characteristics or behaviours that are stable or not expected to change rapidly.

Longitudinal Design

Longitudinal designs involve the collection of data from the same participants over an extended period.

  • Temporal Sequence: Allows for the examination of changes over time.
  • Causality Assessment: Facilitates the assessment of cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Resource-Intensive: Requires more time and resources compared to cross-sectional designs.

Applications: Ideal for studying developmental processes, trends, or the impact of interventions over time.

Experimental Vs Non-experimental Designs

Experimental design.

Experimental designs involve manipulating variables under controlled conditions to observe the effect on another variable.

  • Causality Inference: Enables the inference of cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Quantitative Data: Primarily involves the collection and analysis of numerical data.

Applications: Commonly used in scientific studies, psychology, and medical research to establish causal relationships.

Non-Experimental Design

Non-experimental designs observe and describe phenomena without manipulating variables.

  • Natural Settings: Data is often collected in natural settings without intervention.
  • Descriptive or Correlational: Focuses on describing relationships or correlations between variables.
  • Quantitative or Qualitative Data: This can involve either type of data, depending on the research approach.

Applications: Suitable for studying complex phenomena in real-world settings where manipulation may not be ethical or feasible.

Effective data collection is fundamental to the success of any research endeavour. 

Designing Effective Surveys

Objective Design:

  • Clearly define the research objectives to guide the survey design.
  • Craft questions that align with the study’s goals and avoid ambiguity.

Structured Format:

  • Use a structured format with standardized questions for consistency.
  • Include a mix of closed-ended and open-ended questions for detailed insights.

Pilot Testing:

  • Conduct pilot tests to identify and rectify potential issues with survey design.
  • Ensure clarity, relevance, and appropriateness of questions.

Sampling Strategy:

  • Develop a robust sampling strategy to ensure a representative participant group.
  • Consider random sampling or stratified sampling based on the research goals.

Conducting Interviews

Establishing Rapport:

  • Build rapport with participants to create a comfortable and open environment.
  • Clearly communicate the purpose of the interview and the value of participants’ input.

Open-Ended Questions:

  • Frame open-ended questions to encourage detailed responses.
  • Allow participants to express their thoughts and perspectives freely.

Active Listening:

  • Practice active listening to understand areas and gather rich data.
  • Avoid interrupting and maintain a non-judgmental stance during the interview.

Ethical Considerations:

  • Obtain informed consent and assure participants of confidentiality.
  • Be transparent about the study’s purpose and potential implications.

Observation

1. participant observation.

Immersive Participation:

  • Actively immerse yourself in the setting or group being observed.
  • Develop a deep understanding of behaviours, interactions, and context.

Field Notes:

  • Maintain detailed and reflective field notes during observations.
  • Document observed patterns, unexpected events, and participant reactions.

Ethical Awareness:

  • Be conscious of ethical considerations, ensuring respect for participants.
  • Balance the role of observer and participant to minimize bias.

2. Non-participant Observation

Objective Observation:

  • Maintain a more detached and objective stance during non-participant observation.
  • Focus on recording behaviours, events, and patterns without direct involvement.

Data Reliability:

  • Enhance the reliability of data by reducing observer bias.
  • Develop clear observation protocols and guidelines.

Contextual Understanding:

  • Strive for a thorough understanding of the observed context.
  • Consider combining non-participant observation with other methods for triangulation.

Archival Research

1. using existing data.

Identifying Relevant Archives:

  • Locate and access archives relevant to the research topic.
  • Collaborate with institutions or repositories holding valuable data.

Data Verification:

  • Verify the accuracy and reliability of archived data.
  • Cross-reference with other sources to ensure data integrity.

Ethical Use:

  • Adhere to ethical guidelines when using existing data.
  • Respect copyright and intellectual property rights.

2. Challenges and Considerations

Incomplete or Inaccurate Archives:

  • Address the possibility of incomplete or inaccurate archival records.
  • Acknowledge limitations and uncertainties in the data.

Temporal Bias:

  • Recognize potential temporal biases in archived data.
  • Consider the historical context and changes that may impact interpretation.

Access Limitations:

  • Address potential limitations in accessing certain archives.
  • Seek alternative sources or collaborate with institutions to overcome barriers.

Common Challenges in Research Methodology

Conducting research is a complex and dynamic process, often accompanied by a myriad of challenges. Addressing these challenges is crucial to ensure the reliability and validity of research findings.

Sampling Issues

Sampling bias:.

  • The presence of sampling bias can lead to an unrepresentative sample, affecting the generalizability of findings.
  • Employ random sampling methods and ensure the inclusion of diverse participants to reduce bias.

Sample Size Determination:

  • Determining an appropriate sample size is a delicate balance. Too small a sample may lack statistical power, while an excessively large sample may strain resources.
  • Conduct a power analysis to determine the optimal sample size based on the research objectives and expected effect size.

Data Quality And Validity

Measurement error:.

  • Inaccuracies in measurement tools or data collection methods can introduce measurement errors, impacting the validity of results.
  • Pilot test instruments, calibrate equipment, and use standardized measures to enhance the reliability of data.

Construct Validity:

  • Ensuring that the chosen measures accurately capture the intended constructs is a persistent challenge.
  • Use established measurement instruments and employ multiple measures to assess the same construct for triangulation.

Time And Resource Constraints

Timeline pressures:.

  • Limited timeframes can compromise the depth and thoroughness of the research process.
  • Develop a realistic timeline, prioritize tasks, and communicate expectations with stakeholders to manage time constraints effectively.

Resource Availability:

  • Inadequate resources, whether financial or human, can impede the execution of research activities.
  • Seek external funding, collaborate with other researchers, and explore alternative methods that require fewer resources.

Managing Bias in Research

Selection bias:.

  • Selecting participants in a way that systematically skews the sample can introduce selection bias.
  • Employ randomization techniques, use stratified sampling, and transparently report participant recruitment methods.

Confirmation Bias:

  • Researchers may unintentionally favour information that confirms their preconceived beliefs or hypotheses.
  • Adopt a systematic and open-minded approach, use blinded study designs, and engage in peer review to mitigate confirmation bias.

Tips On How To Write A Research Methodology

Conducting successful research relies not only on the application of sound methodologies but also on strategic planning and effective collaboration. Here are some tips to enhance the success of your research methodology:

Tip 1. Clear Research Objectives

Well-defined research objectives guide the entire research process. Clearly articulate the purpose of your study, outlining specific research questions or hypotheses.

Tip 2. Comprehensive Literature Review

A thorough literature review provides a foundation for understanding existing knowledge and identifying gaps. Invest time in reviewing relevant literature to inform your research design and methodology.

Tip 3. Detailed Research Plan

A detailed plan serves as a roadmap, ensuring all aspects of the research are systematically addressed. Develop a detailed research plan outlining timelines, milestones, and tasks.

Tip 4. Ethical Considerations

Ethical practices are fundamental to maintaining the integrity of research. Address ethical considerations early, obtain necessary approvals, and ensure participant rights are safeguarded.

Tip 5. Stay Updated On Methodologies

Research methodologies evolve, and staying updated is essential for employing the most effective techniques. Engage in continuous learning by attending workshops, conferences, and reading recent publications.

Tip 6. Adaptability In Methods

Unforeseen challenges may arise during research, necessitating adaptability in methods. Be flexible and willing to modify your approach when needed, ensuring the integrity of the study.

Tip 7. Iterative Approach

Research is often an iterative process, and refining methods based on ongoing findings enhance the study’s robustness. Regularly review and refine your research design and methods as the study progresses.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the research methodology.

Research methodology is the systematic process of planning, executing, and evaluating scientific investigation. It encompasses the techniques, tools, and procedures used to collect, analyze, and interpret data, ensuring the reliability and validity of research findings.

What are the methodologies in research?

Research methodologies include qualitative and quantitative approaches. Qualitative methods involve in-depth exploration of non-numerical data, while quantitative methods use statistical analysis to examine numerical data. Mixed methods combine both approaches for a comprehensive understanding of research questions.

How to write research methodology?

To write a research methodology, clearly outline the study’s design, data collection, and analysis procedures. Specify research tools, participants, and sampling methods. Justify choices and discuss limitations. Ensure clarity, coherence, and alignment with research objectives for a robust methodology section.

How to write the methodology section of a research paper?

In the methodology section of a research paper, describe the study’s design, data collection, and analysis methods. Detail procedures, tools, participants, and sampling. Justify choices, address ethical considerations, and explain how the methodology aligns with research objectives, ensuring clarity and rigour.

What is mixed research methodology?

Mixed research methodology combines both qualitative and quantitative research approaches within a single study. This approach aims to enhance the details and depth of research findings by providing a more comprehensive understanding of the research problem or question.

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Research Design | Step-by-Step Guide with Examples

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 20 March 2023.

A research design is a strategy for answering your research question  using empirical data. Creating a research design means making decisions about:

  • Your overall aims and approach
  • The type of research design you’ll use
  • Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
  • Your data collection methods
  • The procedures you’ll follow to collect data
  • Your data analysis methods

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims and that you use the right kind of analysis for your data.

Table of contents

Step 1: consider your aims and approach, step 2: choose a type of research design, step 3: identify your population and sampling method, step 4: choose your data collection methods, step 5: plan your data collection procedures, step 6: decide on your data analysis strategies, frequently asked questions.

  • Introduction

Before you can start designing your research, you should already have a clear idea of the research question you want to investigate.

There are many different ways you could go about answering this question. Your research design choices should be driven by your aims and priorities – start by thinking carefully about what you want to achieve.

The first choice you need to make is whether you’ll take a qualitative or quantitative approach.

Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible and inductive , allowing you to adjust your approach based on what you find throughout the research process.

Quantitative research designs tend to be more fixed and deductive , with variables and hypotheses clearly defined in advance of data collection.

It’s also possible to use a mixed methods design that integrates aspects of both approaches. By combining qualitative and quantitative insights, you can gain a more complete picture of the problem you’re studying and strengthen the credibility of your conclusions.

Practical and ethical considerations when designing research

As well as scientific considerations, you need to think practically when designing your research. If your research involves people or animals, you also need to consider research ethics .

  • How much time do you have to collect data and write up the research?
  • Will you be able to gain access to the data you need (e.g., by travelling to a specific location or contacting specific people)?
  • Do you have the necessary research skills (e.g., statistical analysis or interview techniques)?
  • Will you need ethical approval ?

At each stage of the research design process, make sure that your choices are practically feasible.

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Within both qualitative and quantitative approaches, there are several types of research design to choose from. Each type provides a framework for the overall shape of your research.

Types of quantitative research designs

Quantitative designs can be split into four main types. Experimental and   quasi-experimental designs allow you to test cause-and-effect relationships, while descriptive and correlational designs allow you to measure variables and describe relationships between them.

With descriptive and correlational designs, you can get a clear picture of characteristics, trends, and relationships as they exist in the real world. However, you can’t draw conclusions about cause and effect (because correlation doesn’t imply causation ).

Experiments are the strongest way to test cause-and-effect relationships without the risk of other variables influencing the results. However, their controlled conditions may not always reflect how things work in the real world. They’re often also more difficult and expensive to implement.

Types of qualitative research designs

Qualitative designs are less strictly defined. This approach is about gaining a rich, detailed understanding of a specific context or phenomenon, and you can often be more creative and flexible in designing your research.

The table below shows some common types of qualitative design. They often have similar approaches in terms of data collection, but focus on different aspects when analysing the data.

Your research design should clearly define who or what your research will focus on, and how you’ll go about choosing your participants or subjects.

In research, a population is the entire group that you want to draw conclusions about, while a sample is the smaller group of individuals you’ll actually collect data from.

Defining the population

A population can be made up of anything you want to study – plants, animals, organisations, texts, countries, etc. In the social sciences, it most often refers to a group of people.

For example, will you focus on people from a specific demographic, region, or background? Are you interested in people with a certain job or medical condition, or users of a particular product?

The more precisely you define your population, the easier it will be to gather a representative sample.

Sampling methods

Even with a narrowly defined population, it’s rarely possible to collect data from every individual. Instead, you’ll collect data from a sample.

To select a sample, there are two main approaches: probability sampling and non-probability sampling . The sampling method you use affects how confidently you can generalise your results to the population as a whole.

Probability sampling is the most statistically valid option, but it’s often difficult to achieve unless you’re dealing with a very small and accessible population.

For practical reasons, many studies use non-probability sampling, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations and carefully consider potential biases. You should always make an effort to gather a sample that’s as representative as possible of the population.

Case selection in qualitative research

In some types of qualitative designs, sampling may not be relevant.

For example, in an ethnography or a case study, your aim is to deeply understand a specific context, not to generalise to a population. Instead of sampling, you may simply aim to collect as much data as possible about the context you are studying.

In these types of design, you still have to carefully consider your choice of case or community. You should have a clear rationale for why this particular case is suitable for answering your research question.

For example, you might choose a case study that reveals an unusual or neglected aspect of your research problem, or you might choose several very similar or very different cases in order to compare them.

Data collection methods are ways of directly measuring variables and gathering information. They allow you to gain first-hand knowledge and original insights into your research problem.

You can choose just one data collection method, or use several methods in the same study.

Survey methods

Surveys allow you to collect data about opinions, behaviours, experiences, and characteristics by asking people directly. There are two main survey methods to choose from: questionnaires and interviews.

Observation methods

Observations allow you to collect data unobtrusively, observing characteristics, behaviours, or social interactions without relying on self-reporting.

Observations may be conducted in real time, taking notes as you observe, or you might make audiovisual recordings for later analysis. They can be qualitative or quantitative.

Other methods of data collection

There are many other ways you might collect data depending on your field and topic.

If you’re not sure which methods will work best for your research design, try reading some papers in your field to see what data collection methods they used.

