Research Design

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Research Design, “A research design is the arrangement of conditions for collection and analysis of data in a manner that aims to combine relevance to the research purpose with economy in procedure.”


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Research Design:

Research Design


MEANING OF RESEARCH DESIGN “A research design is the arrangement of conditions for collection and analysis of data in a manner that aims to combine relevance to the research purpose with economy in procedure.” In fact, the research design is the conceptual structure within which research is conducted; it constitutes the blueprint for the collection, measurement and analysis of data. As such the design includes an outline of what the researcher will do from writing the hypothesis and its operational implications to the final analysis of data.

More explicitly, the design decisions happen to be in respect of::

More explicitly, the design decisions happen to be in respect of: ( i ) What is the study about? (ii) Why is the study being made? (iii) Where will the study be carried out? (iv) What type of data is required? (v) Where can the required data be found? (vi) What periods of time will the study include? (vii) What will be the sample design? (viii) What techniques of data collection will be used? (ix) How will the data be analysed? (x) In what style will the report be prepared?

Keeping in view the above stated design decisions, one may split the overall research design into the following parts::

Keeping in view the above stated design decisions, one may split the overall research design into the following parts: (a) the sampling design which deals with the method of selecting items to be observed for the given study; (b) the observational design which relates to the conditions under which the observations are to be made;

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(c) the statistical design which concerns with the question of how many items are to be observed and how the information and data gathered are to be analysed; and (d) the operational design which deals with the techniques by which the procedures specified in the sampling, statistical and observational designs can be carried out.

In brief, research design must, at least, contain—:

In brief, research design must, at least, contain— (a) a clear statement of the research problem; (b) procedures and techniques to be used for gathering information; (c) the population to be studied; (d) methods to be used in processing and analysing data.


NEED FOR RESEARCH DESIGN Research design is needed because it facilitates the smooth sailing of the various research operations, thereby making research as efficient as possible yielding maximal information with minimal expenditure of effort, time and money. Just as for better, economical and attractive construction of a house, we need a blueprint (or what is commonly called the map of the house) well thought out and prepared by an expert architect, similarly we need a research design or a plan in advance of data collection and analysis for our research project. Research design stands for advance planning of the methods to be adopted for collecting the relevant data and the techniques to be used in their analysis, keeping in view the objective of the research and the availability of staff, time and money.


FEATURES OF A GOOD DESIGN (i) the means of obtaining information; (ii) the availability and skills of the researcher and his staff, if any; (iii) the objective of the problem to be studied; (iv) the nature of the problem to be studied; and (v) the availability of time and money for the research work.


IMPORTANT CONCEPTS RELATING TO RESEARCH DESIGN 1. Dependent and independent variables: A concept which can take on different quantitative values is called a variable. As such the concepts like weight, height, income are all examples of variables. Qualitative phenomena (or the attributes) are also quantified on the basis of the presence or absence of the concerning attribute(s). A continuous variable is that which can assume any numerical value within a specific range. A variable for which the individual values fall on the scale only with distinct gaps is called a discrete variable.

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2. Extraneous variable: Independent variables that are not related to the purpose of the study, but may affect the dependent variable are termed as extraneous variables. Suppose the researcher wants to test the hypothesis that there is a relationship between children’s gains in social studies achievement and their self-concepts. In this case self-concept is an independent variable and social studies achievement is a dependent variable. Intelligence may as well affect the social studies achievement, but since it is not related to the purpose of the study undertaken by the researcher, it will be termed as an extraneous variable. Whatever effect is noticed on dependent variable as a result of extraneous variable(s) is technically described as an ‘experimental error’. A study must always be so designed that the effect upon the dependent variable is attributed entirely to the independent variable(s), and not to some extraneous variable or variables.

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3. Control: One important characteristic of a good research design is to minimise the influence or effect of extraneous variable(s). The technical term ‘control’ is used when we design the study minimising the effects of extraneous independent variables. In experimental researches, the term ‘control’ is used to refer to restrain experimental conditions. 4. Confounded relationship: When the dependent variable is not free from the influence of extraneous variable(s), the relationship between the dependent and independent variables is said to be confounded by an extraneous variable(s).

