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Designing A Research Project


Undertaking a research project can be a bit daunting if you’ve never done one before or if you are embarking on an entirely new subject or research method. Where should you start, and what are the proper steps involved? This article will help guide you through the process.

Not all research projects follow a cut and dry step-by-step process. While the steps outlined here are an idealized overview of the process, actual practice is not always so straightforward.

Defining The Purpose Of Your Study

Before you design your study, you must define the purpose of your project. For example, what kind of study will you undertake – exploratory, descriptive, explanatory? Are you writing a research paper for a course or thesis requirement, or are you writing an article for an academic journal, or something else? You need to define why you are conducting the study and what your purpose is. This will help you choose an appropriate research design and think through what exactly you hope to examine.


Once you have a well-defined purpose and a clear description of what you want to achieve, you can proceed to the next step: conceptualization. Conceptualization is the process of producing specific, agreed-upon meanings for concepts for the purposes of research. This involves describing the indicators you will be using to measure your concepts as well as the different aspects to the concepts. For example, if you are looking at whether women are more compassionate than men, you can’t meaningfully study the question or agree on the answer without first defining and agreeing on the meaning of the concept of compassion.

Choosing A Research Method

Once you define the purpose of your study and the concepts that you wish to research, you need to choose a research method to use. For some studies, a survey might be the most appropriate method while in other studies, field research, content analysis, or interviews would be the most appropriate.


Operationalization involves deciding on which measurement techniques you are going to use in your research. It is the development of specific research procedures that will result in empirical observations. For example, what is the exact wording you are going to use in a questionnaire, and what are the answer choices you are going to provide to respondents for each question? Operationalization involves specifying exactly how you are going to measure your research concepts.

Population And Sampling

You must now decide whom or what you are going to study. The population for a study is the group (usually people) about whom you want to draw conclusions. We are rarely ever able to study all the members of a population, however, so instead we choose a sample from the population of interest. Here you must define your population and then decide how you are going to sample them and how many you are going to sample.

Collecting Data

You are now ready to collect data and make observations. You will have already determined which research method you are going to use, so now is the time to implement that choice. For example, if you are conducting a survey, you might print questionnaires and mail them to your sample, or you might have a team of interviewers conduct the survey over the telephone.

Processing Data

Once all of your data is collected, you are ready to process it. During the data processing step, you transform the collected data into a form that is appropriate to manipulate and analyze. Raw data, after it is first collected, will need to be cleaned. For example, incorrect responses will need to be removed, corrected, or set to missing. It will also need to be coded, or transformed into a standardized form. For example, responses to survey questions will need to be given numbers (such as 0 for “no” and 1 for “yes”) so that they can be entered into a computer program for analysis.


Once the data is in suitable form, you are ready to interpret them for the purpose of drawing conclusions. The analysis done will be determined by what kind of study you are doing (exploratory, descriptive, explanatory) and what questions you are looking to answer. Analysis could come in the form of frequencies and crosstabs, regression analyses, correlations, or ANOVA, to name a few.


The final stage of the research process involves using the research you’ve conducted and the conclusions you’ve reached. You’ll likely want to communicate your findings so that others know what you found. You may also want to prepare and publish a written report or make an oral presentation at a conference or to a class. Beyond simply reporting your findings, you should also report about the implications of your findings. For example, are there any policy implications that have come from your findings? Finally, you should consider what your research suggests in regard to further research on the subject. What mistakes did you make that could be corrected in the future or what other avenues could be explored in later investigations?


Babbie, E. (2001). The Practice of Social Research: 9th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson.

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