Research Designs

  1. What is a CAUSAL DESIGN research study?
    Definition and Purpose: Causality studies may be thought of as understanding a phenomenon in terms of conditional statements in the form, “If X, then Y.” This type of research is used to measure what impact a specific change will have on existing norms and assumptions. Most social scientists seek causal explanations that reflect tests of hypotheses. Causal effect (nomothetic perspective) occurs when variation in one phenomenon, an independent variable, leads to or results, on average, in variation in another phenomenon, the dependent variable.
  2. What is a COHORT DESIGN research study?
    Definition and Purpose Often used in the medical sciences, but also found in the applied social sciences, a cohort study generally refers to a study conducted over a period of time involving members of a population which the subject or representative member comes from, and who are united by some commonality or similarity. Using a quantitative framework, a cohort study makes note of statistical occurrence within a specialized subgroup, united by same or similar characteristics that are relevant to the research problem being investigated, rather than studying statistical occurrence within the general population. Using a qualitative framework, cohort studies generally gather data using methods of observation. Cohorts can be either "open" or "closed."

    Open Cohort Studies [dynamic populations, such as the population of Los Angeles] involve a population that is defined just by the state of being a part of the study in question (and being monitored for the outcome). Date of entry and exit from the study is individually defined, therefore, the size of the study population is not constant. In open cohort studies, researchers can only calculate rate based data, such as, incidence rates and variants thereof.

    Closed Cohort Studies [static populations, such as patients entered into a clinical trial] involve participants who enter into the study at one defining point in time and where it is presumed that no new participants can enter the cohort. Given this, the number of study participants remains constant (or can only decrease).
  3. What do these COHORT RESEARCH studies tell you?
    The use of cohorts is often mandatory because a randomized control study may be unethical. For example, you cannot deliberately expose people to asbestos, you can only study its effects on those who have already been exposed. Research that measures risk factors often relies upon cohort designs.

    Because cohort studies measure potential causes before the outcome has occurred, they can demonstrate that these “causes” preceded the outcome, thereby avoiding the debate as to which is the cause and which is the effect.

    Cohort analysis is highly flexible and can provide insight into effects over time and related to a variety of different types of changes [e.g., social, cultural, political, economic, etc.].

    Either original data or secondary data can be used in this design.
  4. What COHORT RESEARCH designs DO NOT tell you?
    In cases where a comparative analysis of two cohorts is made [e.g., studying the effects of one group exposed to asbestos and one that has not], a researcher cannot control for all other factors that might differ between the two groups. These factors are known as confounding variables.

    Cohort studies can end up taking a long time to complete if the researcher must wait for the conditions of interest to develop within the group. This also increases the chance that key variables change during the course of the study, potentially impacting the validity of the findings.

    Due to the lack of randominization in the cohort design, its external validityis lower than that of study designs where the researcher randomly assigns participants.
    Definition and Purpose: Cross-sectional research designs have three distinctive features: no time dimension; a reliance on existing differences rather than change following intervention; and, groups are selected based on existing differences rather than random allocation. The cross-sectional design can only measure differences between or from among a variety of people, subjects, or phenomena rather than a process of change. As such, researchers using this design can only employ a relatively passive approach to making causal inferences based on findings.
  6. What do CROSS-SECTIONAL DESIGNS tell you?
    Cross-sectional studies provide a clear 'snapshot' of the outcome and the characteristics associated with it, at a specific point in time.

    Unlike an experimental design, where there is an active intervention by the researcher to produce and measure change or to create differences, cross-sectional designs focus on studying and drawing inferences from existing differences between people, subjects, or phenomena.

    Entails collecting data at and concerning one point in time. While longitudinal studies involve taking multiple measures over an extended period of time, cross-sectional research is focused on finding relationships between variables at one moment in time.

    Groups identified for study are purposely selected based upon existing differences in the sample rather than seeking random sampling.

    Cross-section studies are capable of using data from a large number of subjects and, unlike observational studies, is not geographically bound.

    Can estimate prevalence of an outcome of interest because the sample is usually taken from the whole population.

    Because cross-sectional designs generally use survey techniques to gather data, they are relatively inexpensive and take up little time to conduct.
    A longitudinal study follows the same sample over time and makes repeated observations. For example, with longitudinal surveys, the same group of people is interviewed at regular intervals, enabling researchers to track changes over time and to relate them to variables that might explain why the changes occur. Longitudinal research designs describe patterns of change and help establish the direction and magnitude of causal relationships. Measurements are taken on each variable over two or more distinct time periods. This allows the researcher to measure change in variables over time. It is a type of observational study sometimes referred to as a panel study.
  8. What do LONGITUDINAL DESIGNS tell you?
    Longitudinal data facilitate the analysis of the duration of a particular phenomenon.

    Enables survey researchers to get close to the kinds of causal explanations usually attainable only with experiments.

    The design permits the measurement of differences or change in a variable from one period to another [i.e., the description of patterns of change over time].

    Longitudinal studies facilitate the prediction of future outcomes based upon earlier factors.
    An exploratory design is conducted about a research problem when there are few or no earlier studies to refer to or rely upon to predict an outcome. The focus is on gaining insights and familiarity for later investigation or undertaken when research problems are in a preliminary stage of investigation.