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5. Research hypothesis: When a prediction or a hypothesised relationship is to be tested by scientific methods, it is termed as research hypothesis. The research hypothesis is a predictive statement that relates an independent variable to a dependent variable. Usually a research hypothesis must contain, at least, one independent and one dependent variable. Predictive statements which are not to be objectively verified or the relationships that are assumed but not to be tested, are not termed research hypotheses.

6. Experimental and non-experimental hypothesis-testing research::

6. Experimental and non-experimental hypothesis-testing research: Research in which the independent variables manipulated is termed ‘experimental hypothesis-testing research’ and a research in which an independent variable is not manipulated is called ‘non-experimental hypothesis-testing research’.

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For instance, suppose a researcher wants to study whether intelligence affects reading ability for a group of students and for this purpose he randomly selects 50 students and tests their intelligence and reading ability by calculating the coefficient of correlation between the two sets of scores. This is an example of non-experimental hypothesis-testing research because herein the independent variable, intelligence, is not manipulated. But now suppose that our researcher randomly selects 50 students from a group of students who are to take a course in statistics and then divides them into two groups by randomly assigning 25 to Group A, the usual studies programme, and 25 to Group B, the special studies programme. At the end of the course, he administers a test to each group in order to judge the effectiveness of the training programme on the student’s performance-level. This is an example of experimental hypothesis-testing research because in this case the independent variable, viz., the type of training programme, is manipulated.

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7. Experimental and control groups: In an experimental hypothesis-testing research when a group is exposed to usual conditions, it is termed a ‘control group’, but when the group is exposed to some novel or special condition, it is termed an ‘experimental group’. In the above illustration, the Group A can be called a control group and the Group B an experimental group. If both groups A and B are exposed to special studies programmes, then both groups would be termed ‘experimental groups.’ It is possible to design studies which include only experimental groups or studies which include both experimental and control groups.

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8. Treatments: The different conditions under which experimental and control groups are put are usually referred to as ‘treatments’. In the illustration taken above, the two treatments are the usual studies programme and the special studies programme. Similarly, if we want to determine through an experiment the comparative impact of three varieties of fertilizers on the yield of wheat, in that case the three varieties of fertilizers will be treated as three treatments.

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9. Experiment: The process of examining the truth of a statistical hypothesis, relating to some research problem, is known as an experiment. For example, we can conduct an experiment to examine the usefulness of a certain newly developed drug. Experiments can be of two types viz., absolute experiment and comparative experiment. If we want to determine the impact of a fertilizer on the yield of a crop, it is a case of absolute experiment; but if we want to determine the impact of one fertilizer as compared to the impact of some other fertilizer, our experiment then will be termed as a comparative experiment. Often, we undertake comparative experiments when we talk of designs of experiments. 10. Experimental unit(s): The pre-determined plots or the blocks, where different treatments are used, are known as experimental units. Such experimental units must be selected (defined) very carefully.



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1. Research design in case of exploratory research studies: Exploratory research studies are also termed as Formulative research studies. The main purpose of such studies is that of formulating a problem for more precise investigation or of developing the working hypotheses from an operational point of view. Generally, the following three methods in the context of research design for such studies are talked about: (a) the survey of concerning literature; (b) the experience survey and (c) the analysis of ‘insight-stimulating’ examples.

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Analysis of ‘insight-stimulating’ examples is also a fruitful method for suggesting hypotheses for research. It is particularly suitable in areas where there is little experience to serve as a guide. This method consists of the intensive study of selected instances of the phenomenon in which one is interested. For this purpose the existing records, if any, may be examined, the unstructured interviewing may take place, or some other approach may be adopted. Attitude of the investigator, the intensity of the study and the ability of the researcher to draw together diverse information into a unified interpretation are the main features which make this method an appropriate procedure for evoking insights.

2. Research design in case of descriptive and diagnostic research studies::

2. Research design in case of descriptive and diagnostic research studies: Descriptive research studies are those studies which are concerned with describing the characteristics of a particular individual, or of a group, whereas diagnostic research studies determine the frequency with which something occurs or its association with something else. The studies concerning whether certain variables are associated are examples of diagnostic research studies. As against this, studies concerned with specific predictions, with narration of facts and characteristics concerning individual, group or situation are all examples of descriptive research studies. Most of the social research comes under this category. From the point of view of the research design, the descriptive as well as diagnostic studies share common requirements and as such we may group together these two types of research studies.