Secondary data

If you don’t have the time or resources to collect data from the population you’re interested in, you can also choose to use secondary data that other researchers already collected – for example, datasets from government surveys or previous studies on your topic.

With this raw data, you can do your own analysis to answer new research questions that weren’t addressed by the original study.

Using secondary data can expand the scope of your research, as you may be able to access much larger and more varied samples than you could collect yourself.

However, it also means you don’t have any control over which variables to measure or how to measure them, so the conclusions you can draw may be limited.

As well as deciding on your methods, you need to plan exactly how you’ll use these methods to collect data that’s consistent, accurate, and unbiased.

Planning systematic procedures is especially important in quantitative research, where you need to precisely define your variables and ensure your measurements are reliable and valid.

Operationalisation

Some variables, like height or age, are easily measured. But often you’ll be dealing with more abstract concepts, like satisfaction, anxiety, or competence. Operationalisation means turning these fuzzy ideas into measurable indicators.

If you’re using observations , which events or actions will you count?

If you’re using surveys , which questions will you ask and what range of responses will be offered?

You may also choose to use or adapt existing materials designed to measure the concept you’re interested in – for example, questionnaires or inventories whose reliability and validity has already been established.

Reliability and validity

Reliability means your results can be consistently reproduced , while validity means that you’re actually measuring the concept you’re interested in.

For valid and reliable results, your measurement materials should be thoroughly researched and carefully designed. Plan your procedures to make sure you carry out the same steps in the same way for each participant.

If you’re developing a new questionnaire or other instrument to measure a specific concept, running a pilot study allows you to check its validity and reliability in advance.

Sampling procedures

As well as choosing an appropriate sampling method, you need a concrete plan for how you’ll actually contact and recruit your selected sample.

That means making decisions about things like:

  • How many participants do you need for an adequate sample size?
  • What inclusion and exclusion criteria will you use to identify eligible participants?
  • How will you contact your sample – by mail, online, by phone, or in person?

If you’re using a probability sampling method, it’s important that everyone who is randomly selected actually participates in the study. How will you ensure a high response rate?

If you’re using a non-probability method, how will you avoid bias and ensure a representative sample?

Data management

It’s also important to create a data management plan for organising and storing your data.

Will you need to transcribe interviews or perform data entry for observations? You should anonymise and safeguard any sensitive data, and make sure it’s backed up regularly.

Keeping your data well organised will save time when it comes to analysing them. It can also help other researchers validate and add to your findings.

On their own, raw data can’t answer your research question. The last step of designing your research is planning how you’ll analyse the data.

Quantitative data analysis

In quantitative research, you’ll most likely use some form of statistical analysis . With statistics, you can summarise your sample data, make estimates, and test hypotheses.

Using descriptive statistics , you can summarise your sample data in terms of:

  • The distribution of the data (e.g., the frequency of each score on a test)
  • The central tendency of the data (e.g., the mean to describe the average score)
  • The variability of the data (e.g., the standard deviation to describe how spread out the scores are)

The specific calculations you can do depend on the level of measurement of your variables.

Using inferential statistics , you can:

  • Make estimates about the population based on your sample data.
  • Test hypotheses about a relationship between variables.

Regression and correlation tests look for associations between two or more variables, while comparison tests (such as t tests and ANOVAs ) look for differences in the outcomes of different groups.

Your choice of statistical test depends on various aspects of your research design, including the types of variables you’re dealing with and the distribution of your data.

Qualitative data analysis

In qualitative research, your data will usually be very dense with information and ideas. Instead of summing it up in numbers, you’ll need to comb through the data in detail, interpret its meanings, identify patterns, and extract the parts that are most relevant to your research question.

Two of the most common approaches to doing this are thematic analysis and discourse analysis .

There are many other ways of analysing qualitative data depending on the aims of your research. To get a sense of potential approaches, try reading some qualitative research papers in your field.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population. Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research.

For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

Statistical sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population. There are various sampling methods you can use to ensure that your sample is representative of the population as a whole.

Operationalisation means turning abstract conceptual ideas into measurable observations.

For example, the concept of social anxiety isn’t directly observable, but it can be operationally defined in terms of self-rating scores, behavioural avoidance of crowded places, or physical anxiety symptoms in social situations.

Before collecting data , it’s important to consider how you will operationalise the variables that you want to measure.

The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .

  • If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts, and meanings, use qualitative methods .
  • If you want to analyse a large amount of readily available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how they are generated, collect primary data.
  • If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.

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Shona McCombes

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FLEET LIBRARY | Research Guides

Rhode island school of design, create a research plan: research plan.

  • Research Plan
  • Literature Review
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A research plan is a framework that shows how you intend to approach your topic. The plan can take many forms: a written outline, a narrative, a visual/concept map or timeline. It's a document that will change and develop as you conduct your research. Components of a research plan

1. Research conceptualization - introduces your research question

2. Research methodology - describes your approach to the research question

3. Literature review, critical evaluation and synthesis - systematic approach to locating,

    reviewing and evaluating the work (text, exhibitions, critiques, etc) relating to your topic

4. Communication - geared toward an intended audience, shows evidence of your inquiry

Research conceptualization refers to the ability to identify specific research questions, problems or opportunities that are worthy of inquiry. Research conceptualization also includes the skills and discipline that go beyond the initial moment of conception, and which enable the researcher to formulate and develop an idea into something researchable ( Newbury 373).

Research methodology refers to the knowledge and skills required to select and apply appropriate methods to carry through the research project ( Newbury 374) .

Method describes a single mode of proceeding; methodology describes the overall process.

Method - a way of doing anything especially according to a defined and regular plan; a mode of procedure in any activity

Methodology - the study of the direction and implications of empirical research, or the sustainability of techniques employed in it; a method or body of methods used in a particular field of study or activity *Browse a list of research methodology books  or this guide on Art & Design Research

Literature Review, critical evaluation & synthesis

A literature review is a systematic approach to locating, reviewing, and evaluating the published work and work in progress of scholars, researchers, and practitioners on a given topic.

Critical evaluation and synthesis is the ability to handle (or process) existing sources. It includes knowledge of the sources of literature and contextual research field within which the person is working ( Newbury 373).

Literature reviews are done for many reasons and situations. Here's a short list:

Sources to consult while conducting a literature review:

Online catalogs of local, regional, national, and special libraries

meta-catalogs such as worldcat , Art Discovery Group , europeana , world digital library or RIBA

subject-specific online article databases (such as the Avery Index, JSTOR, Project Muse)

digital institutional repositories such as Digital Commons @RISD ; see Registry of Open Access Repositories

Open Access Resources recommended by RISD Research LIbrarians

works cited in scholarly books and articles

print bibliographies

the internet-locate major nonprofit, research institutes, museum, university, and government websites

search google scholar to locate grey literature & referenced citations

trade and scholarly publishers

fellow scholars and peers

Communication                              

Communication refers to the ability to

  • structure a coherent line of inquiry
  • communicate your findings to your intended audience
  • make skilled use of visual material to express ideas for presentations, writing, and the creation of exhibitions ( Newbury 374)

Research plan framework: Newbury, Darren. "Research Training in the Creative Arts and Design." The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts . Ed. Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson. New York: Routledge, 2010. 368-87. Print.

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What is research methodology?

how to plan research methodology

The basics of research methodology

Why do you need a research methodology, what needs to be included, why do you need to document your research method, what are the different types of research instruments, qualitative / quantitative / mixed research methodologies, how do you choose the best research methodology for you, frequently asked questions about research methodology, related articles.

When you’re working on your first piece of academic research, there are many different things to focus on, and it can be overwhelming to stay on top of everything. This is especially true of budding or inexperienced researchers.

If you’ve never put together a research proposal before or find yourself in a position where you need to explain your research methodology decisions, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

Once you understand the ins and outs, handling academic research in the future will be less intimidating. We break down the basics below:

A research methodology encompasses the way in which you intend to carry out your research. This includes how you plan to tackle things like collection methods, statistical analysis, participant observations, and more.

You can think of your research methodology as being a formula. One part will be how you plan on putting your research into practice, and another will be why you feel this is the best way to approach it. Your research methodology is ultimately a methodological and systematic plan to resolve your research problem.

In short, you are explaining how you will take your idea and turn it into a study, which in turn will produce valid and reliable results that are in accordance with the aims and objectives of your research. This is true whether your paper plans to make use of qualitative methods or quantitative methods.

The purpose of a research methodology is to explain the reasoning behind your approach to your research - you'll need to support your collection methods, methods of analysis, and other key points of your work.

Think of it like writing a plan or an outline for you what you intend to do.

When carrying out research, it can be easy to go off-track or depart from your standard methodology.

Tip: Having a methodology keeps you accountable and on track with your original aims and objectives, and gives you a suitable and sound plan to keep your project manageable, smooth, and effective.

With all that said, how do you write out your standard approach to a research methodology?

As a general plan, your methodology should include the following information:

  • Your research method.  You need to state whether you plan to use quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis, or mixed-method research methods. This will often be determined by what you hope to achieve with your research.
  • Explain your reasoning. Why are you taking this methodological approach? Why is this particular methodology the best way to answer your research problem and achieve your objectives?
  • Explain your instruments.  This will mainly be about your collection methods. There are varying instruments to use such as interviews, physical surveys, questionnaires, for example. Your methodology will need to detail your reasoning in choosing a particular instrument for your research.
  • What will you do with your results?  How are you going to analyze the data once you have gathered it?
  • Advise your reader.  If there is anything in your research methodology that your reader might be unfamiliar with, you should explain it in more detail. For example, you should give any background information to your methods that might be relevant or provide your reasoning if you are conducting your research in a non-standard way.
  • How will your sampling process go?  What will your sampling procedure be and why? For example, if you will collect data by carrying out semi-structured or unstructured interviews, how will you choose your interviewees and how will you conduct the interviews themselves?
  • Any practical limitations?  You should discuss any limitations you foresee being an issue when you’re carrying out your research.

In any dissertation, thesis, or academic journal, you will always find a chapter dedicated to explaining the research methodology of the person who carried out the study, also referred to as the methodology section of the work.

A good research methodology will explain what you are going to do and why, while a poor methodology will lead to a messy or disorganized approach.

You should also be able to justify in this section your reasoning for why you intend to carry out your research in a particular way, especially if it might be a particularly unique method.

Having a sound methodology in place can also help you with the following:

  • When another researcher at a later date wishes to try and replicate your research, they will need your explanations and guidelines.
  • In the event that you receive any criticism or questioning on the research you carried out at a later point, you will be able to refer back to it and succinctly explain the how and why of your approach.
  • It provides you with a plan to follow throughout your research. When you are drafting your methodology approach, you need to be sure that the method you are using is the right one for your goal. This will help you with both explaining and understanding your method.
  • It affords you the opportunity to document from the outset what you intend to achieve with your research, from start to finish.

A research instrument is a tool you will use to help you collect, measure and analyze the data you use as part of your research.

The choice of research instrument will usually be yours to make as the researcher and will be whichever best suits your methodology.

There are many different research instruments you can use in collecting data for your research.

Generally, they can be grouped as follows:

  • Interviews (either as a group or one-on-one). You can carry out interviews in many different ways. For example, your interview can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. The difference between them is how formal the set of questions is that is asked of the interviewee. In a group interview, you may choose to ask the interviewees to give you their opinions or perceptions on certain topics.
  • Surveys (online or in-person). In survey research, you are posing questions in which you ask for a response from the person taking the survey. You may wish to have either free-answer questions such as essay-style questions, or you may wish to use closed questions such as multiple choice. You may even wish to make the survey a mixture of both.
  • Focus Groups.  Similar to the group interview above, you may wish to ask a focus group to discuss a particular topic or opinion while you make a note of the answers given.
  • Observations.  This is a good research instrument to use if you are looking into human behaviors. Different ways of researching this include studying the spontaneous behavior of participants in their everyday life, or something more structured. A structured observation is research conducted at a set time and place where researchers observe behavior as planned and agreed upon with participants.

These are the most common ways of carrying out research, but it is really dependent on your needs as a researcher and what approach you think is best to take.

It is also possible to combine a number of research instruments if this is necessary and appropriate in answering your research problem.

There are three different types of methodologies, and they are distinguished by whether they focus on words, numbers, or both.

➡️ Want to learn more about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, and how to use both methods? Check out our guide for that!

If you've done your due diligence, you'll have an idea of which methodology approach is best suited to your research.

It’s likely that you will have carried out considerable reading and homework before you reach this point and you may have taken inspiration from other similar studies that have yielded good results.

Still, it is important to consider different options before setting your research in stone. Exploring different options available will help you to explain why the choice you ultimately make is preferable to other methods.

If proving your research problem requires you to gather large volumes of numerical data to test hypotheses, a quantitative research method is likely to provide you with the most usable results.

If instead you’re looking to try and learn more about people, and their perception of events, your methodology is more exploratory in nature and would therefore probably be better served using a qualitative research methodology.

It helps to always bring things back to the question: what do I want to achieve with my research?

Once you have conducted your research, you need to analyze it. Here are some helpful guides for qualitative data analysis:

➡️  How to do a content analysis

➡️  How to do a thematic analysis

➡️  How to do a rhetorical analysis

Research methodology refers to the techniques used to find and analyze information for a study, ensuring that the results are valid, reliable and that they address the research objective.

Data can typically be organized into four different categories or methods: observational, experimental, simulation, and derived.

Writing a methodology section is a process of introducing your methods and instruments, discussing your analysis, providing more background information, addressing your research limitations, and more.

Your research methodology section will need a clear research question and proposed research approach. You'll need to add a background, introduce your research question, write your methodology and add the works you cited during your data collecting phase.

