Nursing researchers often face difficulties in selecting the right research designs for their studies, which in turn affect the results of the studies and how findings are concluded. Available literature demonstrates that the research design is the structure of any scientific study owing to its capacity to direct and systematize the research and that the three most used research designs are quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (Polit & Beck, 2012). This paper illuminates the most essential factors researchers must take into account in selecting a research design.
First, researchers need to consider the aim and objectives of the research before deciding on the most appropriate design to employ. Here, researchers can employ a quantitative research design if the study aims to explain various observations of the phenomenon using statistical models, or they can employ a qualitative research design if the study aims to provide a complete and in-depth description of the research phenomenon (Houghton, Hunter, & Meskell, 2012). Still, researchers can employ a mixed-methods research design if the study aims to use numbers to explain subjective experiences associated with the research phenomenon or vice versa (Creswell, 2013).
Second, researchers need to consider if the study is aimed at validating a theory or if it intends to develop a theory. In most instances, the deductive approach employed in quantitative research is appropriate invalidating already existing theories by its capacity to initiate experiments and analyze the findings numerically, whereas the inductive approach employed in qualitative research is suitable in developing new theoretical models to explain observed behavior (Polit & Beck, 2012).
Third, and perhaps most important, researchers need to consider their worldviews, strategies, and methods before selecting the appropriate type of research design to use. Philosophical worldviews such as positivism and postpositivism are well suited for quantitative research design, while social constructivism worldview is best suited for qualitative research design and pragmatism for mixed-methods research design (Saranto & Kinnunen, 2009). In strategies, it is important to note that experimental designs and non-experimental designs (e.g., surveys) are best suited for quantitative research design, while narrative research, case studies, phenomenology, ethnographies, and grounded theory studies are best suited for qualitative research design (Creswell, 2013; Houghton et al., 2013; Polit & Beck, 2012).
In methods, researchers intending to use pre-determined items, instrument-based questions, performance, and observational data, as well as statistical analysis and interpretation should select quantitative research design. In contrast, those intending to use emerging methods, open-ended items, interview, observation data, text and image analysis, as well as themes and patterns interpretation should consider selecting qualitative research design (Creswell, 2013).
Lastly, researchers need to carefully consider the research problem, their personal experiences and challenges, as well as stakeholders intended to benefit from the dissemination of the study findings (Creswell, 2013; Polit & Beck, 2012). A quantitative research design is mostly used if the problem in question relates to the identification of variables that influence a particular outcome or understanding the predictors that influence particular outcomes, while a qualitative research design is mostly considered if the research problem needs to be understood because little research has been done on it.
Similarly, in personal experiences, researchers may consider using a quantitative research design if they are trained in scientific writing and computer statistical programs, a qualitative research design if they enjoy undertaking personal interviews and making up-close observations, or a mixed methods research design if they are well acquainted with both quantitative and qualitative research (Creswell, 2013; Saranto & Kinnunen, 2009).
Creswell, J.W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Houghton, C., Hunter, A., & Meskell, P. (2012). Linking aims, paradigm and method in nursing research. Nursing Researcher, 20(2), 34-39.
Polit, D., & Beck, C. (2012). Nursing research: Generating and assessing evidence for nursing practice (9th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
Saranto, K., & Kinnunen, U.M. (2009). Evaluating nursing documentation – research designs and methods: A systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65(3), 464-476.