Whether you are working to solve a unique organizational issue or making a contribution to theory, the research design framework will help you align the “DNA” of your study to deliver the insights that you need. The research framework is organized into nine components with clear linkages. Each of the nine components is linked to the previous and subsequent components and all components are linked to the conceptual framework. The components are organized into 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, 2016).
While this framework provides structure to facilitate the development of an aligned and internally consistent research design, the process of developing a good research design is an iterative and often “messy” process. For a more detailed description of the Research Design Framework download the free eBook (Latham, 2016).
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
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. All the other components are designed to produce a contribution to knowledge that will help solve this problem.
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 that will be produced. This should directly address the knowledge gap in the problem statement.
There is nothing in the research process that is more important than getting the question(s) right. If the questions are good there is a chance that the study will be good. If the questions aren’t good then there is no hope that the study will be good. The answer to the questions fulfills the specific purpose.
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 key factors that influence the variables and the relationships. This task is often done in conjunction with the development of the research questions and it is an iterative process.
Developing the “U” or Methodology
Once the foundation is fairly 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.
While a partial literature review was required to develop the 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.
Selecting an overall approach – quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods – is based on the purpose of the study and how much we already know about the questions. Organization and management research often includes measurable variables and relationships that can be analyzed using quantitative methods as well as constructs and relationships the require more flexible qualitative methods.
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?
While measurement and data collection are typically focused on the constructs, variables, factors, and the context – the analysis is focused on the relationships between the variables, factors, contextual factors. The type and level of data that is collected along with the questions and purpose(s) will determine the data analysis options that are available.
The last step in the research process is to put all the pieces together in a cogent discussion of key findings and their implications for theory and practice, the limitations associated with those conclusions and recommended future research questions and studies. At this point, the study has come “full circle” and addresses the original problem and knowledge gap.
Latham, J. R. (2016). The research canvas: A framework for developing and aligning the “DNA” of your research study. (Version 3.1 ed.). www.DrJohnLatham.com
The Research Canvas
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 prior to writing more detailed descriptions of the methodology. The content is organized around a nine-cell framework that I have found useful for helping researchers (including myself), design an aligned and coherent research study.