Step 3: Designing Your Study

Once you’ve completed (Step 1) and (Step 2) you’re ready to design your study and select your research methods.

The selection of a different research method will result in different outcome. For example:

  • Use a Quantitative method if you’re interested in whether something works
  • Use a Qualitative method if you want to know why or how something works
  • Use a Mixed Method to quantitatively explore whether something works followed by a qualitative investigation of why that is the case.

By developing a well-designed study, you’ll be thinking about the type of data you’ll collect (Step 7) for your data analysis (Step 8).

When designing your study, think about service user involvement, sampling your study population, statistical analysis, data sharing, and intellectual property.

Here are some resources to help you.

Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed-Methods Research

Qualitative research allows you to understanding how your research topic could potentially be transferred to another context.

Your data could be anything from a short response to an open-ended questionnaire question to an hour-long transcribed interview or focus group.

Quantitative research uses numbers, such as routine statistics, to develop your understanding of a research topic. 

Mixed-methods research collects and analyses qualitative and quantitative data within the same study.

Here are some resources to help you decide whether a qualitative, quantitative or mixed- methods approach is best for your project:

  • National Centre for Research Methods:
    • How to choose a research method – provides a flowchart to help you decide on the best research method for your project
    • NCRM Online learning resources –  includes video tutorials and supporting materials: presentation slides, video transcripts; related datasets; recommended readings; and links to related research
  • American Library Association‘s Reference and User Services Association:
    • Doing qualitative research – understand and conduct qualitative research studies. It includes resources on underlying concepts, methods and software
    • Doing quantitative research – learn how to design quantitative research projects, analyse their data and present this data in a meaningful way


Good questionnaire design is important for securing high quality data to enable accurate data analysis. Questionnaires can include:

  • Open questions, which typically prompt qualitative data collection and analysis
  • Closed questions, which typically prompt quantitative data collection and analysis

If you want to use a questionnaire to collect data it’s generally recommended that you use a tried and tested or pre-validated questionnaire. 

These will be have been evaluated to confirm they’re collecting or measuring what they’re intended to; you may have found examples of pre-validated questionnaires when you were reviewing the literature (Step 2).

Alternatively, here are some sources to assist in developing your own questionnaire:

  • STATS New Zealand. (2019). A guide to good survey design (fifth edition) – This guide highlights issues you might encounter when planning, undertaking, commissioning, managing, and processing a survey or survey data
  • Robinson, M. (2020). Questionnaire design open-source teaching resource from the University of Leeds on the designing and administering of questionnaires
  • Trochim, W. M. K. (2020). Survey research. In W. M. K. Trochim (Ed.), Research Methods Knowledge Baseonline textbook that includes an overview of survey types, selecting the best survey method for you and question design

Service Users

As discussed in Step 1: Turning Your Idea into a Research Question, involving service users is now common in all stages of research, not only as research participants but also as researchers.

INVOLVE, the National Institute for Health Research funded initiative to support active public involvement in NHS research, provides detailed guides on how to involve users in your research.


Sampling is used when it’s not possible or practical to include the entire research population in your project.

There are many types of sampling including:

  • Probability sampling, when you’re seeking a sample that is representative of the wider population
  • Random sampling, when every person in the population has an equal chance of being selected
  • Purposive sampling, when you rely on your judgment about who will participate in your study.

Here are some online guides to find out more about sampling:

Statistical Analysis

There are two basic types of statistical analysis, descriptive and inferential.

  • Descriptive statistics can help you summarise and describe the results of your research, including basic frequency reporting, numerical calculations, graphs or tables.
  • Inferential statistics make inferences or predictions based on the data you’ve collected.

When it comes to statistical analysis, it may be helpful to get statistical advice as part of your research project.  Here are some resources to get you started with statistical analysis:

Data Sharing

Data sharing aims to facilitate maximum benefits of research data to the widest possible community.

The aim behind data sharing is to make your data discoverable for potential reuse while respecting the confidentiality and privacy of research participants.

Increasingly, journals, publishers and funding bodies require data underpinning research to be deposited in an accessible repository.

More information on data sharing can be found at:

  • British Library. (2020). DataCite – The British Library is a member of DataCite, a non-profit international organisation building a community around a common standard for identifying and sharing data
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). (2020). Research data policy –  aimed at ESRC funded projects, this policy is a useful for key issues related to research data including copyright, confidentiality, security and ethics
  • UK Research and Innovation. (2020). Common principles on data policyprovides a framework for data management and sharing

Intellectual Property

The NHS seeks to develop innovations that can lead to improved interventions and better services for health and social care.

These innovations are covered by the term intellectual property (IP).  For further information refer to:

  • NHS National Innovation Centre. (2014). NHS IP guidance government and NHS strategy to capture and exploit innovations for the benefit of the UK economy

Other Useful Resources

  • National Centre for Research Methods– research methods training courses and events. If you identify that you have a training need, this database provides a comprehensive list of forthcoming UK research training events

Suggested Reading

The following general research guides may be helpful:

Next Steps

Having identified the best method to answer your research question, you’re ready to look into funding your research.  Go to Step 4.