Applying the findings collected from a market research study is a smart way to address your business concerns and answer questions. Therefore, you want to make sure you’re selecting the appropriate research design to collect useful data.
If you’re in the market for a new vehicle with a lot of seating and storage, you wouldn’t purchase a convertible – maybe you’d look at an SUV or truck instead. Similarly, when choosing your project’s research design, you want to be sure you’re selecting a design that addresses your business needs.
At the center of your whole project, the research design is the framework that details how you will collect data and conduct the analysis. For example, you shouldn’t spend time and money on exploratory research if you already have a good grasp of your target market and the business problem at hand. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to skip this kind of research if you have little understanding or background on the situation.
Understanding the different types of research designs and how to select the right one will set you up for a meaningful and successful project.
The Foundation: Research Design
The research design specifies all the details and tasks that need to be accomplished to complete the project. A good research design should include the following:
- Define the information needed (based on the business problem)
- Design the phases of the research
- Specify what types of questions will be asked and what measurement scales will be used
- Draft and test the questionnaire
- Outline the sample size and sampling process
- Develop a data analysis plan
Three Basic Research Design Options
Most research designs are classified as either exploratory or conclusive. Exploratory research is conducted when you need further information to define the problem, identify relevant courses of action, develop hypotheses, or gain additional knowledge before you can develop a research approach.
You should consider using an exploratory research design if the information you need (based on the business problem) is only loosely defined. The exploratory research process will be flexible and have less structure, and your sample size will likely be very small and nonrepresentative resulting in qualitative data. Therefore, the findings generated should not be treated as conclusive and usually, additional research follows. Exploratory research may consist of focus groups, in-depth interviews, or secondary data analysis.
Conclusive Design: Descriptive
Conclusive research is more formal and structured than exploratory research and uses large, representative sample sizes resulting in quantitative data. Like the name suggests, findings are considered conclusive and used as inputs in decision making. There are two kinds of conclusive research: descriptive and causal.
The main objective of descriptive research is to describe something – usually related to the marketing environment. This design is extremely common in market research, and you will want to use it in the following situations:
- Describing the characteristics of consumers, organizations, market areas, etc.
- Estimating the percentage of respondents from a sample population who exhibit a specific behavior
- Determining perceptions of product characteristics
- Making specific predictions
Conclusive Design: Casual
Causal research is used when you want to gain evidence to support a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more variables in the following situations:
- To understand which variables are the cause (independent variables) and which are the effect (dependent variables)
- To determine the nature of the relationship between the cause and effect variables
A causal research design requires you to manipulate the independent variables in an environment where the dependent variables are controlled. This experimentation allows you to infer causality.
Selecting Your Research Design(s)
Now that you understand the three basic kinds of research design, you’ll need to decide which one to use for your project, you may even choose to employ multiple types. But how do you know which one(s) to use? If you need more information about the situation at hand, you may want to start with exploratory research.
Exploratory research is usually the first step in the larger research plan. You should almost always follow up exploratory research with some kind of conclusive research (descriptive or causal). Since your exploratory research enabled you to develop some hypotheses, the next step would be to statistically test these. You don’t have to begin your research plan with exploratory research if you already defined the problem and feel confident in your research approach. Also, exploratory research may follow descriptive or causal research if your findings are difficult to interpret and you need additional insights to provide clarity.
Once you are familiar with the three basic kinds of research design, you will be in a better position to determine which design, or combination of designs, will help address your business needs. You can choose from exploratory, descriptive, or causal research designs or choose multiple if necessary.