Whether you are working to solve a unique organizational issue or contributing to theory, the research design framework will help you align the “DNA” of your study to deliver the insights you need. The research framework includes nine components with clear linkages. Each of the nine components links to the previous and subsequent components and the conceptual framework. The components form two groups – the “T” or the foundation of the problem, purpose, research questions, and conceptual framework, and the “U” or methodology, including the literature review, overall approach, data collection, data analysis, and drawing conclusions.
“I use terms like ‘canvas’ and ‘design’ because research requires both analytical and creative knowledge, skills, and abilities. There is no one best way to conduct research and the answer to ALL research methods questions is, ‘it depends.'” (Latham, 2022).
While this framework provides structure to facilitate the development of an aligned and internally consistent research design, developing a good research design is an iterative and often “messy” process. Download the free eBook for a more detailed description of the Research Design Framework.
All too often, new researchers will begin their design process by asking questions like, “could I use an existing survey to measure ______ with population ________?” This is the wrong place to start. Form follows function, and the methodology follows the purpose of the research or the “T” or foundation. Step one is to get the “T” or foundation right. The T or foundation consists of four related components, including (a) the problem (real-world symptoms and specific knowledge gap), (b) the purpose of the study to help fill that knowledge gap, (c) the research questions, and (d) the conceptual framework.
Getting the “T” or Foundation Right
1. Problem Statement
Often the first step in the research design process is to identify a real-world problem or management dilemma and provide a very brief description of the nature of the issue, the undesirable symptoms, and our inability or lack of knowledge to solve the problem. The remaining components produce a contribution to knowledge that will help solve this problem.
2. Purpose Statement
The purpose statement builds on the knowledge gap in the problem statement. Describe what new knowledge the study will produce. This is not the specific content or answer but rather the type of knowledge produced by the study. This should directly address the knowledge gap in the problem statement.
3. Research Questions
Nothing in the research process is more important than getting the questions right. If the questions are good, the study will likely be good. If the questions aren’t good, the study will not be good. The answer fulfills the purpose.
4. Conceptual Framework
A diagram of the topic is worth more than 10,000 words. The task here is to create a diagram of the topic that includes clearly defined constructs or variables (independent, dependent, etc.) along with the relationships of those variables and critical factors that influence the variables and the relationships. This is an iterative task done in conjunction with developing the research questions.
Developing the “U” or Methodology
Once the foundation is reasonably well developed, you are ready to start working on how you will answer the questions in a credible way that will fulfill the purpose and add new insights to help us solve the problem. The U or methodology is composed of five key pieces, including (a) a complete literature review; (b) the selection of an overall research approach; (c) the specific data collection methods and instruments; (d) the specific data analysis methods and procedures: and (e) drawing conclusions.
5. Literature Review
While a partial literature review was required to develop the “T” (foundation), you will now need to take it to the next level and develop a “full-blown” literature review. What do we know about the constructs, variables, and relationships identified in the conceptual framework and the questions? The literature review discusses and analyzes the existing research findings.
6. Overall Approach
The purpose, questions, and how much we already know determine the overall approach. Organization and management research often includes measurable variables and relationships that can be analyzed using quantitative methods and constructs and relationships that require more flexible qualitative methods.
7. Data Collection
Data collection planning consists of three key components: (a) a sampling plan, (b) a measurement plan, and (c) a data collection plan. Who will participate? We measure the constructs and variables, and then we analyze the relationships. How will you measure the independent, dependent, and moderating variables?
8. Data Analysis
While measurement and data collection focus on the constructs, variables, factors, and context – the analysis focuses on the relationships between the variables, factors, and contextual factors. The collected data type and level, along with the questions and purpose(s), will determine the data analysis options available.
9. Drawing Conclusions
The last step in the research process is to combine all the pieces in a coherent discussion of key findings and their implications for theory and practice, the limitations associated with those conclusions, and recommended future research questions and studies. The study has come “full circle” and addresses the original problem and knowledge gap.
Latham, J. R. (2022). The research canvas: A framework for developing and aligning the “DNA” of your research study (4th ed.). Organization Design Studio® Ltd.
Research Canvas Book
The Research Canvas is a FREE ebook about the “art” and “science” of research design. It is a “how-to” guide for getting the “DNA” of your research study designed and aligned before writing more detailed descriptions of the methodology. The book emerged from my experience in doing my research over the past several years and helping other researchers learn the “craft” of research. The book addresses the nine components of the research design framework.