3. Research design in case of hypothesis-testing research studies::

3. Research design in case of hypothesis-testing research studies: Hypothesis-testing research studies (generally known as experimental studies) are those where the researcher tests the hypotheses of causal relationships between variables. Such studies require procedures that will not only reduce bias and increase reliability, but will permit drawing inferences about causality. Usually experiments meet this requirement. Hence, when we talk of research design in such studies, we often mean the design of experiments.

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Professor R.A. Fisher’s name is associated with experimental designs. Beginning of such designs was made by him when he was working at Rothamsted Experimental Station (Centre for Agricultural Research in England). As such the study of experimental designs has its origin in agricultural research. Professor Fisher found that by dividing agricultural fields or plots into different blocks and then by conducting experiments in each of these blocks, whatever information is collected and inferences drawn from them, happens to be more reliable. This fact inspired him to develop certain experimental designs for testing hypotheses concerning scientific investigations. Today, the experimental designs are being used in researches relating to phenomena of several disciplines. Since experimental designs originated in the context of agricultural operations, we still use, though in a technical sense, several terms of agriculture (such as treatment, yield, plot, block etc.) in experimental designs.


BASIC PRINCIPLES OF EXPERIMENTAL DESIGNS Professor Fisher has enumerated three principles of experimental designs: (1) the Principle of Replication; (2) the Principle of Randomization; and the (3) Principle of Local Control.

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According to the Principle of Replication, the experiment should be repeated more than once. Thus, each treatment is applied in many experimental units instead of one. By doing so the statistical accuracy of the experiments is increased. For example, suppose we are to examine the effect of two varieties of rice. For this purpose we may divide the field into two parts and grow one variety in one part and the other variety in the other part. We can then compare the yield of the two parts and draw conclusion on that basis. But if we are to apply the principle of replication to this experiment, then we first divide the field into several parts, grow one variety in half of these parts and the other variety in the remaining parts. We can then collect the data of yield of the two varieties and draw conclusion by comparing the same. The result so obtained will be more reliable in comparison to the conclusion we draw without applying the principle of replication. The entire experiment can even be repeated several times for better results.

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The Principle of Randomization provides protection, when we conduct an experiment, against the effect of extraneous factors by randomization. In other words, this principle indicates that we should design or plan the experiment in such a way that the variations caused by extraneous factors can all be combined under the general heading of “chance.” For instance, if we grow one variety of rice, say, in the first half of the parts of a field and the other variety is grown in the other half, then it is just possible that the soil fertility may be different in the first half in comparison to the other half. Ift his is so, our results would not be realistic. In such a situation, we may assign the variety of rice to be grown in different parts of the field on the basis of some random sampling technique i.e., we may apply randomization principle and protect ourselves against the effects of the extraneous factors (soil fertility differences in the given case). As such, through the application of the principle of randomization, we can have a better estimate of the experimental error.

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The Principle of Local Control is another important principle of experimental designs. Under it the extraneous factor, the known source of variability, is made to vary deliberately over as wide a range as necessary and this needs to be done in such a way that the variability it causes can be measured and hence eliminated from the experimental error. This means that we should plan the experiment in a manner that we can perform a two-way analysis of variance, in which the total variability of the data is divided into three components attributed to treatments (varieties of rice in our case), the extraneous factor (soil fertility in our case) and experimental error.* In other words, according to the principle of local control, we first divide the field into several homogeneous parts, known as blocks, and then each such block is divided into parts equal to the number of treatments.

Important Experimental Designs:

Important Experimental Designs ( a) Informal experimental designs: (i) Before-and-after without control design. (ii) After-only with control design. (iii) Before-and-after with control design. ( b) Formal experimental designs: (i) Completely randomized design (C.R. Design). (ii) Randomized block design (R.B. Design). (iii) Latin square design (L.S. Design). (iv) Factorial designs.

1. Before-and-after without control design::

1. Before-and-after without control design: In such a design a single test group or area is selected and the dependent variable is measured before the introduction of the treatment. The treatment is then introduced and the dependent variable is measured again after the treatment has been introduced. The effect of the treatment would be equal to the level of the phenomenon after the treatment minus the level of the phenomenon before the treatment. The design can be represented thus:

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The main difficulty of such a design is that with the passage of time considerable extraneous variations may be there in its treatment effect.

