37 8.6 Matching question and design

Learning Objectives

  • Identify which research designs may be useful for answering your research question


This chapter described how to create a good quantitative and qualitative research question. Starting in Chapter 10, we will detail some of the basic designs that social scientists use to answer their research questions. But which design should you choose?


a chalkboard with "what's next?" written on it

As with most things, it all depends on your research question. If your research question involves, for example, testing a new intervention, you will likely want to use an experimental design. On the other hand, if you want to know the lived experience of people in a public housing building, you probably want to use an interview or focus group design.

We will learn more about each one of these designs in the remainder of this textbook. We will also learn about using data that already exists, studying an individual client inside clinical practice, and evaluating programs, which are other examples of designs. Below is a list of designs we will cover in this textbook:

  • Surveys: online, phone, mail, in-person
  • Experiments: classic, pre-experiments, quasi-experiments
  • Interviews: in-person or phone
  • Focus groups
  • Historical analysis
  • Content analysis
  • Secondary data analysis
  • Program evaluation
  • Single-subjects
  • Action research

The design of your research study determines what you and your participants will do. In an experiment, for example, the researcher will introduce a stimulus or treatment to participants and measure their responses. In contrast, a content analysis may not have participants at all, and the researcher may simply read the marketing materials for a corporation or look at a politician’s speeches to conduct the data analysis for the study.

If you think about your project, I imagine that a content analysis probably seems easier to accomplish than an experiment. As a researcher, you have to choose a research design that makes sense for your question and that is feasible to complete with the resources you have. All research projects require some resources to accomplish. Make sure your design is one you can carry out with the resources (time, money, staff, etc.) that you have.

There are so many different designs that exist in the social science literature that it would be impossible to include them all in this textbook. For example, photovoice is a qualitative method in which participants take photographs of meaningful scenes in their lives and discuss them in focus groups. This qualitative method can be particularly impactful, as pictures can illustrate the meaning behind concepts often better than mere words. I encourage you through your undergraduate and graduate studies in social work to come to know more advanced and specialized designs. The purpose of the subsequent chapters is to help you understand the basic designs upon which these more advanced designs are built.


Key Takeaways

  • The design you choose should follow from the research question you ask.
  • Research design will determine what the researchers and participants do during the project.


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Scientific Inquiry in Social Work Copyright © 2018 by Matthew DeCarlo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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