Research methods can be a tricky subject to master. Learn more about the four standard research methods in this article.
As a writer, you must be able to describe case studies, different types of research, cause and effect relationships, and explain complicated research studies so that your readers can grasp what you’re working to convey. There are four general types of research methods: qualitative research, quantitative research, mixed method research, and secondary data analysis. All four types of research have a place when it comes to providing information to your readers, and you must understand what type of research is the best fit for your topic.
Here, we’ll explore each research method, helping you understand what you need to look for when explaining relationships between variables to your readers.
Why Do Different Research Designs Exist?
When researchers work to answer a question or understand a concept, they must use the type of research that will give them the information most valuable to their concern. Sometimes, the information that researchers want is easily quantified with numbers.
For example, a researcher may want to know how many people are helped by a new drug or how the money a person spends on their education is correlated with the amount of money they make later in life. However, other questions that researchers want to answer are not easily satisfied with numbers. For example, a researcher may want to know how trauma impacts a person’s long-term well-being or how a child’s relationship with their parents affects how they form a friendship with others.
Basic Research Method Terminology
Before we delve into why research matters in writing and the different types of research methods that you should understand, it’s essential that you have a basic grasp of the vocabulary used to describe research methods, below, take a look at some key terms you’ll need to understand when reading and explaining scientific research.
- Independent variable: The factor in research being tested (for example, a medicine being tested on patients).
- Dependent variable: The factor in research that depends on the independent variable (for example, the change in a patient’s condition based on whether they receive medication).
- Control group: The group that does not receive the independent variable.
- Random sampling: A process in which researchers use numbers or other randomizing tactics to decide which research participants will be assigned to the control group and which will receive the independent variable.
- Correlation: A study finding that the independent and dependent variables are related.
- Causation: A study finding that a change in the independent variable directly is solely responsible for a change in the dependent variable.
For example, imagine a researcher working to determine whether drinking Gatorade before a track meet improves an athlete’s speed compared to a track meet before which they did not drink Gatorade. The independent variable would be the Gatorade–the item the researcher is studying. The dependent variable would be the athlete’s change in speed. The control group with be a group of athletes who were not given Gatorade before the second meet.
Random sampling would mean that all athletes were assigned a number, and random participants were assigned to the study and control groups. A correlation of the study could be that athletes who drank Gatorade indeed showed more speed improvement than those who did not, while causation would require researchers to prove that the Gatorade itself (and not other factors, like the athletes believing a sports drink would improve their performance) was responsible for the change in speed.
Why Writers Need to Understand Research Methods
Thankfully, researchers have developed several research methods that help them learn more about people, behavior, science, the environment, and more. As a writer, understanding research methods is key to creating work that helps your readers understand a concept.
Suppose you’re writing in a non-academic setting, likely. In that case, the people reading your work will not be experts in statistics or research, and you must write in a way that allows them to digest the information you’re providing quickly. This means that you need to understand the difference between standard research methods and explain to your readers why a scientist or researcher would choose one method over another. Here, we’ll look at four standard research methods: quantitative research, qualitative research, mixed method research, and secondary data analysis.
Top Four Research Methods
1. Quantitative Research
Quantitative research involves measurable or numerical data (easy hint: the word quantitative contains the letter “n,” making it easier to remember that this type of research involves numbers). Quantitative research requires researchers to use data that can be translated into numbers. Researchers need measurable dependent variables to collect data in a quantitative research study. For example, in a study of how different diets affect weight, researchers would use quantitative research methods, as the amount of weight gained or lost would be the dependent variable.
Quantitative research methods are better at determining causal relationships between variables than qualitative methods. Typically, experiments, surveys, questionnaires, and statistical analysis are methods used by quantitative researchers to draw conclusions. As a writer, it’s important to ensure that the information you’re presenting to your readers is easily digestible. When using a quantitative study to make a point in your writing, link to the study in question so that readers can get more information.
While it’s ok to include charts or other infographics from the study to aid your reader in understanding your point, be sure you aren’t using graphics instead of a proper explanation for the research you’re using to make your point.