The research methodology section of your study will indicate how valid your findings are and how well-informed your paper is. It also assists future researchers planning to use the same methodology, who want to cite your study or replicate it.

Rhetorical analysis illustration

Grad Coach

How To Choose Your Research Methodology

Qualitative vs quantitative vs mixed methods.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA). Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2021

Without a doubt, one of the most common questions we receive at Grad Coach is “ How do I choose the right methodology for my research? ”. It’s easy to see why – with so many options on the research design table, it’s easy to get intimidated, especially with all the complex lingo!

In this post, we’ll explain the three overarching types of research – qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods – and how you can go about choosing the best methodological approach for your research.

Overview: Choosing Your Methodology

Understanding the options – Qualitative research – Quantitative research – Mixed methods-based research

Choosing a research methodology – Nature of the research – Research area norms – Practicalities

Free Webinar: Research Methodology 101

1. Understanding the options

Before we jump into the question of how to choose a research methodology, it’s useful to take a step back to understand the three overarching types of research – qualitative , quantitative and mixed methods -based research. Each of these options takes a different methodological approach.

Qualitative research utilises data that is not numbers-based. In other words, qualitative research focuses on words , descriptions , concepts or ideas – while quantitative research makes use of numbers and statistics. Qualitative research investigates the “softer side” of things to explore and describe, while quantitative research focuses on the “hard numbers”, to measure differences between variables and the relationships between them.

Importantly, qualitative research methods are typically used to explore and gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of a situation – to draw a rich picture . In contrast to this, quantitative methods are usually used to confirm or test hypotheses . In other words, they have distinctly different purposes. The table below highlights a few of the key differences between qualitative and quantitative research – you can learn more about the differences here.

  • Uses an inductive approach
  • Is used to build theories
  • Takes a subjective approach
  • Adopts an open and flexible approach
  • The researcher is close to the respondents
  • Interviews and focus groups are oftentimes used to collect word-based data.
  • Generally, draws on small sample sizes
  • Uses qualitative data analysis techniques (e.g. content analysis , thematic analysis , etc)
  • Uses a deductive approach
  • Is used to test theories
  • Takes an objective approach
  • Adopts a closed, highly planned approach
  • The research is disconnected from respondents
  • Surveys or laboratory equipment are often used to collect number-based data.
  • Generally, requires large sample sizes
  • Uses statistical analysis techniques to make sense of the data

Mixed methods -based research, as you’d expect, attempts to bring these two types of research together, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data. Quite often, mixed methods-based studies will use qualitative research to explore a situation and develop a potential model of understanding (this is called a conceptual framework), and then go on to use quantitative methods to test that model empirically.

In other words, while qualitative and quantitative methods (and the philosophies that underpin them) are completely different, they are not at odds with each other. It’s not a competition of qualitative vs quantitative. On the contrary, they can be used together to develop a high-quality piece of research. Of course, this is easier said than done, so we usually recommend that first-time researchers stick to a single approach , unless the nature of their study truly warrants a mixed-methods approach.

The key takeaway here, and the reason we started by looking at the three options, is that it’s important to understand that each methodological approach has a different purpose – for example, to explore and understand situations (qualitative), to test and measure (quantitative) or to do both. They’re not simply alternative tools for the same job. 

Right – now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at how you can go about choosing the right methodology for your research.

Methodology choices in research

2. How to choose a research methodology

To choose the right research methodology for your dissertation or thesis, you need to consider three important factors . Based on these three factors, you can decide on your overarching approach – qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. Once you’ve made that decision, you can flesh out the finer details of your methodology, such as the sampling , data collection methods and analysis techniques (we discuss these separately in other posts ).

The three factors you need to consider are:

  • The nature of your research aims, objectives and research questions
  • The methodological approaches taken in the existing literature
  • Practicalities and constraints

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Factor #1: The nature of your research

As I mentioned earlier, each type of research (and therefore, research methodology), whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed, has a different purpose and helps solve a different type of question. So, it’s logical that the key deciding factor in terms of which research methodology you adopt is the nature of your research aims, objectives and research questions .

But, what types of research exist?

Broadly speaking, research can fall into one of three categories:

  • Exploratory – getting a better understanding of an issue and potentially developing a theory regarding it
  • Confirmatory – confirming a potential theory or hypothesis by testing it empirically
  • A mix of both – building a potential theory or hypothesis and then testing it

As a rule of thumb, exploratory research tends to adopt a qualitative approach , whereas confirmatory research tends to use quantitative methods . This isn’t set in stone, but it’s a very useful heuristic. Naturally then, research that combines a mix of both, or is seeking to develop a theory from the ground up and then test that theory, would utilize a mixed-methods approach.

Exploratory vs confirmatory research

Let’s look at an example in action.

If your research aims were to understand the perspectives of war veterans regarding certain political matters, you’d likely adopt a qualitative methodology, making use of interviews to collect data and one or more qualitative data analysis methods to make sense of the data.

If, on the other hand, your research aims involved testing a set of hypotheses regarding the link between political leaning and income levels, you’d likely adopt a quantitative methodology, using numbers-based data from a survey to measure the links between variables and/or constructs .

So, the first (and most important thing) thing you need to consider when deciding which methodological approach to use for your research project is the nature of your research aims , objectives and research questions. Specifically, you need to assess whether your research leans in an exploratory or confirmatory direction or involves a mix of both.

The importance of achieving solid alignment between these three factors and your methodology can’t be overstated. If they’re misaligned, you’re going to be forcing a square peg into a round hole. In other words, you’ll be using the wrong tool for the job, and your research will become a disjointed mess.

If your research is a mix of both exploratory and confirmatory, but you have a tight word count limit, you may need to consider trimming down the scope a little and focusing on one or the other. One methodology executed well has a far better chance of earning marks than a poorly executed mixed methods approach. So, don’t try to be a hero, unless there is a very strong underpinning logic.

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how to plan research methodology

Factor #2: The disciplinary norms

Choosing the right methodology for your research also involves looking at the approaches used by other researchers in the field, and studies with similar research aims and objectives to yours. Oftentimes, within a discipline, there is a common methodological approach (or set of approaches) used in studies. While this doesn’t mean you should follow the herd “just because”, you should at least consider these approaches and evaluate their merit within your context.

A major benefit of reviewing the research methodologies used by similar studies in your field is that you can often piggyback on the data collection techniques that other (more experienced) researchers have developed. For example, if you’re undertaking a quantitative study, you can often find tried and tested survey scales with high Cronbach’s alphas. These are usually included in the appendices of journal articles, so you don’t even have to contact the original authors. By using these, you’ll save a lot of time and ensure that your study stands on the proverbial “shoulders of giants” by using high-quality measurement instruments .

Of course, when reviewing existing literature, keep point #1 front of mind. In other words, your methodology needs to align with your research aims, objectives and questions. Don’t fall into the trap of adopting the methodological “norm” of other studies just because it’s popular. Only adopt that which is relevant to your research.

Factor #3: Practicalities

When choosing a research methodology, there will always be a tension between doing what’s theoretically best (i.e., the most scientifically rigorous research design ) and doing what’s practical , given your constraints . This is the nature of doing research and there are always trade-offs, as with anything else.

But what constraints, you ask?

When you’re evaluating your methodological options, you need to consider the following constraints:

  • Data access
  • Equipment and software
  • Your knowledge and skills

Let’s look at each of these.

Constraint #1: Data access

The first practical constraint you need to consider is your access to data . If you’re going to be undertaking primary research , you need to think critically about the sample of respondents you realistically have access to. For example, if you plan to use in-person interviews , you need to ask yourself how many people you’ll need to interview, whether they’ll be agreeable to being interviewed, where they’re located, and so on.

If you’re wanting to undertake a quantitative approach using surveys to collect data, you’ll need to consider how many responses you’ll require to achieve statistically significant results. For many statistical tests, a sample of a few hundred respondents is typically needed to develop convincing conclusions.

So, think carefully about what data you’ll need access to, how much data you’ll need and how you’ll collect it. The last thing you want is to spend a huge amount of time on your research only to find that you can’t get access to the required data.

Constraint #2: Time

The next constraint is time. If you’re undertaking research as part of a PhD, you may have a fairly open-ended time limit, but this is unlikely to be the case for undergrad and Masters-level projects. So, pay attention to your timeline, as the data collection and analysis components of different methodologies have a major impact on time requirements . Also, keep in mind that these stages of the research often take a lot longer than originally anticipated.

Another practical implication of time limits is that it will directly impact which time horizon you can use – i.e. longitudinal vs cross-sectional . For example, if you’ve got a 6-month limit for your entire research project, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll be able to adopt a longitudinal time horizon. 

Constraint #3: Money

As with so many things, money is another important constraint you’ll need to consider when deciding on your research methodology. While some research designs will cost near zero to execute, others may require a substantial budget .

Some of the costs that may arise include:

  • Software costs – e.g. survey hosting services, analysis software, etc.
  • Promotion costs – e.g. advertising a survey to attract respondents
  • Incentive costs – e.g. providing a prize or cash payment incentive to attract respondents
  • Equipment rental costs – e.g. recording equipment, lab equipment, etc.
  • Travel costs
  • Food & beverages

These are just a handful of costs that can creep into your research budget. Like most projects, the actual costs tend to be higher than the estimates, so be sure to err on the conservative side and expect the unexpected. It’s critically important that you’re honest with yourself about these costs, or you could end up getting stuck midway through your project because you’ve run out of money.

Budgeting for your research

Constraint #4: Equipment & software

Another practical consideration is the hardware and/or software you’ll need in order to undertake your research. Of course, this variable will depend on the type of data you’re collecting and analysing. For example, you may need lab equipment to analyse substances, or you may need specific analysis software to analyse statistical data. So, be sure to think about what hardware and/or software you’ll need for each potential methodological approach, and whether you have access to these.

Constraint #5: Your knowledge and skillset

The final practical constraint is a big one. Naturally, the research process involves a lot of learning and development along the way, so you will accrue knowledge and skills as you progress. However, when considering your methodological options, you should still consider your current position on the ladder.

Some of the questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Am I more of a “numbers person” or a “words person”?
  • How much do I know about the analysis methods I’ll potentially use (e.g. statistical analysis)?
  • How much do I know about the software and/or hardware that I’ll potentially use?
  • How excited am I to learn new research skills and gain new knowledge?
  • How much time do I have to learn the things I need to learn?

Answering these questions honestly will provide you with another set of criteria against which you can evaluate the research methodology options you’ve shortlisted.

So, as you can see, there is a wide range of practicalities and constraints that you need to take into account when you’re deciding on a research methodology. These practicalities create a tension between the “ideal” methodology and the methodology that you can realistically pull off. This is perfectly normal, and it’s your job to find the option that presents the best set of trade-offs.

Recap: Choosing a methodology

In this post, we’ve discussed how to go about choosing a research methodology. The three major deciding factors we looked at were:

  • Exploratory
  • Confirmatory
  • Combination
  • Research area norms
  • Hardware and software
  • Your knowledge and skillset

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below. If you’d like a helping hand with your research methodology, check out our 1-on-1 research coaching service , or book a free consultation with a friendly Grad Coach.

how to plan research methodology

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This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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How to choose a research topic: full video tutorial

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 6. The Methodology
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Applying Critical Thinking
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Research Process Video Series
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
  • Bibliography

The methods section describes actions taken to investigate a research problem and the rationale for the application of specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information applied to understanding the problem, thereby, allowing the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability. The methodology section of a research paper answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed? The writing should be direct and precise and always written in the past tense.

Kallet, Richard H. "How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004): 1229-1232.

Importance of a Good Methodology Section

You must explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:

  • Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the results and, by extension, how you interpreted their significance in the discussion section of your paper.
  • Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your analysis of the findings.
  • In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you have chosen a particular procedure or technique.
  • The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
  • The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
  • The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
  • In the social and behavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an existing method is utilized.

Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects . 5th edition. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Groups of Research Methods

There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:

  • The e mpirical-analytical group approaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences . This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
  • The i nterpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way . Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.

II.  Content

The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you used to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that the method is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.

The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:

  • Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
  • Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
  • The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
  • The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.

In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:

  • Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem . Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
  • Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design . Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
  • Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use , such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
  • Explain how you intend to analyze your results . Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
  • Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers . Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
  • Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure . For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
  • Provide a justification for case study selection . A common method of analyzing research problems in the social sciences is to analyze specific cases. These can be a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis that are either examined as a singular topic of in-depth investigation or multiple topics of investigation studied for the purpose of comparing or contrasting findings. In either method, you should explain why a case or cases were chosen and how they specifically relate to the research problem.
  • Describe potential limitations . Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.

NOTE :   Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. If necessary, consider using appendices for raw data.

ANOTHER NOTE : If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem , the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data [e.g., through interviews or observations], the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.

YET ANOTHER NOTE :   If your study involves interviews, observations, or other qualitative techniques involving human subjects , you may be required to obtain approval from the university's Office for the Protection of Research Subjects before beginning your research. This is not a common procedure for most undergraduate level student research assignments. However, i f your professor states you need approval, you must include a statement in your methods section that you received official endorsement and adequate informed consent from the office and that there was a clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants and to the university. This statement informs the reader that your study was conducted in an ethical and responsible manner. In some cases, the approval notice is included as an appendix to your paper.

III.  Problems to Avoid

Irrelevant Detail The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but concise. Do not provide any background information that does not directly help the reader understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how the data was analyzed in relation to the research problem [note: analyzed, not interpreted! Save how you interpreted the findings for the discussion section]. With this in mind, the page length of your methods section will generally be less than any other section of your paper except the conclusion.

Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method , not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.

Problem Blindness It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.

Literature Review Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].

It’s More than Sources of Information! A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.

Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation , Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process . (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.

