What is research design and how is it done?

Do you know what a research design is? This surely connects it to the classes of statistics, experimental psychology … However, it is a tool that is used in many types of research and in many fields of study.

It is a set of techniques that allow a researcher to prepare his experience or his research. In this article, we are going to learn exactly what it is, what types there are, and how certain variables influence its design.

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What is research design?

Before we explain how these designs work and what types exist, let’s take a look at what a research design is or how it is defined. It is a set of techniques and methods that a researcher chooses to conduct an experiment or a research project.. These are a series of steps that serve as a guide for the researcher.

Thus, in other words, the research design is a structured and specific action plan, aimed at the design and implementation of an experiment. It includes a set of specific rules or steps that make it possible to achieve the researcher’s objective, in this case, to develop an experience (whether observational, experimental, quasi-experimental, etc.).

In other words, they allow you to create research projects; they define the steps necessary to achieve this.

scientific method

The research design is part of the scientific method, which consists of a general procedure characterized by systematization and control. The scientific method (and therefore the research design) is divided into two: quantitative and qualitative.

1. Quantitative design

In the design or quantitative method, phenomena are events determined by causes beyond human control, and are therefore objective. In this case, this type of research can be carried out when it is important for the researcher to draw statistical conclusions that will help him to gather information for his research. In other words, it is based on calculation and numbers

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2. Qualitative design

In the qualitative, on the contrary, reality is considered as a subjective construction, in which many constructions of the same reality are possible; moreover, in this case, the subject and the object of knowledge are interdependent.

In addition, qualitative research makes it possible to establish relationships between the data collected; on the other hand, the different theories related to natural phenomena can be verified (refuted or tested) through this design and the corresponding mathematical calculations. Many times these types of designs seek to answer open ended questions, such as “Why?”


What methodology is used to develop a research plan? It can be of different types: deductive, inductive and hypothetico-deductive. Deductive methodology is that which goes from the general to the particular (emphasizes theory); the inductive, that which goes from the particular to the general (emphasizes the data), and finally the hypothetico-deductive is the one which combines the two preceding ones.

Degree of control

Outraged, depending on how much control we want to have in our experience, the research design can be of 4 types. We will detail them below.

1. Experimental design

The design of experimental research is that with the highest degree of control (by the researcher); that is, there is manipulation of the variables. In addition, it allows causal relationships to be established between variables.

2. Comparative design

The comparative design, on the other hand, is divided into two more: correlation (when there is a certain degree of relationship between variables; it does not allow causal relationships to be established) and the comparison itself (where the independent variable is the selection, is a saying that the subject has its value “already” [por ejemplo la raza o el género]).

On the other hand, quasi-causal relationships can be established through the comparative design itself. In both types of comparative designs, the degree of control by the experimenter is intermediate.

3. Observation / survey design

This type of research design has a minimum degree of control on the part of the researcher; that is, there is no manipulation, it is simply observed. As in the case of the correlational design, this type of design does not allow the establishment of causal relationships between the variables.

Surveys are an example of observational research design.

Types of manipulation

In close connection with the previous section, we ask ourselves the question: What kind of manipulation can be done in a research design?

Logically, it will depend on the type of design and experience. There are basically three types of search models depending on the type of manipulation applied to the independent variables.

1. Experimental research

This first research plan involves an intentional manipulation of independent variables. In addition, there is randomization of the same.

2. Quasi-experimental research

In this second type, the manipulation is selection, unintentional (that is to say that it is about variables or values ​​that the subject already has, for example the sex). In this case, there is no randomization of the variables (in fact, this is the main difference between an experimental and a quasi-experimental research design).

3. Non-experimental research

Finally, in non-experimental research, there is no manipulation of the variables or their randomization.

Research variables

Another important concept that we need to know in order to fully understand what research design is are research variables., Since they have them all. What are they?

A psychological variable is a psychological construct that can be measured with mutually exclusive values ​​(for example, gender, level of anxiety, degree of well-being, weight, height, etc.). Variables can be of different types (according to different classifications). One of the most important is the one that divides them into:

1. Dependent variables

The dependent variable, which is usually expressed as “I”, is the effect that occurs from the independent variable. For example, it could be the degree of anxiety (which increases or decreases with treatment).

2. Independent variables

The independent variables, however, are represented by “X” and are the source of the effects. In other words, following the example above, it would be the psychological treatments (independent variable), for example, which would influence the degree of anxiety (dependent variable).


Finally, meta-analysis is another interesting concept to know in relation to research plans; it is a technique for evaluating the quantitative results of a set of empirical studies. Thanks to it, a summary or synthesis of the significant effects of the variables studied is obtained.

This is a type of methodology consisting of a systematic review of different studies and results; through it, a series of statistical techniques are applied in order to analyze these results, mainly quantitatively.

Bibliographical references:

  • Anguera, MT, Arnau, J., Ato, M. and. at. (1998). Research methods in psychology. Madrid: Synthesis.

  • Fonts de Gràcia, S., García, C. and Quintanilla, L. (2010). Fundamentals of research in psychology. Madrid: UNED.

  • Kazdin, AE (2002). Research methods in clinical psychology. Mexico: Prentice Hall.

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