5 Research Design Types + Key Elements and Characteristics

The quality and reliability of your research depends on many different factors.

Have you determined your target audience? Do you plan to survey a sample or an entire population? Have you decided on research methods and techniques you’re going to use? What is the end goal of your research and how do you plan to analyze the results?

Or we could summarize all those questions in one – have decided on the right research design for your study?

Before we share more about different research design types you can choose from, let’s just briefly explain the concept of research design.

What does research design mean?

At the beginning of every meaningful research, a researcher chooses a framework of methods and techniques to be used and applied in the research process. This framework is usually referred to as the research design.

research design types

It allows the researchers to decide on the research methodology that is suitable for the topic of their study and to properly set up their research. Research design also supports the specific type of research (experiment, survey, review, case study, correlation, and so on) that needs to be done.

Key elements of research design

As all research design types have certain common characteristics, here are the top elements every good design should have or at least touch upon.

  • Purpose statement
  • Techniques for data collection
  • Methods for research analysis
  • Type of research methodology
  • Probable objections to conducting research
  • Research study settings
  • Timeline
  • Analysis measurement

Of course, the exact elements depend on the type of research design you opt for. So, here’s a preview of the most common research design types.

Essential characteristics of good research design

Any type of research design is valid only if its results are reliable. Nevertheless, a lot of companies nowadays make vital decisions based on unreliable research. In many cases, this is because they fail to account for various types of bias in research.

To get accurate data from your research, you need to do everything in your power to protect your research results against bias and achieve utmost neutrality.

Also, the outcome of your research should be applicable to an entire population and not just a limited sample. To ensure that’s the case, make sure you got your sampling right and take into account the potential margin of error just to be on the safe side.

5 most common research design types

There are numerous ways to classify research design. Based on the purpose and method, we could distinguish among 5 research design types:

1. Descriptive research design

This is a theory-based design, where the researcher is primarily interested in describing the topic that is the subject of the research. It is applied to case studies, naturalistic observations, surveys, and so on.

This method includes data collection, analysis, and presentation. It lets the researcher clearly present the problem statement in order to allow others to better understand the need for this kind of research. Without a clear problem statement, you’re not doing descriptive but exploratory research.

2. Correlational research design

Just as its name suggests, correlational design allows the researcher to establish some kind of a relation between two closely related topics or variables. It’s a non-experimental research design type that requires at least two groups of data.

It can be applied to case-control studies and observational studies, for example.

research design

3. Experimental research design

Whether it is a field experiment, a controlled experiment, or a quasi-experiment, this is one of the research design types that establishes a relation between the cause and effect of a particular happening.

Here, the researcher observes the influence of an independent variable on the dependent one. For instance, you can observe the impact of the price (an independent variable) on customer satisfaction (a dependent variable).

Usually, this type of research design contributes to solving a particular problem by manipulating the independent variables to observe the change they have on the dependent one. For example, you can experiment with changing the price and observe the effect it has on customer satisfaction.

4. Diagnostic research design

Diagnostic research is one of the research design types that aims to examine the underlying cause of a certain situation or phenomenon. It can help you find out more about the factors that lead to specific issues or challenges your customers might be facing.

This design usually consists of three research phases – (1) problem inception, (2) problem diagnosis, and (3) problem solution.

5. Explanatory research design

Again, the name is self-explanatory. Explanatory research design is used to further expand, explore, and explain the researcher’s ideas and theories. This type of research design is used to elaborate on the unexplored aspects of a particular topic and try to explain the missing pieces.

Quantitative vs. qualitative research design

Quantitative research design

Quantitative research aims to give answers to questions like who, what, when, where, and how many?

Due to the fact that they use close-ended questions, the results of quantitative surveys can easily be transformed into numbers, stats, graphs, and charts. This is why businesses often use quantitative surveys to learn about their customers and drive their decisions using the data obtained.

For example, you can use a quantitative survey such as NPS survey* to easily measure your customer satisfaction on a scale of 1-10.

*This survey template (+77 other templates) is available for free to all the LeadQuizzes users.

Qualitative research design

Qualitative research, on the other hand, aims to give answers to why and how something is happening.

Qualitative research most commonly revolves around open-ended survey questions and highly descriptive answers that are hard to quantify and express through numbers. It’s a great way to collect more complex information and explore people’s thoughts and behavior.

It’s often used to find ideas, formulate predictions, and explain the numbers.

If you’re looking to learn more about these two types of design, we have prepared a guide to help decide whether you should collect quantitative or qualitative data for your business research.

Fixed vs. flexible research design

Another distinction can be made between fixed and flexible research design. Often, these two research design types coincide with quantitative (fixed design) and qualitative (flexible design) data collection.

With a fixed research design, the design of the research is pre-determined and known even before you start collecting data. Flexible designs, on the other hand, allow for more freedom when collecting data – for example, you don’t offer predetermined answer options, so the respondents have to type in their own answers.

Research design types by grouping

Yet another classification of research design types can be made based on the way participants are grouped. In most cases, grouping depends on the research hypothesis and the way participants are being sampled.

For example, In a typical study based on experimental research design, there’s usually at least one experimental and one control group. In medical studies, let’s say, one group could be receiving treatment, while the other would be given no treatment. You get the idea.

Based on participant grouping, we can distinguish among 4 types of research design:

Cohort study

A cohort study is a type of longitudinal research that samples a cohort (a group of people with a shared characteristic) while doing a cross-section at specific time intervals. It is a type of panel study where the individuals in the panel share a common characteristic.

Cross-sectional study

A cross-sectional study is common in social science, medical research, and biology. This type of research design analyzes data either from a population, or from a representative sample, at a specified point in time.

Longitudinal study

A longitudinal study is a research design that involves repeated observations of the same variables over short or long periods of time. It is often a type of observational study, although they can also be structured as longitudinal randomized experiments.

Cross-sequential study

Cross-sequential research design combines longitudinal and cross-sectional research design, aiming to compensate for some of the issues inherently present in the two aforementioned designs.


Ok, now that we’ve presented you with 5 main research design types (along with key elements and characteristics and several sub-divisions), you can more confidently proceed with data collection and analysis. If you’re looking for a reliable and engaging way to collect data, you should give our quizzes and surveys a (try for FREE).

Comments (5)

  • On November 13, 2020 at 8:06 am wrote:

    Thanks for your help

    • Jeremy Ellens
      On November 26, 2020 at 1:08 am wrote:

      Of course!

  • Raveena Masese
    On November 25, 2020 at 8:24 am wrote:

    Well explained. Thanks so much for the help

  • Oluchi Vivian
    On December 8, 2020 at 6:22 am wrote:

    Thus article was helpful. Thanks so much

    • Jeremy Ellens
      On December 8, 2020 at 5:55 pm wrote:

      You’re welcome!

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