research design types web page 1

Getting StartedGroup of people drawing a light bulb

As you begin your journey as a social researcher, you will face many questions, such as, are you a quantitative person or a qualitative person? In other words, do you think that data is only credible if the results are generated through statistical analysis and inferences? Or, do you think that the opinions expressed by people provide more credibility? Is it better to use both, and, if so, why?

You also may wonder if there is a relationship between two or more variables. More specifically, for example, those working with individuals with disabilities may wonder if there is a relationship between children experiencing attention deficit disorders and those with learning disabilities.

As a social researcher, you may question the validity of an intervention used to change a client’s behavior; therefore, prompting you to test the effects of a therapeutic technique.

Upon successful completion of this discussion, you will be able to:

  • Discriminate between quantitative and qualitative research studies.
  • Discuss in writing the differences between different designs.


  • Textbook: Practice-Based Research in Social Work

Background Information

The goal of quantitative research is to gather data that is in numerical form. The data is put into categories (nominal data), such as gender or political affiliation; into rank order (ordinal data), such as freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior; or measured in units, which can be interval or ratio, often referred to as scaled data, such as age or test scores.

Correlation research aims to understand the relationship between two or more variables. For example, is there a relationship between socioeconomic status and student success? As socioeconomic status increases, so does student success. Although it is helpful to know whether a correlation exists, this type of research presents limitations, as the data simply identifies a relationship and not causation. In other words, the researcher cannot state that socioeconomic status causes students to be successful.

Experimental research is concerned with measuring causation. More specifically, for example, what effect does brief-focused therapy have on depression? This information could prove beneficial when trying to help clients navigate through the challenges of depression. Although the researcher is able to test the validity of the intervention, experimental research is not without limitations. Experimental methods limit the possible ways a research participant can react to and express appropriate social behavior. Findings are therefore likely to be context-bound and simply a reflection of the assumptions that the researcher brings to the investigation.

In contrast to quantitative data is qualitative data. The goal of qualitative research is to obtain information that is not in numerical form. For example, the researcher will use open-ended questionnaires or unstructured interviews or observations. Given that qualitative data is generally descriptive data, it is much more difficult and time-consuming to analyze than quantitative data, which uses statistics to make inferences about the data. Moreover, analysis of qualitative data requires an accurate description of the participants’ responses. Finally, the researcher must sort through the responses to open-ended questions and interviews and identify patterns and themes.

An interest in qualitative data emerged as a result of the dissatisfaction of some psychologists, such as Carl Rogers, who believed that the scientific study of some behavioral psychologists, such as B.F. Skinner, failed to capture the totality of the human experience. Qualitative researchers argue that using the phenomenological approach, which explores the experiences of participants, provides much richer data.


  1. Review the rubric to make sure you understand the criteria for earning your grade.
  2. Read Chapter 4 in your textbook Practice-Based Research in Social Work.
  3. Navigate to the threaded discussion and respond to the following discussion prompts:
    1. Discuss the differences among qualitative, descriptive, and experimental research designs.
    2. Discuss which of the three designs you prefer, and a rationale as to why you prefer that design.
  4. Your initial post of at least 250 words is due by the end of the third day of the workshop.
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