Writing Tip

Statistical Designs and Tests? Do Not Fear Them!

Don't avoid using a quantitative approach to analyzing your research problem just because you fear the idea of applying statistical designs and tests. A qualitative approach, such as conducting interviews or content analysis of archival texts, can yield exciting new insights about a research problem, but it should not be undertaken simply because you have a disdain for running a simple regression. A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in very clear and direct ways, whereas, a similar study of a qualitative nature usually requires considerable time to analyze large volumes of data and a tremendous burden to create new paths for analysis where previously no path associated with your research problem had existed.

To locate data and statistics, GO HERE .

Another Writing Tip

Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods

There can be multiple meaning associated with the term "theories" and the term "methods" in social sciences research. A helpful way to delineate between them is to understand "theories" as representing different ways of characterizing the social world when you research it and "methods" as representing different ways of generating and analyzing data about that social world. Framed in this way, all empirical social sciences research involves theories and methods, whether they are stated explicitly or not. However, while theories and methods are often related, it is important that, as a researcher, you deliberately separate them in order to avoid your theories playing a disproportionate role in shaping what outcomes your chosen methods produce.

Introspectively engage in an ongoing dialectic between the application of theories and methods to help enable you to use the outcomes from your methods to interrogate and develop new theories, or ways of framing conceptually the research problem. This is how scholarship grows and branches out into new intellectual territory.

Reynolds, R. Larry. Ways of Knowing. Alternative Microeconomics . Part 1, Chapter 3. Boise State University; The Theory-Method Relationship. S-Cool Revision. United Kingdom.

Yet Another Writing Tip

Methods and the Methodology

Do not confuse the terms "methods" and "methodology." As Schneider notes, a method refers to the technical steps taken to do research . Descriptions of methods usually include defining and stating why you have chosen specific techniques to investigate a research problem, followed by an outline of the procedures you used to systematically select, gather, and process the data [remember to always save the interpretation of data for the discussion section of your paper].

The methodology refers to a discussion of the underlying reasoning why particular methods were used . This discussion includes describing the theoretical concepts that inform the choice of methods to be applied, placing the choice of methods within the more general nature of academic work, and reviewing its relevance to examining the research problem. The methodology section also includes a thorough review of the methods other scholars have used to study the topic.

Bryman, Alan. "Of Methods and Methodology." Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 3 (2008): 159-168; Schneider, Florian. “What's in a Methodology: The Difference between Method, Methodology, and Theory…and How to Get the Balance Right?” PoliticsEastAsia.com. Chinese Department, University of Leiden, Netherlands.

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How to Write Research Methodology

Last Updated: May 21, 2023 Approved

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. and by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 521,311 times.

The research methodology section of any academic research paper gives you the opportunity to convince your readers that your research is useful and will contribute to your field of study. An effective research methodology is grounded in your overall approach – whether qualitative or quantitative – and adequately describes the methods you used. Justify why you chose those methods over others, then explain how those methods will provide answers to your research questions. [1] X Research source

Describing Your Methods

Step 1 Restate your research problem.

  • In your restatement, include any underlying assumptions that you're making or conditions that you're taking for granted. These assumptions will also inform the research methods you've chosen.
  • Generally, state the variables you'll test and the other conditions you're controlling or assuming are equal.

Step 2 Establish your overall methodological approach.

  • If you want to research and document measurable social trends, or evaluate the impact of a particular policy on various variables, use a quantitative approach focused on data collection and statistical analysis.
  • If you want to evaluate people's views or understanding of a particular issue, choose a more qualitative approach.
  • You can also combine the two. For example, you might look primarily at a measurable social trend, but also interview people and get their opinions on how that trend is affecting their lives.

Step 3 Define how you collected or generated data.

  • For example, if you conducted a survey, you would describe the questions included in the survey, where and how the survey was conducted (such as in person, online, over the phone), how many surveys were distributed, and how long your respondents had to complete the survey.
  • Include enough detail that your study can be replicated by others in your field, even if they may not get the same results you did. [4] X Research source

Step 4 Provide background for uncommon methods.

  • Qualitative research methods typically require more detailed explanation than quantitative methods.
  • Basic investigative procedures don't need to be explained in detail. Generally, you can assume that your readers have a general understanding of common research methods that social scientists use, such as surveys or focus groups.

Step 5 Cite any sources that contributed to your choice of methodology.

  • For example, suppose you conducted a survey and used a couple of other research papers to help construct the questions on your survey. You would mention those as contributing sources.

Justifying Your Choice of Methods

Step 1 Explain your selection criteria for data collection.

  • Describe study participants specifically, and list any inclusion or exclusion criteria you used when forming your group of participants.
  • Justify the size of your sample, if applicable, and describe how this affects whether your study can be generalized to larger populations. For example, if you conducted a survey of 30 percent of the student population of a university, you could potentially apply those results to the student body as a whole, but maybe not to students at other universities.

Step 2 Distinguish your research from any weaknesses in your methods.

  • Reading other research papers is a good way to identify potential problems that commonly arise with various methods. State whether you actually encountered any of these common problems during your research.

Step 3 Describe how you overcame obstacles.

  • If you encountered any problems as you collected data, explain clearly the steps you took to minimize the effect that problem would have on your results.

Step 4 Evaluate other methods you could have used.

  • In some cases, this may be as simple as stating that while there were numerous studies using one method, there weren't any using your method, which caused a gap in understanding of the issue.
  • For example, there may be multiple papers providing quantitative analysis of a particular social trend. However, none of these papers looked closely at how this trend was affecting the lives of people.

Connecting Your Methods to Your Research Goals

Step 1 Describe how you analyzed your results.

  • Depending on your research questions, you may be mixing quantitative and qualitative analysis – just as you could potentially use both approaches. For example, you might do a statistical analysis, and then interpret those statistics through a particular theoretical lens.

Step 2 Explain how your analysis suits your research goals.

  • For example, suppose you're researching the effect of college education on family farms in rural America. While you could do interviews of college-educated people who grew up on a family farm, that would not give you a picture of the overall effect. A quantitative approach and statistical analysis would give you a bigger picture.

Step 3 Identify how your analysis answers your research questions.

  • If in answering your research questions, your findings have raised other questions that may require further research, state these briefly.
  • You can also include here any limitations to your methods, or questions that weren't answered through your research.

Step 4 Assess whether your findings can be transferred or generalized.

  • Generalization is more typically used in quantitative research. If you have a well-designed sample, you can statistically apply your results to the larger population your sample belongs to.

Template to Write Research Methodology

how to plan research methodology

Community Q&A

AneHane

  • Organize your methodology section chronologically, starting with how you prepared to conduct your research methods, how you gathered data, and how you analyzed that data. [13] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Write your research methodology section in past tense, unless you're submitting the methodology section before the research described has been carried out. [14] X Research source Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Discuss your plans in detail with your advisor or supervisor before committing to a particular methodology. They can help identify possible flaws in your study. [15] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to plan research methodology

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  • ↑ http://expertjournals.com/how-to-write-a-research-methodology-for-your-academic-article/
  • ↑ http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/methodology
  • ↑ https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/dissertation-methodology.html
  • ↑ https://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/4245/05Chap%204_Research%20methodology%20and%20design.pdf
  • ↑ https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/FYP/html/method.htm

About This Article

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

To write a research methodology, start with a section that outlines the problems or questions you'll be studying, including your hypotheses or whatever it is you're setting out to prove. Then, briefly explain why you chose to use either a qualitative or quantitative approach for your study. Next, go over when and where you conducted your research and what parameters you used to ensure you were objective. Finally, cite any sources you used to decide on the methodology for your research. To learn how to justify your choice of methods in your research methodology, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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  • Research Process

Choosing the Right Research Methodology: A Guide for Researchers

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Choosing an optimal research methodology is crucial for the success of any research project. The methodology you select will determine the type of data you collect, how you collect it, and how you analyse it. Understanding the different types of research methods available along with their strengths and weaknesses, is thus imperative to make an informed decision.

Understanding different research methods:

There are several research methods available depending on the type of study you are conducting, i.e., whether it is laboratory-based, clinical, epidemiological, or survey based . Some common methodologies include qualitative research, quantitative research, experimental research, survey-based research, and action research. Each method can be opted for and modified, depending on the type of research hypotheses and objectives.

Qualitative vs quantitative research:

When deciding on a research methodology, one of the key factors to consider is whether your research will be qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative research is used to understand people’s experiences, concepts, thoughts, or behaviours . Quantitative research, on the contrary, deals with numbers, graphs, and charts, and is used to test or confirm hypotheses, assumptions, and theories. 

Qualitative research methodology:

Qualitative research is often used to examine issues that are not well understood, and to gather additional insights on these topics. Qualitative research methods include open-ended survey questions, observations of behaviours described through words, and reviews of literature that has explored similar theories and ideas. These methods are used to understand how language is used in real-world situations, identify common themes or overarching ideas, and describe and interpret various texts. Data analysis for qualitative research typically includes discourse analysis, thematic analysis, and textual analysis. 

Quantitative research methodology:

The goal of quantitative research is to test hypotheses, confirm assumptions and theories, and determine cause-and-effect relationships. Quantitative research methods include experiments, close-ended survey questions, and countable and numbered observations. Data analysis for quantitative research relies heavily on statistical methods.

Analysing qualitative vs quantitative data:

The methods used for data analysis also differ for qualitative and quantitative research. As mentioned earlier, quantitative data is generally analysed using statistical methods and does not leave much room for speculation. It is more structured and follows a predetermined plan. In quantitative research, the researcher starts with a hypothesis and uses statistical methods to test it. Contrarily, methods used for qualitative data analysis can identify patterns and themes within the data, rather than provide statistical measures of the data. It is an iterative process, where the researcher goes back and forth trying to gauge the larger implications of the data through different perspectives and revising the analysis if required.

When to use qualitative vs quantitative research:

The choice between qualitative and quantitative research will depend on the gap that the research project aims to address, and specific objectives of the study. If the goal is to establish facts about a subject or topic, quantitative research is an appropriate choice. However, if the goal is to understand people’s experiences or perspectives, qualitative research may be more suitable. 

Conclusion:

In conclusion, an understanding of the different research methods available, their applicability, advantages, and disadvantages is essential for making an informed decision on the best methodology for your project. If you need any additional guidance on which research methodology to opt for, you can head over to Elsevier Author Services (EAS). EAS experts will guide you throughout the process and help you choose the perfect methodology for your research goals.

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Research Methodology in the Health Sciences: A Quick Reference Guide

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Introduction, how to start a research study.

  • STUDY DESIGN
  • STEPS INVOLVED IN UNDERTAKING A RESEARCH STUDY
  • ERRORS IN REPORTING RESEARCH
  • LEVELS OF MEDICAL RESEARCH
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It is not the answer which enlightens, but the question’

—Eugène Ionesco 1

When you have completed this chapter, you will be able to understand:

Steps in planning a research study

What study design is

The importance of the research questions, hypothesis, and research objectives in planning a research study

Execution of the research study

Research outcome and reporting

Various levels of research

Chapter 1 of this book discussed the importance of research in the health sciences, how it differs from research in other material sciences, and its challenges. This chapter introduces the reader to the various steps involved in systematically planning and conducting a study. It starts with an idea or the research question, followed by hypothesis generation and development of the objectives to undertake the study. The objectives direct the researchers in deciding the type of study to be carried out—descriptive, analytical, or interventional. There are different levels at which research is carried out, starting from a dissertation by a student to robust multicenter research projects involving large numbers of institutions across different locations. One should keep in mind that all studies need not necessarily produce “positive,” results as commonly desired by the researchers. Nevertheless, studies with “negative”’ results should be given due attention while reporting the outcomes.

The research process involves the systematic steps of planning and execution of the study, analysis and interpretation of the data, and application of the results obtained. Planning of the research process comprises the essential steps of (i) forming the research question, (ii) generating a hypothesis, and (iii) defining the research objectives.

A research question is the first step in the process of finding relevant answers to various research problems. It starts the process of designing the structure of a research plan so that the study can be systematically undertaken to produce meaningful results for application in evidence based practice.

How to Develop the Research Question

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What is Research Methodology? Definition, Types, and Examples

how to plan research methodology

Research methodology 1,2 is a structured and scientific approach used to collect, analyze, and interpret quantitative or qualitative data to answer research questions or test hypotheses. A research methodology is like a plan for carrying out research and helps keep researchers on track by limiting the scope of the research. Several aspects must be considered before selecting an appropriate research methodology, such as research limitations and ethical concerns that may affect your research.

The research methodology section in a scientific paper describes the different methodological choices made, such as the data collection and analysis methods, and why these choices were selected. The reasons should explain why the methods chosen are the most appropriate to answer the research question. A good research methodology also helps ensure the reliability and validity of the research findings. There are three types of research methodology—quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method, which can be chosen based on the research objectives.

What is research methodology ?

A research methodology describes the techniques and procedures used to identify and analyze information regarding a specific research topic. It is a process by which researchers design their study so that they can achieve their objectives using the selected research instruments. It includes all the important aspects of research, including research design, data collection methods, data analysis methods, and the overall framework within which the research is conducted. While these points can help you understand what is research methodology, you also need to know why it is important to pick the right methodology.

Why is research methodology important?

Having a good research methodology in place has the following advantages: 3

  • Helps other researchers who may want to replicate your research; the explanations will be of benefit to them.
  • You can easily answer any questions about your research if they arise at a later stage.
  • A research methodology provides a framework and guidelines for researchers to clearly define research questions, hypotheses, and objectives.
  • It helps researchers identify the most appropriate research design, sampling technique, and data collection and analysis methods.
  • A sound research methodology helps researchers ensure that their findings are valid and reliable and free from biases and errors.
  • It also helps ensure that ethical guidelines are followed while conducting research.
  • A good research methodology helps researchers in planning their research efficiently, by ensuring optimum usage of their time and resources.