2. After-only with control design::

2. After-only with control design: In this design two groups or areas (test area and control area) are selected and the treatment is introduced into the test area only. The dependent variable is then measured in both the areas at the same time. Treatment impact is assessed by subtracting the value of the dependent variable in the control area from its value in the test area. This can be exhibited in the following form:

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The basic assumption in such a design is that the two areas are identical with respect to their behaviour towards the phenomenon considered. If this assumption is not true, there is the possibility of extraneous variation entering into the treatment effect. However, data can be collected in such a design without the introduction of problems with the passage of time. In this respect the design is superior to before-and-after without control design.

3. Before-and-after with control design::

3. Before-and-after with control design: In this design two areas are selected and the dependent variable is measured in both the areas for an identical time-period before the treatment. The treatment is then introduced into the test area only, and the dependent variable is measured in both for an identical time-period after the introduction of the treatment. The treatment effect is determined by subtracting the change in the dependent variable in the control area from the change in the dependent variable in test area. This design can be shown in this way:

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This design is superior to the above two designs for the simple reason that it avoids extraneous variation resulting both from the passage of time and from non-comparability of the test and control areas. But at times, due to lack of historical data, time or a comparable control area, we should prefer to select one of the first two informal designs stated above.

4. Completely randomized design (C.R. design)::

4. Completely randomized design (C.R. design): Involves only two principles viz., the principle of replication and the principle of randomization of experimental designs. It is the simplest possible design and its procedure of analysis is also easier. The essential characteristic of the design is that subjects are randomly assigned to experimental treatments (or vice-versa). For instance, if we have 10 subjects and if we wish to test 5 under treatment A and 5 under treatment B, the randomization process gives every possible group of 5 subjects selected from a set of 10 an equal opportunity of being assigned to treatment A and treatment B. One-way analysis of variance (or one-way ANOVA) is used to analyse such a design. Even unequal replications can also work in this design. It provides maximum number of degrees of freedom to the error. Such a design is generally used when experimental areas happen to be homogeneous. Technically, when all the variations due to uncontrolled extraneous factors are included under the heading of chance variation, we refer to the design of experiment as C.R. design.

(i) Two-group simple randomized design::

( i ) Two-group simple randomized design: In a two-group simple randomized design, first of all the population is defined and then from the population a sample is selected randomly. Further, requirement of this design is that items, after being selected randomly from then population, be randomly assigned to the experimental and control groups (Such random assignment of items to two groups is technically described as principle of randomization). Thus, this design yields two groups as representatives of the population. In a diagram form this design can be shown in this way:

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(ii) Random replications design::

(ii) Random replications design: The limitation of the two-group randomized design is usually eliminated within the random replications design. In the illustration just cited above, the teacher differences on the dependent variable were ignored, i.e., the extraneous variable was not controlled. But in a random replications design, the effect of such differences are minimised (or reduced) by providing a number of repetitions for each treatment. Each repetition is technically called a ‘replication’. Random replication design serves two purposes viz., it provides controls for the differential effects of the extraneous independent variables and secondly, it randomizes any individual differences among those conducting the treatments. Diagrammatically we can illustrate the random replications design thus:

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Random replication design (in diagram form)

5. Randomized block design (R.B. design):

5. Randomized block design (R.B. design) is an improvement over the C.R. design. In the R.B. design the principle of local control can be applied along with the other two principles of experimental designs. In the R.B. design, subjects are first divided into groups, known as blocks, such that within each group the subjects are relatively homogeneous in respect to some selected variable. The variable selected for grouping the subjects is one that is believed to be related to the measures to be obtained in respect of the dependent variable. The number of subjects in a given block would be equal to the number of treatments and one subject in each block would be randomly assigned to each treatment. In general, blocks are the levels at which we hold the extraneous factor fixed, so that its contribution to the total variability of data can be measured. The main feature of the R.B. design is that in this each treatment appears the same number of times in each block. The R.B. design is analysed by the two-way analysis of variance (two-way ANOVA) technique.

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Let us illustrate the R.B. design with the help of an example. Suppose four different forms of a standardised test in statistics were given to each of five students (selected one from each of the five I.Q. blocks) and following are the scores which they obtained.

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If each student separately randomized the order in which he or she took the four tests (by using random numbers or some similar device), we refer to the design of this experiment as a R.B. Design. The purpose of this randomization is to take care of such possible extraneous factors (say as fatigue) or perhaps the experience gained from repeatedly taking the test.