2. Qualitative Research
Qualitative research differs from quantitative research because it uses anecdotes, stories, and first-hand accounts to learn more about people’s lives, work, and interactions. As a result, researchers who use qualitative research have the advantage of being more flexible with their research methods. Sometimes, qualitative research approaches can make discovering correlational and causal relationships between variables challenging.
In a qualitative study, many factors of an experiment are controlled, making it easier for researchers to determine whether the independent variable affects the dependent variable. In qualitative research, researchers often work to better understand a demographic of people by asking them to answer research questions that provide deep insights into their way of life. While this can provide valuable information for a researcher working to understand a group of people, this research methodology can make it difficult to draw firm conclusions.
When using qualitative research to make a point in your writing, it’s key to remind your readers that the outcomes of a qualitative research process can depend on a wide variety of factors. Typically, qualitative research studies are not as controlled as quantitative research studies.
Research projects that are working to understand how specific experiences are different from human to human can be best suited to a qualitative approach. Often, qualitative researchers use open-ended questions to learn more about how certain situations have affected the people in their study, allowing respondents to discuss their experiences in a way that provides the researcher with a broad understanding.
Depending on the type of research being conducted, it may be necessary for qualitative researchers to work with varying demographics of people to get more information about their research project. This can help researchers gather qualitative data and identify trends that cross gender, cultural, and age-related barriers. For example, qualitative research projects may involve talking with study subjects about an experience they’ve had in the past, or it may involve following them for weeks, months, or years to explore how their perspective on a specific event or experience changes throughout their lives.
As a writer, writing about qualitative research can provide your readers with a first-person view of the subject you’re discussing. When you’re writing about qualitative research, explain to your reader that while you’re providing examples of how events or other factors affected the people in the study, you are not providing statistical examples that imply a causal relationship. It can be helpful to discuss both qualitative and quantitative research with your readers to support your point.
3. Mixed Method Research
Some research projects are best suited to mixed method research, in which researchers use qualitative and quantitative data to learn more about the topic. Quantitative research can provide a statistical analysis of how an issue, medication, or other independent variable affects a group of people. Qualitative research can add a human aspect to the study, providing researchers and readers with inside information regarding how an independent variable affects a person’s life.
When writing about mixed method research, use the information in the study to show your reader both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the data. This type of research is well-suited for writing, as you can provide your readers with both numerical and anecdotal information to support your argument. For example, suppose you’re struggling to find mixed-method research to support the points you’re working to make in your writing. In that case, you may want to use some quantitative and qualitative studies to provide your readers with a similar explanation to that which you would find in a mixed-method research study.
4. Secondary Data Analysis
Sometimes, researchers learn new information that makes them reconsider the conclusions they drew from an original study. Secondary data analysis refers to a researcher’s use of existing data to develop new conclusions. This data analysis can help explain how past beliefs about certain concepts have changed. If you’re writing about ways that old data is being used to support new ideas, include some secondary data analysis studies in your writing. Explain to your readers how researchers have formed new beliefs over time. You may also want to discuss how further analysis of existing data could lead to new understandings in the future.
Tips for Writing About Research Methods
When describing research studies to your readers, keep these tips in mind.
- Consider taking research methods or statistics courses to help you understand how experimental research works. Pay special attention to the complex concepts for you–these concepts will likely also be complex for your readers.
- Always link to the study. This allows your reader to get more information if necessary. If you’re not writing for an online publication, include the web address and the date you accessed the information on your works cited page.
- Don’t forget to take a look at research that contrasts your study. If you can find information that goes against the findings of a study you’re using in your writing, be sure to learn more. Don’t be afraid to mention that conflicting studies exist to your reader.
- Explain real-world significance (not just statistical significance) to your reader. Be sure to tell your reader about what the findings of the study you’re describing mean in real life.
- Know your demographic. If you’re writing is geared towards middle or high school students, you should take a different approach when discussing statistics than if your writing is geared toward college professors.
To learn more, check out our round-up of the best research books!