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Research Methodologies

A guide on the different types of research methods, and how to determine which one to use in your own research.

What are research methods?

Research methods are different from research methodologies because they are the ways in which you will collect the data for your research project.  The best method for your project largely depends on your topic, the type of data you will need, and the people or items from which you will be collecting data.  The following boxes below contain a list of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methods.

Quantitative Research Methods

  • Closed-ended questionnaires/survey: These types of questionnaires or surveys are like "multiple choice" tests, where participants must select from a list of premade answers.  According to the content of the question, they must select the one that they agree with the most.  This approach is the simplest form of quantitative research because the data is easy to combine and quantify.


  • Structured interviews: These are a common research method in market research because the data can be quantified.  They are strictly designed for little "wiggle room" in the interview process so that the data will not be skewed.  You can conduct structured interviews in-person, online, or over the phone (Dawson, 2019).


Constructing Questionnaires

When constructing your questions for a survey or questionnaire, there are things you can do to ensure that your questions are accurate and easy to understand (Dawson, 2019):

  • Keep the questions brief and simple.
  • Eliminate any potential bias from your questions.  Make sure that they do not word things in a way that favor one perspective over another.
  • If your topic is very sensitive, you may want to ask indirect questions rather than direct ones.  This prevents participants from being intimidated and becoming unwilling to share their true responses.
  • If you are using a closed-ended question, try to offer every possible answer that a participant could give to that question.
  • Do not ask questions that assume something of the participant.  The question "How often do you exercise?" assumes that the participant exercises (when they may not), so you would want to include a question that asks if they exercise at all before asking them how often.
  • Try and keep the questionnaire as short as possible.  The longer a questionnaire takes, the more likely the participant will not complete it or get too tired to put truthful answers.
  • Promise confidentiality to your participants at the beginning of the questionnaire.


Quantitative Research Measures

When you are considering a quantitative approach to your research, you need to identify why types of measures you will use in your study.  This will determine what type of numbers you will be using to collect your data.  There are four levels of measurement:

  • Nominal: These are numbers where the order of the numbers do not matter.  They aim to identify separate information.  One example is collecting zip codes from research participants.  The order of the numbers does not matter, but the series of numbers in each zip code indicate different information (Adamson and Prion, 2013).


  • Ordinal: Also known as rankings because the order of these numbers matter.  This is when items are given a specific rank according to specific criteria.  A common example of ordinal measurements include ranking-based questionnaires, where participants are asked to rank items from least favorite to most favorite.  Another common example is a pain scale, where a patient is asked to rank their pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (Adamson and Prion, 2013).


  • Interval: This is when the data are ordered and the distance between the numbers matters to the researcher (Adamson and Prion, 2013).  The distance between each number is the same.  An example of interval data is test grades.


  • Ratio: This is when the data are ordered and have a consistent distance between numbers, but has a "zero point."  This means that there could be a measurement of zero of whatever you are measuring in your study (Adamson and Prion, 2013).  An example of ratio data is measuring the height of something because the "zero point" remains constant in all measurements.  The height of something could also be zero.

Qualitative Research Methods

Focus Groups

This is when a select group of people gather to talk about a particular topic.  They can also be called discussion groups or group interviews (Dawson, 2019).  They are usually lead by a moderator  to help guide the discussion and ask certain questions.  It is critical that a moderator allows everyone in the group to get a chance to speak so that no one dominates the discussion.  The data that are gathered from focus groups tend to be thoughts, opinions, and perspectives about an issue.

Advantages of Focus Groups

  • Only requires one meeting to get different types of responses.
  • Less researcher bias due to participants being able to speak openly.
  • Helps participants overcome insecurities or fears about a topic.
  • The researcher can also consider the impact of participant interaction.

