Research Design

Same as research approach, different textbooks place different meanings on research design. Some authors consider research design as the choice between qualitative and quantitative research methods. Others argue that research design refers to the choice of specific methods of data collection and analysis. Research design is also placed as a master plan for conducting a research project and this appears to be the most authentic explanation of the term.

 In your dissertation you can define research design as a general plan about what you will do to answer the research question.[1] It is a framework for choosing specific methods of data collection and data analysis.

Research design can be divided into two groups: exploratory and conclusive. Exploratory research, according to its name merely aims to explore specific aspects of the research area. Exploratory research does not aim to provide final and conclusive answers to research questions. The researcher may even change the direction of the study to a certain extent, however not fundamentally, according to new evidences gained during the research process.

Conclusive research, on the contrary, generate findings that can be practically useful for decision-making. The following Table 1 illustrates the main differences between exploratory and conclusive research in relation to important components of a dissertation.

Research project components Exploratory research Conclusive research
Research purpose General: to generate insights about a situation Specific: to verify insights and aid in selecting a course of action
Data needs Vague Clear
Data sources Ill defined Well defined
Data collection form Open-ended, rough Usually structured
Sample Relatively small; subjectively selected to maximize generalization of insights Relatively large; objectively selected to permit generalization of findings
Data collection Flexible; no set procedure Rigid; well-laid-out procedure
Data analysis Informal; typically non-quantitative Formal; typically quantitative


More tentative than final More final than tentative

Table 1 Major differences between exploratory and conclusive research design[2]


The following can be mentioned as examples with exploratory design:

  • A critical analysis of argument of mandatory CSR for UK private sector organisations
  • A study into contradictions between CSR program and initiatives and business practices: a case study of Philip Morris USA
  • An investigation into the ways of customer relationship management in mobile marketing environment

Studies listed above do not aim to generate final and conclusive evidences to research questions. These studies merely aim to explore their respective research areas.

Conclusive research can be divided into two categories: descriptive and causal. Descriptive research design, as the name suggests, describes specific elements, causes, or phenomena in the research area.

Research  title Focus of description
Born or bred: revising The Great Man theory of leadership in the 21st century


The Great Man theory
Creativity as the main trait for modern leaders: a critical analysis Creativity
Critical analysis into the role of CSR as an effective marketing tool


Critical analysis of the use of social media as a marketing strategy: a case study of Burger King UK Social media

Table 2 Examples for descriptive research design


Causal research design, on the other hand, is conducted to study cause-and-effect relationships.  Table 3 below illustrates some examples for studies with causal research design.

Research  title Cause Effect
The role of globalization into the emergence of global economic and financial crisis of 2007-2009 Globalization Global economic and financial crisis of 2007-2009


Impacts of CSR programs and initiatives on brand image: a case study of Coca-Cola Company UK. CSR programs and initiatives Coca Cola brand image
A critical analysis into the emergence of global culture and its implications in local companies in the USA Global culture US companies
Effects of organisational culture on achieving its aims and objectives: a case study of Virgin Atlantic Organizational culture Virgin Atlantic performance

Table 3 Examples for studies with causal design


My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance contains discussions of theory and application of research designs. The e-book also explains all stages of the research process starting from the selection of the research area to writing personal reflection. Important elements of dissertations such as research philosophyresearch approachmethods of data collectiondata analysis and sampling are explained in this e-book in simple words.

John Dudovskiy

Research design


[1] Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2012) “Research Methods for Business Students” 6th edition, Pearson Education Limited

[2] Source: Pride and Ferrell (2007)