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Types of research methodology.

There are three types of research methodology based on the type of research and the data required. 1

  • Quantitative research methodology focuses on measuring and testing numerical data. This approach is good for reaching a large number of people in a short amount of time. This type of research helps in testing the causal relationships between variables, making predictions, and generalizing results to wider populations.
  • Qualitative research methodology examines the opinions, behaviors, and experiences of people. It collects and analyzes words and textual data. This research methodology requires fewer participants but is still more time consuming because the time spent per participant is quite large. This method is used in exploratory research where the research problem being investigated is not clearly defined.
  • Mixed-method research methodology uses the characteristics of both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies in the same study. This method allows researchers to validate their findings, verify if the results observed using both methods are complementary, and explain any unexpected results obtained from one method by using the other method.

What are the types of sampling designs in research methodology?

Sampling 4 is an important part of a research methodology and involves selecting a representative sample of the population to conduct the study, making statistical inferences about them, and estimating the characteristics of the whole population based on these inferences. There are two types of sampling designs in research methodology—probability and nonprobability.

  • Probability sampling

In this type of sampling design, a sample is chosen from a larger population using some form of random selection, that is, every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected. The different types of probability sampling are:

  • Systematic —sample members are chosen at regular intervals. It requires selecting a starting point for the sample and sample size determination that can be repeated at regular intervals. This type of sampling method has a predefined range; hence, it is the least time consuming.
  • Stratified —researchers divide the population into smaller groups that don’t overlap but represent the entire population. While sampling, these groups can be organized, and then a sample can be drawn from each group separately.
  • Cluster —the population is divided into clusters based on demographic parameters like age, sex, location, etc.
  • Convenience —selects participants who are most easily accessible to researchers due to geographical proximity, availability at a particular time, etc.
  • Purposive —participants are selected at the researcher’s discretion. Researchers consider the purpose of the study and the understanding of the target audience.
  • Snowball —already selected participants use their social networks to refer the researcher to other potential participants.
  • Quota —while designing the study, the researchers decide how many people with which characteristics to include as participants. The characteristics help in choosing people most likely to provide insights into the subject.

What are data collection methods?

During research, data are collected using various methods depending on the research methodology being followed and the research methods being undertaken. Both qualitative and quantitative research have different data collection methods, as listed below.

Qualitative research 5

  • One-on-one interviews: Helps the interviewers understand a respondent’s subjective opinion and experience pertaining to a specific topic or event
  • Document study/literature review/record keeping: Researchers’ review of already existing written materials such as archives, annual reports, research articles, guidelines, policy documents, etc.
  • Focus groups: Constructive discussions that usually include a small sample of about 6-10 people and a moderator, to understand the participants’ opinion on a given topic.
  • Qualitative observation : Researchers collect data using their five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing).

Quantitative research 6

  • Sampling: The most common type is probability sampling.
  • Interviews: Commonly telephonic or done in-person.
  • Observations: Structured observations are most commonly used in quantitative research. In this method, researchers make observations about specific behaviors of individuals in a structured setting.
  • Document review: Reviewing existing research or documents to collect evidence for supporting the research.
  • Surveys and questionnaires. Surveys can be administered both online and offline depending on the requirement and sample size.

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What are data analysis methods.

The data collected using the various methods for qualitative and quantitative research need to be analyzed to generate meaningful conclusions. These data analysis methods 7 also differ between quantitative and qualitative research.

Quantitative research involves a deductive method for data analysis where hypotheses are developed at the beginning of the research and precise measurement is required. The methods include statistical analysis applications to analyze numerical data and are grouped into two categories—descriptive and inferential.

Descriptive analysis is used to describe the basic features of different types of data to present it in a way that ensures the patterns become meaningful. The different types of descriptive analysis methods are:

  • Measures of frequency (count, percent, frequency)
  • Measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode)
  • Measures of dispersion or variation (range, variance, standard deviation)
  • Measure of position (percentile ranks, quartile ranks)

Inferential analysis is used to make predictions about a larger population based on the analysis of the data collected from a smaller population. This analysis is used to study the relationships between different variables. Some commonly used inferential data analysis methods are:

  • Correlation: To understand the relationship between two or more variables.
  • Cross-tabulation: Analyze the relationship between multiple variables.
  • Regression analysis: Study the impact of independent variables on the dependent variable.
  • Frequency tables: To understand the frequency of data.
  • Analysis of variance: To test the degree to which two or more variables differ in an experiment.

Qualitative research involves an inductive method for data analysis where hypotheses are developed after data collection. The methods include:

  • Content analysis: For analyzing documented information from text and images by determining the presence of certain words or concepts in texts.
  • Narrative analysis: For analyzing content obtained from sources such as interviews, field observations, and surveys. The stories and opinions shared by people are used to answer research questions.
  • Discourse analysis: For analyzing interactions with people considering the social context, that is, the lifestyle and environment, under which the interaction occurs.
  • Grounded theory: Involves hypothesis creation by data collection and analysis to explain why a phenomenon occurred.
  • Thematic analysis: To identify important themes or patterns in data and use these to address an issue.

How to choose a research methodology?

Here are some important factors to consider when choosing a research methodology: 8

  • Research objectives, aims, and questions —these would help structure the research design.
  • Review existing literature to identify any gaps in knowledge.
  • Check the statistical requirements —if data-driven or statistical results are needed then quantitative research is the best. If the research questions can be answered based on people’s opinions and perceptions, then qualitative research is most suitable.
  • Sample size —sample size can often determine the feasibility of a research methodology. For a large sample, less effort- and time-intensive methods are appropriate.
  • Constraints —constraints of time, geography, and resources can help define the appropriate methodology.

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How to write a research methodology .

A research methodology should include the following components: 3,9

  • Research design —should be selected based on the research question and the data required. Common research designs include experimental, quasi-experimental, correlational, descriptive, and exploratory.
  • Research method —this can be quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method.
  • Reason for selecting a specific methodology —explain why this methodology is the most suitable to answer your research problem.
  • Research instruments —explain the research instruments you plan to use, mainly referring to the data collection methods such as interviews, surveys, etc. Here as well, a reason should be mentioned for selecting the particular instrument.
  • Sampling —this involves selecting a representative subset of the population being studied.
  • Data collection —involves gathering data using several data collection methods, such as surveys, interviews, etc.
  • Data analysis —describe the data analysis methods you will use once you’ve collected the data.
  • Research limitations —mention any limitations you foresee while conducting your research.
  • Validity and reliability —validity helps identify the accuracy and truthfulness of the findings; reliability refers to the consistency and stability of the results over time and across different conditions.
  • Ethical considerations —research should be conducted ethically. The considerations include obtaining consent from participants, maintaining confidentiality, and addressing conflicts of interest.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the key components of research methodology?

A1. A good research methodology has the following key components:

  • Research design
  • Data collection procedures
  • Data analysis methods
  • Ethical considerations

Q2. Why is ethical consideration important in research methodology?

A2. Ethical consideration is important in research methodology to ensure the readers of the reliability and validity of the study. Researchers must clearly mention the ethical norms and standards followed during the conduct of the research and also mention if the research has been cleared by any institutional board. The following 10 points are the important principles related to ethical considerations: 10

  • Participants should not be subjected to harm.
  • Respect for the dignity of participants should be prioritized.
  • Full consent should be obtained from participants before the study.
  • Participants’ privacy should be ensured.
  • Confidentiality of the research data should be ensured.
  • Anonymity of individuals and organizations participating in the research should be maintained.
  • The aims and objectives of the research should not be exaggerated.
  • Affiliations, sources of funding, and any possible conflicts of interest should be declared.
  • Communication in relation to the research should be honest and transparent.
  • Misleading information and biased representation of primary data findings should be avoided.

Q3. What is the difference between methodology and method?

A3. Research methodology is different from a research method, although both terms are often confused. Research methods are the tools used to gather data, while the research methodology provides a framework for how research is planned, conducted, and analyzed. The latter guides researchers in making decisions about the most appropriate methods for their research. Research methods refer to the specific techniques, procedures, and tools used by researchers to collect, analyze, and interpret data, for instance surveys, questionnaires, interviews, etc.

Research methodology is, thus, an integral part of a research study. It helps ensure that you stay on track to meet your research objectives and answer your research questions using the most appropriate data collection and analysis tools based on your research design.

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  • Research methodologies. Pfeiffer Library website. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://library.tiffin.edu/researchmethodologies/whatareresearchmethodologies
  • Types of research methodology. Eduvoice website. Accessed August 16, 2023. https://eduvoice.in/types-research-methodology/
  • The basics of research methodology: A key to quality research. Voxco. Accessed August 16, 2023. https://www.voxco.com/blog/what-is-research-methodology/
  • Sampling methods: Types with examples. QuestionPro website. Accessed August 16, 2023. https://www.questionpro.com/blog/types-of-sampling-for-social-research/
  • What is qualitative research? Methods, types, approaches, examples. Researcher.Life blog. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://researcher.life/blog/article/what-is-qualitative-research-methods-types-examples/
  • What is quantitative research? Definition, methods, types, and examples. Researcher.Life blog. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://researcher.life/blog/article/what-is-quantitative-research-types-and-examples/
  • Data analysis in research: Types & methods. QuestionPro website. Accessed August 16, 2023. https://www.questionpro.com/blog/data-analysis-in-research/#Data_analysis_in_qualitative_research
  • Factors to consider while choosing the right research methodology. PhD Monster website. Accessed August 17, 2023. https://www.phdmonster.com/factors-to-consider-while-choosing-the-right-research-methodology/
  • What is research methodology? Research and writing guides. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://paperpile.com/g/what-is-research-methodology/
  • Ethical considerations. Business research methodology website. Accessed August 17, 2023. https://research-methodology.net/research-methodology/ethical-considerations/

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Research Method

Home » Research Process – Steps, Examples and Tips

Research Process – Steps, Examples and Tips

Table of Contents

Research Process

Research Process

Definition:

Research Process is a systematic and structured approach that involves the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data or information to answer a specific research question or solve a particular problem.

Research Process Steps

Research Process Steps are as follows:

Identify the Research Question or Problem

This is the first step in the research process. It involves identifying a problem or question that needs to be addressed. The research question should be specific, relevant, and focused on a particular area of interest.

Conduct a Literature Review

Once the research question has been identified, the next step is to conduct a literature review. This involves reviewing existing research and literature on the topic to identify any gaps in knowledge or areas where further research is needed. A literature review helps to provide a theoretical framework for the research and also ensures that the research is not duplicating previous work.

Formulate a Hypothesis or Research Objectives

Based on the research question and literature review, the researcher can formulate a hypothesis or research objectives. A hypothesis is a statement that can be tested to determine its validity, while research objectives are specific goals that the researcher aims to achieve through the research.

Design a Research Plan and Methodology

This step involves designing a research plan and methodology that will enable the researcher to collect and analyze data to test the hypothesis or achieve the research objectives. The research plan should include details on the sample size, data collection methods, and data analysis techniques that will be used.

Collect and Analyze Data

This step involves collecting and analyzing data according to the research plan and methodology. Data can be collected through various methods, including surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. The data analysis process involves cleaning and organizing the data, applying statistical and analytical techniques to the data, and interpreting the results.

Interpret the Findings and Draw Conclusions

After analyzing the data, the researcher must interpret the findings and draw conclusions. This involves assessing the validity and reliability of the results and determining whether the hypothesis was supported or not. The researcher must also consider any limitations of the research and discuss the implications of the findings.

Communicate the Results

Finally, the researcher must communicate the results of the research through a research report, presentation, or publication. The research report should provide a detailed account of the research process, including the research question, literature review, research methodology, data analysis, findings, and conclusions. The report should also include recommendations for further research in the area.

Review and Revise

The research process is an iterative one, and it is important to review and revise the research plan and methodology as necessary. Researchers should assess the quality of their data and methods, reflect on their findings, and consider areas for improvement.

Ethical Considerations

Throughout the research process, ethical considerations must be taken into account. This includes ensuring that the research design protects the welfare of research participants, obtaining informed consent, maintaining confidentiality and privacy, and avoiding any potential harm to participants or their communities.

Dissemination and Application

The final step in the research process is to disseminate the findings and apply the research to real-world settings. Researchers can share their findings through academic publications, presentations at conferences, or media coverage. The research can be used to inform policy decisions, develop interventions, or improve practice in the relevant field.

Research Process Example

Following is a Research Process Example:

Research Question : What are the effects of a plant-based diet on athletic performance in high school athletes?

Step 1: Background Research Conduct a literature review to gain a better understanding of the existing research on the topic. Read academic articles and research studies related to plant-based diets, athletic performance, and high school athletes.

Step 2: Develop a Hypothesis Based on the literature review, develop a hypothesis that a plant-based diet positively affects athletic performance in high school athletes.

Step 3: Design the Study Design a study to test the hypothesis. Decide on the study population, sample size, and research methods. For this study, you could use a survey to collect data on dietary habits and athletic performance from a sample of high school athletes who follow a plant-based diet and a sample of high school athletes who do not follow a plant-based diet.

Step 4: Collect Data Distribute the survey to the selected sample and collect data on dietary habits and athletic performance.

Step 5: Analyze Data Use statistical analysis to compare the data from the two samples and determine if there is a significant difference in athletic performance between those who follow a plant-based diet and those who do not.

Step 6 : Interpret Results Interpret the results of the analysis in the context of the research question and hypothesis. Discuss any limitations or potential biases in the study design.

Step 7: Draw Conclusions Based on the results, draw conclusions about whether a plant-based diet has a significant effect on athletic performance in high school athletes. If the hypothesis is supported by the data, discuss potential implications and future research directions.

