The research design must be done correctly otherwise the dissertation will not be successful. But how do I create a suitable research design for my topic? How can I even know that my approach is appropriate? How can I be sure that I will gain the right insight? Question after question. Here are the answers.

What is the research design anyway and why do I need it?

The research design is a detailed and systematic description of all steps needed to answer the research question. It shows your way of discovering new knowledge and consists of many elements. It helps to have the design handy when you start to organize your project. The more detailed the better and the more concrete your design, the easier it will be to implement.

What belongs in the research design?

  • The research question, detailed questions and possibly hypotheses,
    the design of YOUR research model with relevant variables and factors
  • Methods of data collection such as interviews, surveys, observations, documentations, measurements etc.,
  • Decisions on the type of data, data sources and description of the samples,
  • Tools for data collection such as interview guidelines or questionnaires etc.,
  • Methods and tools for data evaluation such as statistical methods, content analysis etc.,
  • Timetable for implementation.

When and how do I develop the appropriate research design?

You start with the design already in the proposal. This is your first draft. Prerequisites for the research design are the subject, research question and goal. They are your compass. You also need models on the topic for the classification of your variables and thus of the data. Here is an example: digitization in SMEs. How is digitization evolving inside SMEs? Operationalized research question: Which concepts do SMEs use when digitizing their business processes? You can create case studies and conduct an expert survey. You need models on SMEs, digitization and business processes. These models contain players, data, processes, activities, regulations, IT system and much more. Then you can collect data on the concrete concepts the SMEs studies used for digitization.

How do I check the research design for completeness and correctness?

Your design must meet 3 requirements:

  1. The methodology must definitely work and it must lead to an insight. A good test is whether the methods have already worked in other studies. Completely new methods are risky.
  2. The data must be obtainable, in quality and scope.
  3. The aids must be able to produce good results.

How do I test the research design?

  • Simulate your research process. Are these the right detailed questions or sub questions?
  • Do the answers to the detailed questions close the gap in research? Have I defined the correct data?
  • Does this data match the objects in the detailed questions? Do I have the right data sources?
  • Are there perhaps still better sources than the one I already found? Can the methods be used to evaluate the collected data?
  • Has anyone ever described this in an article?
  • How do I structure and describe the research design in the text?

Describe the research design in the text as a separate chapter in your dissertation.

To do so, you should answer about 20 questions. Here are the first so-called micro questions:

  • What exactly is analyzed? Who or what is the focus of the analysis?
  • What is the aim of the analysis? What insight will be gained?
  • Which methods can be used for the analysis?
  • What are the decision criteria for choosing a method?
  • Why am I using a particular method?

Additional micro questions can be found in the 200 Days Dissertation Guide. Answer all these questions and your research design will be ready!

What sources do I need for the research design?

The best papers are those that have dealt with a related question. The methods are described there but are usually not comprehensive so you will also need method books. However, maybe an article is good but quite old. Don’t worry because methods are quite timeless. Papers on other issues are also interesting for the design if they have used certain suitable methods.

Method books are useful when it comes to the description. They are also more general and not just focused on one case.

How can I tell that my research design is "complete"?

The design is complete when the questions in the chapter ‘Research Design’ are answered and your supervisor knows the procedure and considers it useful. Actually this question is only finally answered when you have collected and evaluated all the data. Until then, minor changes in your research design are still necessary.

How do I work with the research design?

Just go for it! That's it! Let's go!

Good luck writing your text!

Silvio and the Aristolo Team

PS: Check out the PhD Guide for writing a PhD in 200 days.