6. Latin square design (L.S. design):

6. Latin square design (L.S. design) is an experimental design very frequently used in agricultural research. The conditions under which agricultural investigations are carried out are different from those in other studies for nature plays an important role in agriculture. For instance, an experiment has to be made through which the effects of five different varieties of fertilizers on the yield of a certain crop, say wheat, it to be judged. In such a case the varying fertility of the soil in different blocks in which the experiment has to be performed must be taken into consideration; otherwise the results obtained may not be very dependable because the output happens to be the effect not only of fertilizers, but it may also be the effect of fertility of soil. Similarly, there may be impact of varying seeds on the yield. To overcome such difficulties, the L.S. design is used when there are two major extraneous factors such as the varying soil fertility and varying seeds.

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The Latin-square design is one wherein each fertilizer, in our example, appears five times but is used only once in each row and in each column of the design. In other words, the treatments in a L.S. design are so allocated among the plots that no treatment occurs more than once in any one row or any one column. The two blocking factors may be represented through rows and columns (one through rows and the other through columns). The following is a diagrammatic form of such a design in respect of, say, five types of fertilizers, viz., A, B, C, D and E and the two blocking factor viz., the varying soil fertility and the varying seeds:

7. Factorial designs::

7. Factorial designs: Factorial designs are used in experiments where the effects of varying more than one factor are to be determined. They are specially important in several economic and social phenomena where usually a large number of factors affect a particular problem. Factorial designs can be of two types: simple factorial designs and complex factorial designs. We take them separately

(i) Simple factorial designs::

( i ) Simple factorial designs: In case of simple factorial designs, we consider the effects of varying two factors on the dependent variable, but when an experiment is done with more than two factors, we use complex factorial designs. Simple factorial design is also termed as a ‘two-factor-factorial design’, whereas complex factorial design is known as ‘multifactor- factorial design.’ Simple factorial design may either be a 2 × 2 simple factorial design, or it may be, say, 3 × 4 or 5 × 3 or the like type of simple factorial design. We illustrate some simple factorial designs as under:

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In this design the extraneous variable to be controlled by homogeneity is called the control variable and the independent variable, which is manipulated, is called the experimental variable. Then there are two treatments of the experimental variable and two levels of the control variable. As such there are four cells into which the sample is divided. Each of the four combinations would provide one treatment or experimental condition. Subjects are assigned at random to each treatment in the same manner as in a randomized group design. The means for different cells may be obtained along with the means for different rows and columns. Means of different cells represent the mean scores for the dependent variable and the column means in the given design are termed the main effect for treatments without taking into account any differential effect that is due to the level of the control variable. Similarly, the row means in the said design are termed the main effects for levels without regard to treatment. Thus, through this design we can study the main effects of treatments as well as the main effects of levels. An additional merit of this design is that one can examine the interaction between treatments and levels, through which one may say whether the treatment and levels are independent of each other or they are not so. The following examples make clear the interaction effect between treatments and levels. The data obtained in case of two (2 × 2) simple factorial studies may be as given in Fig.

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All the above figures (the study I data and the study II data) represent the respective means. Graphically, these can be represented as shown in Fig.:

All the above figures (the study I data and the study II data) represent the respective means. Graphically, these can be represented as shown in Fig.

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The graph relating to Study I indicates that there is an interaction between the treatment and the level which, in other words, means that the treatment and the level are not independent of each other. The graph relating to Study II shows that there is no interaction effect which means that treatment and level in this study are relatively independent of each other. The 2 × 2 design need not be restricted in the manner as explained above i.e., having one experimental variable and one control variable, but it may also be of the type having two experimental variables or two control variables. For example, a college teacher compared the effect of the class size as well as the introduction of the new instruction technique on the learning of research methodology. For this purpose he conducted a study using a 2 × 2 simple factorial design. His design in the graphic form would be as follows:


But if the teacher uses a design for comparing males and females and the senior and junior students in the college as they relate to the knowledge of research methodology, in that case we will have a 2 × 2 simple factorial design wherein both the variables are control variables as no manipulation is involved in respect of both the variables.


CONCLUSION There are several research designs and the researcher must decide in advance of collection and analysis of data as to which design would prove to be more appropriate for his research project. He must give due weight to various points such as the type of universe and its nature, the objective of his study, the resource list or the sampling frame, desired standard of accuracy and the like when taking a decision in respect of the design for his research project.



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