The General Issues in Research Design

Research design (RD) can be defined as a “plan that outlines how data will be collected for assessment or testing” (Kothari, 2000, p. 3). This comprises “the identification of the methods that will be used to collect the data, the instruments that will be utilized, how the instruments will be administered, and how the information will be organized and analyzed”. (Mugenda, 2006, p. 7) A research design is required as it facilitates the smooth sailing of various operations, thereby making the research as efficient as possible (Kothari, 2000). This paper seeks to describe some of the general issues in research design including the steps; identifying and describing the main concepts of operationalization. The paper will give special attention to reliability and validity issues in research.

The RD can be regarded as advance planning of the methods to be adopted for collecting the relevant data and the techniques to be used in their analysis, keeping in mind the objective of the research and the availability of staff, time and money. The RD gives the outline of what the researcher intends to do from the time he/she writes the hypothesis and its operational implications to the final data analysis step (Quantitative versus qualitative research approaches, 2008). The following questions are often used to guide a researcher in making the design decisions for the research process.

  • What is the study about?
  • Why is the study being made?
  • Where will the study be carried out?
  • What type of data is required?
  • Where can the required data be found?
  • What periods of time will the study include?
  • What will be the sample design?
  • What techniques of data collection will be used?
  • How will the data be analyzed?
  • In what style will be the report prepared?

(Kothari, 2000)

After identifying the research question a researcher needs to identify whether he/she is going to use a qualitative or quantitative approach depending on the nature of the study. “The qualitative approach is inductive in nature and seeks to generate theory while the quantitative approach is deductive and thereby seeks to approve or disprove theory” (Mugenda, 2006, p. 56). The steps followed in conducting research depend on the approach used. Nevertheless, different design approaches can be used: A sampling design can be informed of probability or non-probability sampling; an operational design; observational design; and statistical design (Mugenda, 2006). The designs are presented differently depending on the type of study. For instance, an exploratory study will make use of non-probability sampling while a descriptive study will utilize probability or random sampling (Quantitative versus qualitative research approaches, 2008). The measuring instruments used for a given RD should be reliable and valid. Reliability is used to “measure the consistency of the measurements”. (Kothari, 2000, p. 34) It questions whether the study can be replicated and comparable findings achieved (Mugenda, 2006). Validity refers to “whether the instruments are measuring what they are intended to measure” (Mugenda, 2006, p. 76). These are important concepts of research and the chosen RD should ensure that they are taken care of.

Operationalization is a “model that is employed in quantitative research and seeks to specify how different concepts will be measured” (Kothari, 2000, p. 34). The main concepts of operationalization “are Variables, which can be dependent, independent, extraneous, control; the hypothesis; and the experimental units” (Mugenda, 2006, p. 64).


Kothari, C. (2000). Research Methodolgy: Methods and Techniques. New Delhi: Wishwa Prakashan.

Mugenda, O. (2006). Research Methods. Nairobi: East African Publishers.

Quantitative versus qualitative research approaches. (2008). Web.

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