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. 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 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
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.
|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 philosophy, research approach, methods of data collection, data analysis and sampling are explained in this e-book in simple words.
 Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2012) “Research Methods for Business Students” 6th edition, Pearson Education Limited
 Source: Pride and Ferrell (2007)