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

  • Participants may feel uncomfortable to speak in front of an audience, especially if the topic is sensitive or controversial.
  • Since participation is voluntary, not every participant may contribute equally to the discussion.
  • Participants may impact what others say or think.
  • A researcher may feel intimidated by running a focus group on their own.
  • A researcher may need extra funds/resources to provide a safe space to host the focus group.
  • Because the data is collective, it may be difficult to determine a participant's individual thoughts about the research topic.



There are two ways to conduct research observations:

  • Direct Observation: The researcher observes a participant in an environment.  The researcher often takes notes or uses technology to gather data, such as a voice recorder or video camera.  The researcher does not interact or interfere with the participants.  This approach is often used in psychology and health studies (Dawson, 2019).
  • Participant Observation:  The researcher interacts directly with the participants to get a better understanding of the research topic.  This is a common research method when trying to understand another culture or community.  It is important to decide if you will conduct a covert (participants do not know they are part of the research) or overt (participants know the researcher is observing them) observation because it can be unethical in some situations (Dawson, 2019).


Open-Ended Questionnaires

These types of questionnaires are the opposite of "multiple choice" questionnaires because the answer boxes are left open for the participant to complete.  This means that participants can write short or extended answers to the questions.  Upon gathering the responses, researchers will often "quantify" the data by organizing the responses into different categories.  This can be time consuming because the researcher needs to read all responses carefully.


Semi-structured Interviews

This is the most common type of interview where researchers aim to get specific information so they can compare it to other interview data.  This requires asking the same questions for each interview, but keeping their responses flexible.  This means including follow-up questions if a subject answers a certain way.  Interview schedules are commonly used to aid the interviewers, which list topics or questions that will be discussed at each interview (Dawson, 2019).


Theoretical Analysis

Often used for nonhuman research, theoretical analysis is a qualitative approach where the researcher applies a theoretical framework to analyze something about their topic.  A theoretical framework gives the researcher a specific "lens" to view the topic and think about it critically. it also serves as context to guide the entire study.  This is a popular research method for analyzing works of literature, films, and other forms of media.  You can implement more than one theoretical framework with this method, as many theories complement one another.

Common theoretical frameworks for qualitative research are (Grant and Osanloo, 2014):

  • Behavioral theory
  • Change theory
  • Cognitive theory
  • Content analysis
  • Cross-sectional analysis
  • Developmental theory
  • Feminist theory
  • Gender theory
  • Marxist theory
  • Queer theory
  • Systems theory
  • Transformational theory


Unstructured Interviews

These are in-depth interviews where the researcher tries to understand an interviewee's perspective on a situation or issue.  They are sometimes called life history interviews.  It is important not to bombard the interviewee with too many questions so they can freely disclose their thoughts (Dawson, 2019).

Mixed Method Approach

  • Open-ended and closed-ended questionnaires: This approach means implementing elements of both questionnaire types into your data collection.  Participants may answer some questions with premade answers and write their own answers to other questions.  The advantage to this method is that you benefit from both types of data collection to get a broader understanding of you participants.  However, you must think carefully about how you will analyze this data to arrive at a conclusion.

Other mixed method approaches that incorporate quantitative and qualitative research methods depend heavily on the research topic.  It is strongly recommended that you collaborate with your academic advisor before finalizing a mixed method approach.

Selecting the Best Research Method

How do you determine which research method would be best for your proposal?  This heavily depends on your research objective.  According to Dawson (2019), there are several questions to ask yourself when determining the best research method for your project:


  • Are you good with numbers and mathematics?
  • Would you be interested in conducting interviews with human subjects?
  • Would you enjoy creating a questionnaire for participants to complete?
  • Do you prefer written communication or face-to-face interaction?
  • What skills or experiences do you have that might help you with your research?  Do you have any experiences from past research projects that can help with this one?
  • How much time do you have to complete the research?  Some methods take longer to collect data than others.
  • What is your budget?  Do you have adequate funding to conduct the research in the method you  want?
  • How much data do you need?  Some research topics need only a small amount of data while others may need significantly larger amounts.
  • What is the purpose of your research? This can provide a good indicator as to what research method will be most appropriate.