Step 8: Communicate Findings Communicate the findings of the study in a clear and concise manner. Use appropriate language, visuals, and formats to ensure that the findings are understood and valued.

Applications of Research Process

The research process has numerous applications across a wide range of fields and industries. Some examples of applications of the research process include:

  • Scientific research: The research process is widely used in scientific research to investigate phenomena in the natural world and develop new theories or technologies. This includes fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science.
  • Social sciences : The research process is commonly used in social sciences to study human behavior, social structures, and institutions. This includes fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and economics.
  • Education: The research process is used in education to study learning processes, curriculum design, and teaching methodologies. This includes research on student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and educational policy.
  • Healthcare: The research process is used in healthcare to investigate medical conditions, develop new treatments, and evaluate healthcare interventions. This includes fields such as medicine, nursing, and public health.
  • Business and industry : The research process is used in business and industry to study consumer behavior, market trends, and develop new products or services. This includes market research, product development, and customer satisfaction research.
  • Government and policy : The research process is used in government and policy to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and programs, and to inform policy decisions. This includes research on social welfare, crime prevention, and environmental policy.

Purpose of Research Process

The purpose of the research process is to systematically and scientifically investigate a problem or question in order to generate new knowledge or solve a problem. The research process enables researchers to:

  • Identify gaps in existing knowledge: By conducting a thorough literature review, researchers can identify gaps in existing knowledge and develop research questions that address these gaps.
  • Collect and analyze data : The research process provides a structured approach to collecting and analyzing data. Researchers can use a variety of research methods, including surveys, experiments, and interviews, to collect data that is valid and reliable.
  • Test hypotheses : The research process allows researchers to test hypotheses and make evidence-based conclusions. Through the systematic analysis of data, researchers can draw conclusions about the relationships between variables and develop new theories or models.
  • Solve problems: The research process can be used to solve practical problems and improve real-world outcomes. For example, researchers can develop interventions to address health or social problems, evaluate the effectiveness of policies or programs, and improve organizational processes.
  • Generate new knowledge : The research process is a key way to generate new knowledge and advance understanding in a given field. By conducting rigorous and well-designed research, researchers can make significant contributions to their field and help to shape future research.

Tips for Research Process

Here are some tips for the research process:

  • Start with a clear research question : A well-defined research question is the foundation of a successful research project. It should be specific, relevant, and achievable within the given time frame and resources.
  • Conduct a thorough literature review: A comprehensive literature review will help you to identify gaps in existing knowledge, build on previous research, and avoid duplication. It will also provide a theoretical framework for your research.
  • Choose appropriate research methods: Select research methods that are appropriate for your research question, objectives, and sample size. Ensure that your methods are valid, reliable, and ethical.
  • Be organized and systematic: Keep detailed notes throughout the research process, including your research plan, methodology, data collection, and analysis. This will help you to stay organized and ensure that you don’t miss any important details.
  • Analyze data rigorously: Use appropriate statistical and analytical techniques to analyze your data. Ensure that your analysis is valid, reliable, and transparent.
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Original mixed methods research – Public health communication professional development opportunities and alignment with core competencies: an environmental scan and content analysis 

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Melissa MacKay, PhD; Devon McAlpine, BSc; Heather Worte, MPH; Lauren E. Grant, PhD; Andrew Papadopoulos, PhD; Jennifer E. McWhirter, PhD

https://doi.org/10.24095/hpcdp.44.5.03

This article has been peer reviewed.

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Research article  by MacKay M et al. in the HPCDP Journal licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Jennifer McWhirter, 50 Stone Road East, Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON  N1G 2W1; Tel: 519-824-4120 ext. 58951; Email:  [email protected]

MacKay M, McAlpine D, Wrote H, Grant LE, Papadopoulos A, McWhirter JE. Public health communication professional development opportunities and alignment with core competencies: an environmental scan and content analysis. Health Promot Chronic Dis Prev Can. 2024;44(5):218-28. https://doi.org/10.24095/hpcdp.44.5.03

Introduction: Communication is vital for effective and precise public health practice. The limited formal educational opportunities in health communication render professional development opportunities especially important. Competencies for public health communication describe the integrated knowledge, values, skills and behaviours required for practitioner and organizational performance. Many countries consider communication a core public health competency and use communication competencies in workforce planning and development.

Methods: We conducted an environmental scan and content analysis to determine the availability of public health communication professional development opportunities in Canada and the extent to which they support communication-related core competencies. Three relevant competency frameworks were used to assess the degree to which professional development offerings supported communication competency development.

Results: Overall, 45 professional development offerings were included: 16 “formalized offerings” (training opportunities such as courses, webinars, certificate programs) and 29 “materials and tools” (resources such as toolkits, guidebooks). The formalized offerings addressed 25% to 100% of the communication competencies, and the materials and tools addressed 67% to 100%. Addressing misinformation and disinformation, using current technology and communicating with diverse populations are areas in need of improved professional development.

Conclusion: There is a significant gap in public health communication formalized offerings in Canada and many of the materials and tools are outdated. Public health communication professional development offerings lack coordination and do not provide comprehensive coverage across the communication competencies, limiting their utility to strengthen the public health workforce. More, and more comprehensive, professional development offerings are needed.

Keywords : health communication, core competencies’ professional development, workforce planning

  • There have been widespread calls to transform the public health workforce in Canada.
  • We conducted an environmental scan and content analysis to determine current professional development opportunities in public health communication and investigate how well they support communication-related core competencies.
  • We found 45 professional development offerings relevant to public health communication in Canada, with varying coverage of the core competencies.
  • Addressing misinformation and disinformation, the use of current technology and communicating with diverse populations are areas in need of improved professional development.
  • This snapshot of the current state of public health communication professional development shows that coverage across the competencies is neither coordinated nor comprehensive.

Introduction

With the field of public health constantly evolving due to new knowledge from research and practice and changing technology, effective communication is critical, especially during crises. Footnote 1 Effective communication is also central to the design and implementation of public health initiatives, which impact adoption of recommended health behaviours, especially among those in underserved population groups. Footnote 2

There have been widespread calls to improve the Canadian public health system, including updating core competencies for public health and related professional development opportunities Footnote 1 Footnote 3 Footnote 4 Footnote 5 as well as public health communication. Footnote 6 Footnote 7 Changes in the information ecosystem have altered methods of communication and increased the threat of misinformation, undermining trust in public health communication. Footnote 8 Footnote 9 This is especially apparent in the context of social media, which is an important tool for delivering public health messages. Footnote 1 Footnote 9

Without the opportunities to continually update and adapt their communication competencies and skills, public health practitioners risk losing their credibility and the public’s trust, negatively affecting the health of Canadians. Footnote 1 Professional development allows for the enhancement of existing skills and behaviours and acquisition of new knowledge and attitudes in order to meet workforce demands.

In 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada ( PHAC ) published Core Competencies for Public Health: Release 1.0 (“ PHAC core competencies”) after extensive consultation with public health researchers and practitioners across the country. Footnote 10 The 36 PHAC core competencies are organized into seven categories, one of which is communication. Footnote 10 At the time of writing, the PHAC core competencies were undergoing renewal and modernization. Because of the age of the current PHAC core competencies, other public health competency frameworks may help inform Canadian public health workforce planning.

Health Promotion Canada has a framework for discipline-specific competencies for health promotion (“ HPC competencies”) based on the PHAC core competencies. Footnote 11 The Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice (“Council on Linkages”) in the USA has foundational core competencies for public health practitioners; Footnote 12 these core competencies have been regularly revised since their release in 2001 and provide an up-to-date framework that reflects modern communication requirements, including addressing the infodemic and culturally appropriate communication. Footnote 12

There are similarities across the three competency frameworks, including tailoring communication to various audiences, choosing the right communication channel(s), mobilizing communities and using technology effectively. The extent to which communication competencies from these frameworks inform professional development opportunities for public health communication is unknown.

Gaps have been identified in the public health communication courses offered by the master of public health programs in Canada. Footnote 13 Footnote 14 Also, research into online continuing education programs found that only about half the courses offered in 2015 included communication as a topic. Footnote 15 Although several online courses are available for public health professionals in Canada, Jung et al. Footnote 15 found that these did not provide comprehensive coverage of the PHAC core competencies, including within the communication domain; nor were they readily accessible through a central online database.

Given the significance of communication in public health practice and its focus in public health competency frameworks, it is important to understand the opportunities and resources currently available and how these align with the relevant competency frameworks. Identifying current professional development offerings for public health practitioners will also highlight the opportunities for building workforce competence and communication capacity.

This current research aims to determine the availability of public health communication professional development opportunities and the extent to which they support core competencies in communication. The objectives of this research include:

  • using an environmental scan to identify currently available Canadian professional development opportunities relevant to public health communication; and
  • conducting a content analysis to describe how these identified professional development opportunities align with communication competencies from the relevant frameworks ( PHAC core competencies, HPC competencies, and Council on Linkages competencies).

We conducted an environmental scan to determine the current professional development landscape that supports public health communication competencies in the Canadian workforce. Our search methods were guided by previous research on competencies for public health and continuing education. Footnote 16 Footnote 17 Following the steps outlined by Bengtsson Footnote 18 and Krippendorff, Footnote 19 we analysed the content of all the professional development opportunities identified in the scan to determine their nature and the degree to which they support the development of public health communication competency.

Search strategy

First, the research team searched, by way of a Google site search (site: URL search terms) using the term “health communication,” the entire contents of websites of public health organizations known to them.

Next, we conducted an Internet search using the Google search engine and the following search terms: “health communication,” “public health,” ”continuing education,” “Canada.” A subsequent search used the search terms “health communication,” “public health,” “course,” “Canada.” Consistent with methodological examples and recommendations, we reviewed the first 10 pages of results of each search. Footnote 17 Footnote 20 The same two searches were also run using the Ontario Public Health Libraries Association custom Google search engine, Footnote 21 the grey literature database CABI Global Health Footnote 22 and the custom Google search engine developed by Queen’s University Library. Footnote 23 Other resources known to the research team were also included.

Search criteria

Two researchers ( MM and JEM ) independently reviewed the professional development offerings for relevance to the following inclusion and exclusion criteria and resolved all conflicts by discussion. For a professional development opportunity to be included, it had:

  • to be offered or be available within the last 12 months (materials and tools may still be available online long after their initial publication);
  • to be widely available and applicable to Canadian public health practitioners;
  • to reoccur as a multistep program offered to different public health organizations and/or allow repeated access through online platforms;
  • to be in English;
  • to be offered in Canada or be available to Canadians;
  • to be relevant to Canadian public health infrastructure and governance; and
  • to be related to public health communication.

Included were “formalized offerings,” that is, training opportunities such as certificate programs, courses, graduate programs, summer institutes, webinars and online learning programs, and “materials and tools,” that is, resources such as guidebooks, white papers, expert panel reports, toolkits, guidelines and briefing notes, conference proceedings, blog posts, factsheets, toolkits and websites.

Offerings were excluded if they were single occurrence webinars, conferences or workshops; and/or limited in geographical relevance or offered in a relatively small geographical area or organization (e.g. one local public health unit).

Data collection

One researcher ( HW ) collected the data between 13 November 2022 and 6 December 2022 and recorded the information on an Excel spreadsheet. Footnote 24 The following information was collected for each formalized offering: name, description, type (e.g. certificate program, webinar), format (e.g. hybrid, online), intended audience, time commitment, cost, the institution providing the offering, the country providing the offering and its geographical reach, date last offered, currently offered (Y/N), the URL , the search date and the search source. The following information was collected for materials and tools: title, author, description, type (e.g. guidebook, toolkit), intended audience, location, date, the URL , the search date and the search source.

Content analysis

The communication-related competencies from the PHAC core competencies, Footnote 10 the HPC competencies Footnote 11 and the Council on Linkages Footnote 12 were used to assess the degree to which the professional development offerings support public health communication competencies ( Table 1 ).

Three researchers ( MM , HW and JEM ) created a codebook describing key variables identified during data collection and the communication-related competencies from the frameworks described above. (This codebook is available online .) Subvariables for each competency that reflected the named audiences, channels, tools and techniques were also captured. Professional development opportunities could be coded for the overall competency and may or may not be coded for the various subvariables depending on whether the specific audiences, channels, tools and techniques were covered. The codebook was validated prior to coding. Two researchers ( HW and MM ), working independently, coded the full dataset, discussing and resolving all conflicts along the way.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive statistics (frequencies) were calculated using Excel Footnote 24 to assess how each of the professional development opportunities support the communication competencies. We used RAWGraphs Footnote 25 to present the data visually.

The environmental scan uncovered a total of 45 professional development opportunities related to public health communication. Of these, 16 (36%) were formalized offerings and 29 (64%) were materials and tools. Three of the 16 formalized offerings were available and analyzed in full. The remaining 13 were analyzed based on the summary information available (most often because they were behind a paywall). All materials and tools were available and analyzed in full.

Details on the formalized offerings and materials and tools are available online .

Characteristics of professional development opportunities

Just over half of the 16 formalized offerings (n = 9; 56%) and most of the 29 materials and tools (n = 26; 90%) originated from Canada ( Table 2 ). While all the formalized offerings were offered in the last 12 months (and thus met our inclusion criteria), only one (3%) set of materials and tools was published in the last 12 months and only six (21%) in the last 5 years, although all were available online within the last 12 months, thus meeting our inclusion criteria.