    Exploratory designs are often used to establish an understanding of how best to proceed in studying an issue or what methodology would effectively apply to gathering information about the issue.

    The goals of exploratory research are intended to produce the following possible insights:

    Familiarity with basic details, settings, and concerns.

    Well grounded picture of the situation being developed.

    Generation of new ideas and assumptions.

    Development of tentative theories or hypotheses.

    Determination about whether a study is feasible in the future.

    Issues get refined for more systematic investigation and formulation of new research questions.

    Direction for future research and techniques get developed.
  10. What do EXPLORATORY DESIGN tell you?
    Design is a useful approach for gaining background information on a particular topic.

    Exploratory research is flexible and can address research questions of all types (what, why, how).

    Provides an opportunity to define new terms and clarify existing concepts.

    Exploratory research is often used to generate formal hypotheses and develop more precise research problems.

    In the policy arena or applied to practice, exploratory studies help establish research priorities and where resources should be allocated
    Exploratory research generally utilizes small sample sizes and, thus, findings are typically not generalizable to the population at large.

    The exploratory nature of the research inhibits an ability to make definitive conclusions about the findings. They provide insight but not definitive conclusions.

    The research process underpinning exploratory studies is flexible but often unstructured, leading to only tentative results that have limited value to decision-makers.

    Design lacks rigorous standards applied to methods of data gathering and analysis because one of the areas for exploration could be to determine what method or methodologies could best fit the research problem.
    The data collection method may change over time.

    Maintaining the integrity of the original sample can be difficult over an extended period of time.

    It can be difficult to show more than one variable at a time.

    This design often needs qualitative research data to explain fluctuations in the results.

    A longitudinal research design assumes present trends will continue unchanged.

    It can take a long period of time to gather results.

    There is a need to have a large sample size and accurate sampling to reach representativness.
  13. What CROSS-SECTIONAL designs DO NOT tell you?
    Finding people, subjects, or phenomena to study that are very similar except in one specific variable can be difficult.

    Results are static and time bound and, therefore, give no indication of a sequence of events or reveal historical or temporal contexts.

    Studies cannot be utilized to establish cause and effect relationships.

    This design only provides a snapshot of analysis so there is always the possibility that a study could have differing results if another time-frame had been chosen.

    There is no follow up to the findings.
  14. What is an EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN study?
    Definition and Purpose: A blueprint of the procedure that enables the researcher to maintain control over all factors that may affect the result of an experiment. In doing this, the researcher attempts to determine or predict what may occur. Experimental research is often used where there is time priority in a causal relationship (cause precedes effect), there is consistency in a causal relationship (a cause will always lead to the same effect), and the magnitude of the correlation is great. The classic experimental design specifies an experimental group and a control group. The independent variable is administered to the experimental group and not to the control group, and both groups are measured on the same dependent variable. Subsequent experimental designs have used more groups and more measurements over longer periods. True experiments must have control, randomization, and manipulation.
  15. What do EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN studies tell you?
    Experimental research allows the researcher to control the situation. In so doing, it allows researchers to answer the question, “What causes something to occur?”

    Permits the researcher to identify cause and effect relationships between variables and to distinguish placebo effects from treatment effects.

    Experimental research designs support the ability to limit alternative explanations and to infer direct causal relationships in the study.

    Approach provides the highest level of evidence for single studies.
    The design is artificial, and results may not generalize well to the real world.

    The artificial settings of experiments may alter the behaviors or responses of participants.

    Experimental designs can be costly if special equipment or facilities are needed.

    Some research problems cannot be studied using an experiment because of ethical or technical reasons.

    Difficult to apply ethnographic and other qualitative methods to experimentally designed studies
    The purpose of a historical research design is to collect, verify, and synthesize evidence from the past to establish facts that defend or refute a hypothesis. It uses secondary sources and a variety of primary documentary evidence, such as, diaries, official records, reports, archives, and non-textual information [maps, pictures, audio and visual recordings]. The limitation is that the sources must be both authentic and valid.
  18. What does HISTORICAL DESIGNS tell you?
    The historical research design is unobtrusive; the act of research does not affect the results of the study.

    The historical approach is well suited for trend analysis.

    Historical records can add important contextual background required to more fully understand and interpret a research problem.

    There is often no possibility of researcher-subject interaction that could affect the findings.

    Historical sources can be used over and over to study different research problems or to replicate a previous study.
  19. What HISTORICAL DESIGNS DO NOT tell you?
    The ability to fulfill the aims of your research are directly related to the amount and quality of documentation available to understand the research problem.

    Since historical research relies on data from the past, there is no way to manipulate it to control for contemporary contexts.

    Interpreting historical sources can be very time consuming.

    The sources of historical materials must be archived consistentally to ensure access. This may especially challenging for digital or online-only sources.

    Original authors bring their own perspectives and biases to the interpretation of past events and these biases are more difficult to ascertain in historical resources.

    Due to the lack of control over external variables, historical research is very weak with regard to the demands of internal validity.

    It is rare that the entirety of historical documentation needed to fully address a research problem is available for interpretation, therefore, gaps need to be acknowledged.
Card Set
Research Designs
Research Designs