Just over two-thirds of the formalized offerings (n = 11; 69%) and all the materials and tools (n = 29; 100%) were offered online asynchronously; 13 of the formalized offerings (81%) and 28 of the materials and tools (97%) focused on general public health practitioners. The most common formalized offerings were courses (n = 6; 38%); were focused on knowledge mobilization (n = 5; 31%); and were offered by academic institutions (n = 4; 14%). The most common materials and tools were resources (n = 12; 41%); were focused on general health communication (n = 10; 34%); and were offered by arms-length organizations (n = 8; 28%).

Professional development opportunities were delivered by various organizations and institutions. Formalized offerings were mostly offered by academia (n = 6; 38%), government-funded arms-length institutions (n = 3; 19%) and hospitals (n = 3; 19%). Materials and tools were mostly offered by government-funded arms-length institutions (n = 8; 28%), provincial governments (n = 8; 28%) and academia (n = 4; 14%) ( Table 1 ; Figure 1 ). No formalized offerings were provided by public health units, NGOs or provincial governments, and very few materials and tools were offered by public health units and professional associations (n = 1 each; 3%) ( Table 1 ; Figure 1 ).

Figure 1. Text version below.

Abbreviations: Council on Linkages, Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice; HPC , Health Promotion Canada; PHAC , Public Health Agency of Canada. Notes: The legend provides two reference points (smallest circle = 4 offerings and largest circle = 29 offerings) visualized in the figure. Formalized offerings: certificate (programs), courses, graduate programs, summer institutes, webinars. Materials and tools: conference proceedings, blog posts, briefing notes, expert panel reports, factsheets, guidebooks, toolkits, websites, guidelines.

Competencies within professional development opportunities

Overall, across the professional development opportunities (formalized offerings and materials and tools combined; see Table 1 ), competencies related to tailoring information (n = 44; 98%), using different communication strategies (n = 43; 96%) and communicating with internal and external audiences (n = 42; 93%) were the most supported; competencies related to misinformation and disinformation (n = 12; 27%), current technology (n = 25; 56%) and using media (n = 33; 73%) were the least supported (data not shown). Figure 2 shows the alignment of the professional development offerings with the competency frameworks broken down by formalized offerings (n = 16) and materials and tools (n = 29).

Figure 2. Text version below.

Note: The legend provides two reference points (smallest circle = 1 offering and largest circle = 5 offerings) visualized in the figure.

Alignment with PHAC communication competencies

On average, formalized offerings covered 2.25 (range: 0–4) out of the 4 communication-related PHAC core competencies and materials and tools covered 3.55 out of these 4 competencies (range: 2–4) per professional development offering. The PHAC core competency most commonly supported by professional development opportunities was interpreting information, which was addressed by all 29 of the materials and tools and three-quarters (n = 12; 75%) of formalized offerings ( Table 3 ). Communication skills was similarly supported by all of the materials and tools and almost two-thirds (n = 10; 63%) of formalized offerings. Mobilizing people was slightly less supported with 90% (n = 26) of materials and tools and 50% (n = 8) of formalized offerings addressing it. The least supported competency was current technology with 66% (n = 19) of materials and tools and 38% (n = 6) of formalized offerings addressing it.

The types of intended audiences were less frequently addressed by formalized offerings compared to materials and tools ( Table 3 ), with colleagues the least addressed audience type. Professional development opportunities most often addressed interpreting information for communities, while professional audiences were least covered. Further, social marketing techniques for mobilizing individuals and communities were not well addressed by the professional development opportunities. Finally, formalized offerings infrequently covered specific technologies identified in the competencies, while materials and tools addressed using websites and social media in approximately half of the resources that addressed this competency.

Alignment with HPC communication competencies

Overall, materials and tools were strongly aligned with all the HPC communication competencies ( Table 4 ). Tailoring information to specific audiences was the most widely addressed competency by both formalized offerings and materials and tools. Coverage of the different communication methods varied, with the media (traditional and new media) addressed by seven (44%) formalized offerings and 19 (66%) materials and tools, and information technologies addressed by just two (13%) formalized offerings and 10 (34%) materials and tools. While communicating with diverse populations was well supported by formalized offerings (n = 7; 44%) and materials and tools (n = 27; 93%), it was often addressed exclusively in the context of health literacy (n = 2/7 [29%] formalized offerings; n = 15/27 [52%] of materials and tools).

Alignment with Council on Linkages communication competencies

Overall, the materials and tools had more comprehensive alignment with the Council on Linkages communication competencies based on the information available, except for addressing misinformation and disinformation ( Table 5 ). This competency subvariable had the lowest support from professional development opportunities with only four (25%) of formalized offerings and eight (28%) of materials and tools addressing misinformation and disinformation.

Although the remaining three competencies (communication strategies, internal/external audiences, facilitate communication) were broadly addressed by many professional development opportunities, there was less focus on some key elements. Specifically, while 17 (59%) of materials and tools addressed communicating with internal audiences, only two (13%) formalized offerings addressed this element of the competency.

This study examined the professional development opportunities for public health communication widely available currently or within the last 12 months, in English, to Canadians or relevant to Canadian public health, and how closely aligned they are with public health communication competencies relevant in Canada ( PHAC and HPC ) and the USA (Council on Linkages).

We found 45 offerings related to public health communication of which 16 were formalized offerings (training opportunities, e.g. certificate programs, courses, webinars) and 29 were materials and tools (resources, e.g. guidebooks, toolkits, reports). Less than one-quarter of the materials and tools were published in the last 5 years. The older age of some materials and tools may have contributed to the competency gaps in current technology and in addressing misinformation and disinformation. Most often, formalized offerings focussed on knowledge mobilization while materials and tools focussed on general health communication.

Professional development offerings were not developed or coordinated by a governing body, but were offered by different organizations and agencies across Canada and the USA . Overall, the formalized offerings address fewer competencies relative to the materials and tools; however, this may be, at least in part, because we were only able to analyze summary materials for the majority of formalized offerings whereas all materials and tools were available and analyzed in full.

Competencies are the integrated knowledge, skills, attitudes/values and behaviours that public health practitioners and organizations must possess for effective public health practice. Footnote 26 Public health organizations can take competencies into account when recruiting personnel, assessing job performances and identifying professional development needs. Footnote 26 Workforce training and continuing education are an essential part of competency development, especially when there is a lack of graduate training options in communication and other competencies, as was found in Canada. Footnote 14 Footnote 15 The Canadian Public Health Association has recommended workforce training in modernized competencies as key for strengthening the public health system. Footnote 1 Footnote 27 PHAC used to offer Skills Online, an eight-module professional development program that directly supported the core competency categories. Footnote 28 The results of this study show that the professional development opportunities currently available do not cover all the PHAC core competencies, with formalized offerings averaging 2.25 competencies per opportunity and materials and tools averaging 3.55 competencies per opportunity. No equivalent comprehensive training program fills this gap.

Our research was specific to the public health communication categories; in fact, we found that there is no comprehensive professional development program for public health communication. What is available is a range of programs offered by many different types of organizations and agencies, some of which may not be up-to-date and which do not comprehensively support current communication competency development needs. While a comprehensive federal training program such as Skills Online Footnote 28 may provide coordinated training across the full range of core competencies (including communication), the smaller professional development offerings could not be expected to be equally comprehensive. Rather, the professional development offerings provided by the various organizations and institutions were more targeted and not designed to cover the full range of communication competencies. Examining the professional development opportunities collectively allows for understanding what is available, how the opportunities support the development of communication competencies, and what areas of opportunity exist for public health communication in the absence of a comprehensive competency-based federal training program.

Compared to the formalized offerings, the materials and tools were more aligned with the communication-related core competencies; however, practitioners need to seek out these resources, without the benefit of a facilitated structure such as could be expected from a course. Diverse effective training includes online courses, mentorship, just-in-time training and community-engaged training, through academia, government, community and other partnerships. Footnote 29 Materials and tools for public health communication would be less likely to reflect these pedagogical practices.

Further, recent research found that fewer than half of the master of public health programs in Canada offer courses that focus on health communication, and none specialize in health communication. Footnote 14 As with professional development, a systematic approach to enhancing communication competence in the public health workforce is needed, and master of public health programs should include targeted health communication education taught by faculty members with the relevant expertise. In addition, curricula need to be regularly reviewed to make sure they are aligned with contemporary competencies and current public health needs.

Comprehensive professional development opportunities that address contemporary public health communication needs will strengthen our capacity and ensure the availability of a skilled workforce. In contrast to current offerings in Canada, the selection of trainings in public health communication for students and practitioners in the USA is large and comprehensive. The Public Health Foundation offers the TRAIN Learning Network; the foundation and the New England Public Health Training Center have a number of courses related to communication that are mapped to the Council on Linkages’ core competencies for public health professionals. Footnote 12 Footnote 30 There are also 65 schools in the USA that, between them, offer 77 programs on health communication. Footnote 31 They could also provide a roadmap for comprehensive training and professional development aligned with core competencies and pedagogy for effective training in Canada.

Overall, the professional development offerings had strong alignment with the communication-related PHAC core competencies, with nearly half (49%) addressing all four competencies. One communication core competency, the PHAC core competency, “current technology” (#6.4), was not widely addressed by formalized offerings but had better coverage within materials and tools, although leveraging technology rather than teaching practitioners how to effectively use it tended to be mentioned. Digital technologies are vital to public health communication, as was evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic when social media, online big data sources, data visualization, artificial intelligence and digital platforms (e.g. video conferencing software) became increasingly important. Footnote 32 Thus, it is critical that the core competencies not only reflect the scope and complexity of digital technologies that should be used by public health in communication initiatives but also that they be mapped to professional development opportunities that teach the technologies to practitioners.

As previously mentioned, the PHAC core competencies are undergoing renewal and modernization, with an estimated launch scheduled for 2024. The Chief Public Health Officer’s 2021 report identified several areas related to communication that must be addressed through the updated competencies and workforce training: addressing misinformation and disinformation; codesigning health information with communities; culturally appropriate communication; enhanced risk and crisis communication; and tailoring information to communities’ values and needs. Footnote 33 Our research found that most of the professional development offerings did not address misinformation and disinformation, although most did address tailoring communication and communicating with diverse populations. Within the context of communicating with diverse populations, however, the focus was usually on health literacy rather than on cultural competency. These results show opportunities for strengthening our professional development in areas vital to public health communication.

The Canadian public health workforce can be enhanced and supported by building stronger linkages between practice and education, including partnerships between public health schools and public health organizations and associations to co-develop and customize education and training opportunities, including specialized subdisciplines, for public health practitioners and students. Public health organizations and associations play key roles in workforce development and are aware of community-level needs and practitioner competencies through their connection to the field and monitoring and evaluating of key issues. As such, they are in the best position to clarify the public health needs of today and anticipate the needs of tomorrow. Public health schools, meanwhile, bring expertise in pedagogy and competency-based education. Such partnerships would help produce training opportunities that are tailored to organization and practitioner needs, including format, timing and focuses. Further, public health organizations and associations could provide comments and input to public health schools on what they anticipate needing in the future, which is important because of the lead time required to build curriculum and expertise in the future public health workforce.

Strengths, limitations and future research

The search strategy was designed to capture as many professional development offerings meeting our inclusion criteria as possible. The search consisted of English language results only, and some web content was inaccessible without an organization membership. Access to the full details of formalized offerings was often not possible without enrolling in the course; therefore relevant data were mostly extracted from summary information, which may have biased the results given that materials and tools often presented  information in full. Further, while formalized offerings needed to be offered within the last 12 months, materials and tools needed to be available online within the last year, but could have been published even 15 years earlier.

Our search and data retrieval processes were also limited by challenges inherent to online research. For example, broken links due to inconsistencies in Internet archival processes were common. Also, our search results may have been biased and influenced in unknown ways by Google’s algorithms. Footnote 34

With the PHAC core competencies currently being renewed, this environmental scan provides a valuable snapshot of what is available and how it corresponds to current communication core competencies within the health communication discipline of public health. This scan does not describe other professional development opportunities within other specializations or competency domains. Similar environmental scans of professional development offerings should be completed in the future and results assessed with the updated communication competencies.

The field of public health is constantly changing as a result of new knowledge from research and practice, the changing communication ecosystem and the complexity of problems facing public health practitioners. This flux is heightening the critical role of professional development opportunities for public health practitioners to build and maintain communication-related competencies. Public health core competencies guide workforce planning, job performance assessment and professional development. These competencies  are fundamental to public health capacity and contribute to improved population health.

Our findings underscore the need for more training opportunities in public health communication and a comprehensive and coordinated approach to competency-based professional development in Canada. Although the available professional development offerings are relatively well-aligned with the PHAC core competencies, misinformation and disinformation, using current technology and communication with diverse audiences are areas with far fewer opportunities for professional development. By addressing the current gaps and aligning professional development with updated competencies, public health practitioners will be able to enhance their knowledge, values, skills and behaviours for a more effective and precise public health practice.

Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ( CIHR ) in the form of a CIHR Catalyst Grant ( FRN 184647).

Conflicts of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Authors’ contributions and statement

  • MM : Conceptualization, methodology, formal analysis, funding acquisition, investigation, validation, visualization, writing – original draft, writing – review & editing.
  • DM : Formal analysis, investigation, visualization, writing – original draft, writing – review & editing.
  • HW : Formal analysis, investigation, methodology, writing – review & editing.
  • LEG : Funding acquisition, writing – review & editing.
  • AP : Funding acquisition, writing – review & editing.
  • JEM : Conceptualization, formal analysis, funding acquisition, methodology, project administration, supervision, validation, writing – review & editing.

All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

The content and views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

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Pathogen Contaminated Wastewater: Where Does it Go & How to Treat it

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Originally presented on May 8, 2024

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The contamination of wastewater with pathogens has become an ever-increasing concern for wastewater treatment plant operators since the 2001 Amerithrax incident, 2014 Ebola outbreak, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. A better understanding of how these pathogens move through the wastewater system and effective measures for removing them from materials and waste is crucial.

This webinar presentation will showcase research conducted at EPA's Test and evaluation facility. It will discuss pathogen persistence in an activated sludge treatment system, methods for treating biosolids contaminated with heat-resistant spores (i.e., lime stabilization, composting, and incineration) and what conditions might contribute to pathogens surviving treatment. Lastly, the presentation will go over past and ongoing work on the characteristics and properties that govern bioaerosol emission from aeration basins at wastewater treatment plants.

About the Presenter

Adam Burdsall  is a post-doctoral researcher with EPA's Center for Environmental Solutions & Emergency Response. He conducts and manages projects focused on waste management, bioaerosols, and pathogen destruction. These projects include research on bioaerosol emission mechanisms, pathogen fate and persistence in infrastructure and waste. He has a B.S. in Geology from Wittenberg University, a M.S. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Wright State University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from Wright State University.

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Patients love telehealth—physicians are not so sure

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Our methodology

To help our clients understand responses to COVID-19, McKinsey launched a research effort to gather insights from physicians into how the pandemic is affecting their ability to provide care, their financial situation, and their level of stress, as well as what kind of support would interest them. Nationwide surveys were conducted online in 2020 from April 27–May 5 (538 respondents), July 22–27 (150 respondents), and September 22–27 (303 respondents), as well as from March 25–April 5, 2021 (379 respondents).

The participants were US physicians in a variety of practice types and sizes, and a range of employment types. The specialties included general practice and family practice; cardiology; orthopedics, sports medicine and musculoskeletal; dermatology; general surgery; obstetrics and gynecology; oncology; ophthalmology; otorhinolaryngology and ENT; pediatrics; plastic surgery; physical medicine and rehabilitation; psychiatry and behavioral health; emergency medicine; and urology. These surveys built on a prior one of 1,008 primary-care, cardiology, and orthopedic-surgery physicians in April 2019.

To provide timely insights on the reported behaviors, concerns, and desired support of adult consumers (18 years and older) in response to COVID-19, McKinsey launched consumer surveys in 2020 (March 16–17, March 27–29, April 11–13, April 25–27, May 15–18, June 4–8, July 11–14, September 5–7, October 22–26, and November 20–December 6) and 2021 (January 4–11, February 8–12, March 15–22, April 24–May 2, June 4–13, and August 13–23). These surveys represent the stated perspectives of consumers and are not meant to indicate or predict their actual future behavior. (In these surveys, we asked consumers about “Coronavirus/COVID-19,” given the general public’s colloquial use of coronavirus to refer to COVID-19.)

Many digital start-ups and tech and retail giants are rising to the occasion, but our most recent (2021) McKinsey Physician Survey indicates that physicians may prefer a return to pre-COVID-19 norms. In this article, we explore the trends creating disconnects between consumers and physicians and share ideas on how providers could offer digital services that work not only for them but also for patients. Bottom line: a seamless IRL/URL offering could retain patients while delivering high-quality care. Everybody benefits.

The rise of telehealth

These materials reflect general insight based on currently available information, which has not been independently verified and is inherently uncertain. Future results may differ materially from any statements of expectation, forecasts, or projections. These materials are not a guarantee of results and cannot be relied upon. These materials do not constitute legal, medical, policy, or other regulated advice and do not contain all the information needed to determine a future course of action.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both physicians and patients embraced telehealth: in April 2020, the number of virtual visits was a stunning 78 times higher than it had been two months earlier, accounting for nearly one-third of outpatient visits. In May 2021, 88 percent of consumers said that they had used telehealth services at some point since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Physicians also felt dramatically more comfortable with virtual care. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed in the 2021 McKinsey Physician Survey offered virtual services, compared with only 13 percent in 2019. 1 See sidebar on methodology; McKinsey Physician Surveys conducted nationally in five waves between May 2019 and April 2021; May 1, 2019, n = 1,008; May 5, 2020, n = 500; July 2, 2020, n = 150; September 27, 2020, n = 500; April 5, 2021, n = 379.

However, as of mid-2021, consumers’ embrace of telehealth appeared to have dimmed a bit  from its early COVID-19 peak: utilization was down to 38 times pre-COVID-19 levels. Also, more physicians were offering telehealth but recommending in-person care when possible in 2021, which could suggest that physicians are gravitating away from URL and would prefer a return to IRL care delivery (Exhibit 1).

Three trends from the late-stage pandemic

As COVID-19 continues, three emerging trends could set the stage for the next few years.

The number of virtual-first players keeps growing, and physicians struggle to keep up

The growth (and valuations) of virtual-first care providers suggest that demand by patients is persistent and growing. Teladoc increased the number of its visits by 156 percent in 2020, and its revenues jumped by 107 percent year over year. Amwell increased its supply of providers by 950 percent in 2020. 2 “Teladoc Health reports fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 results,” Teledoc Health, February 24, 2021; “Amwell announces results for the fourth quarter and full year 2020,” Amwell, March 24, 2021. By contrast, only 45 percent of physicians have been able to invest in telehealth during the pandemic, and only 16 percent have invested in other digital tools. Just 41 percent believe that they have the technology to deliver telehealth seamlessly. 3 McKinsey Physician Survey, April 5, 2021.

Some workflows, for example, require physicians to log into disparate systems that do not integrate seamlessly with an electronic health record (EHR). Audiovisual failures during virtual appointments continue to occur. To make these models work, providers may need to determine how to design operational workflows to make IRL/URL care as seamless as possible for both providers and patients. The workflows and care team models may need to vary, depending on the physician’s specialty and the amount of time they plan to devote to URL versus IRL care.

Patient–physician relationships are shifting

In McKinsey’s April 2021 Physician Survey, 58 percent of the respondents reported that they had lost patients to other physicians or to other health systems since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Corroborating those findings, our August 2021 survey of consumers showed that of those who had a primary-care physician (PCP), 15 percent had switched in the past year. Thirty-five percent of all consumers reported seeing a new healthcare provider who was not their regular PCP or specialist in the past year. Among consumers who had switched PCPs, 35 percent cited one or more reasons related to the patient experience—the desire for a PCP who better understood their needs (15 percent of respondents), a better experience (10 percent), or more convenient appointments (6 percent). Just half (50 percent) of consumers with a PCP say they are very satisfied. What’s more, Medicare regulations now give patients more ownership over their health data, and that could make it easier for them to switch physicians. 4 “Policies and technology for interoperability and burden reduction,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, December 9, 2021.

Physicians and patients see telehealth differently

Our surveys show that doctors and patients have starkly different opinions about telehealth and broader digital engagement (Exhibit 2). Take convenience: while two-thirds of physicians and 60 percent of patients said they agreed that virtual health is more convenient than in-person care for patients, only 36 percent of physicians find it more convenient for themselves.

This perception may be leading physicians to rethink telehealth. Most said they expect to return to a primarily in-person delivery model over the next year. Sixty-two percent said they recommend in-person over virtual care to patients. Physicians also expect telehealth to account for one-third less of their visits a year from now than it does today.

These physicians may be underestimating patient demand. Forty percent of patients in May 2021 said they believe they will continue to use telehealth in the pandemic’s aftermath. 5 McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey , May 7, 2021.

In November 2021, 55 percent of patients said they were more satisfied with telehealth/virtual care visits than with in-person appointments. 6 McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey , November 19, 2021. Thirty-five percent of consumers are currently using other digital services, such as ordering prescriptions online and home delivery. Of these, 42 percent started using these services during the pandemic and plan to keep using them, and an additional 15 percent are interested in starting digital services. 7 McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey , June 24, 2021.

Convenience is not the only concern. Physicians also worry about reimbursement. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and several other payers switched to at-parity (equal) reimbursement for virtual and in-person visits. More than half of physician respondents said that if virtual rates were 15 percent lower than in-person rates, they would be less likely to offer telehealth. Telehealth takes investment: traditional providers may need time to transition their capital and operating expenses to deliver virtual care at a cost lower than that of IRL.

Four critical actions for providers to consider

Providers may want to define their IRL/URL care strategy to identify the appropriate places for various types of care—balancing clinical appropriateness with the preferences of physicians and patients.

Determine the most clinically appropriate setting

Clinical appropriateness may be the most crucial variable for deciding how and where to increase the utilization of telehealth. Almost half of physicians said they regard telehealth as appropriate for treatment of ongoing chronic conditions, and 38 percent said they believe it is appropriate when patients have an acute change in health—increases of 26 and 17 percentage points, respectively, since May 2019.

However, physicians remain conservative in their view of telehealth’s effectiveness compared with in-person care. Their opinions vary by visit type (Exhibit 3). Health systems may consider asking their frontline clinical-care delivery teams to determine the clinically appropriate setting for each type of care, taking into account whether physicians are confident that they can deliver equally high-quality care for both IRL and URL appointments.

Assess patient wants and needs in relevant markets and segments

Patient demand for telehealth remains high, but expectations appear to vary by age and income group, payer status, and type of care. Our survey shows that younger people (under the age of 55 ), people in higher income brackets (annual household income of $100,000 or more), and people with individual or employer-sponsored group insurance are more likely to use telehealth (Exhibit 4). Patient demand also is higher for virtual mental and behavioral health. Sixty-two percent of mental-health patients completed their most recent appointments virtually, but only 20 percent of patients logged in to see their primary-care provider, gynecologist, or pediatrician.

To meet market demand effectively, it may be crucial to base care delivery models on a deep understanding of the market, with a range of both IRL and URL options to meet the needs of multiple patient segments.

Partner with physicians to define a new operating model

Many physicians are turning away from the virtual operating model: 62 percent recommended in-person care in April 2021, up five percentage points since September 2020. As physicians evaluate their processes for 2022, 46 percent said they prefer to offer, at most, a couple of hours of virtual care each day. Twenty-nine percent would like to offer none at all—up ten percentage points from September 2020. Just 11 percent would dedicate one full day a week to telehealth, and almost none would want to offer virtual care full time (Exhibit 5).

To adapt to these views, care providers can try to meet the needs and the expectations of physicians. They could offer highly virtualized schedules to physicians who prefer telehealth, while allowing other physicians to remain in-person only. Matching the preferences of physicians may create the best experience both for them and for patients. Greater flexibility and greater control over decisions about when and how much virtual care to offer may also help address chronic physician burnout issues (Exhibit 6). Digital-first solutions (for example, online scheduling, digital registration, and virtual communications with providers) could also increase the reach of in-person-only care providers to the 60 percent of consumers interested in using these digital solutions after the pandemic abates.

Communicate clearly to patients and others

Physicians consistently emerge as the most trusted source of clinical information by patients: 90 percent consider providers  trustworthy for healthcare-related issues. 8 McKinsey Consumer Survey, May 2020. Providers could play a pivotal role in counseling patients on the importance of continuity of care, as well as what can be done safely and effectively by IRL and URL, respectively. The goal is to help patients receive the care that they need in a timely manner and in the most clinically appropriate setting.

Potential benefits to providers

The strategic, purposeful design of a hybrid IRL/URL healthcare delivery model that respects the preferences of patients and physicians and offers virtual care when it is appropriate clinically may allow healthcare providers to participate in the near term, retain clinical talent, offer better value-based care, and differentiate themselves strategically for the future.

Telehealth and broader digital engagement tools have enjoyed persistent patient demand throughout the pandemic. That demand may persist well after it. Investment in digital health companies has grown rapidly—reaching $21.6 billion in 2020, a 103 percent year-over-year increase—which also suggests that this approach to medicine has staying power. 9 Q4 and annual 2020 digital health (healthcare IT) funding and M&A report , Executive Summary, Digital Health Funding and M&A, Mercom Capital Group.

That level of demand offers the potential for growth when physicians can meet it. If only new entrants fully meet consumer demand, traditional providers who do not offer URL options may risk losing market share over time as a result of patients’ initial visit and downstream care decisions. What’s more, as healthcare reimbursement continues to move toward value, virtual-delivery options could become a strategic differentiator that helps providers better manage costs. 10 Brian W. Powers, MD, et al., “Association between primary care payment model and telemedicine use for Medicare Advantage enrollees during the COVID-19 pandemic,” JAMA Network , July 16, 2021.

In all likelihood, one of the critical steps in the process will be engaging physicians in the design of new virtual-care models—for example, determining clinical appropriateness, how and where physicians prefer to deliver care, and the workflows that will maximize their productivity. This has the added benefit of potentially also addressing the problem of physician burnout by offering a range of options for how and where clinicians practice.

Most important, virtual care can offer an opportunity to improve outcomes for patients meaningfully by delivering timely care to those who might otherwise delay it or who live in areas with provider shortages. In addition, patients’ most trusted advisers on care decisions are physicians, so virtual care gives them a meaningful opportunity to help patients access the care they need in a way that both parties may find convenient and appropriate. 11 “Public & physician trust in the U.S. healthcare system,” ABIM Foundation, surveys conducted on December 29, 2020 and February 5, 2021.

Physicians are evaluating a variety of factors for delivering care to patients during and, eventually, after the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategic, purposeful design of a hybrid IRL/URL healthcare delivery model offers a triple unlock: improving the value of healthcare while better meeting consumer demand and improving physicians’ engagement. The full unlock is not easy—it requires deep engagement and cooperation between administrators, clinicians, and frontline staff, as well as focused investment. But it will yield dividends for patients and providers alike in the long run.

Jenny Cordina is a partner in McKinsey’s Detroit office,  Jennifer Fowkes is a partner in the Washington, DC, office,  Rupal Malani, MD , is a partner in the Cleveland office, and  Laura Medford-Davis, MD , is an associate partner in the Houston office.

The article was edited by Elizabeth Newman, an executive editor in the Chicago office.

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    Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects. 5th edition.Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.

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