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Designing Research

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Designing Research

So far in the Research Methods topic, you've learnt about formulating hypotheses, variables and sampling methods. Now it's time to learn about designing research and the research methods available to do so.

Why is this important?

When psychologists plan their research, they need to consider research methods, namely, which method is best for their research. This can depend on many things; the hypothesis, the research subjects, the environment and so on. Due to this, there is no 'one size fits all' with regard to research methods.

  • This topic will cover and summarise designing research; including the different research methods that are commonly used in psychology.
  • We will start off by looking at the research design psychology definition and the purposes of research designs.
  • Moving along to learn about the types of research design, these will include both quantitative and qualitative research designs.
  • Throughout, you will notice research design examples

Designing research, people using various methods such as collecting samples, looking through a magnifying glass and checking samples through a microscope who are researching a brain, StudySmarterVarious research methods can be used to investigate psychological phenomena, freepik.com/pch.vector

Research Design Psychology Definition

Research design refers to the research plan and procedure that is followed during a study.

The research design is a specific plan the researcher(s) uses for the:

  • collection
  • analysis, and
  • interpretation of data.

Purpose of Research Design

What is the purpose of research design? The short answer to this question is that it helps researchers find answers to their research questions in the 'best' way possible.

Imagine that you are trying to find out about your class's preferences about ice cream. You could go about this by asking each person individually, but with a group of potentially 25-30 people, this could take time. You may not get straightforward answers. It may be better to consider creating a questionnaire or a poll.

Consider this on a large scale. With complex hypotheses, lots of variables, and many research subjects, researchers have to be careful about how they carry out their research, as this can affect what kind of data they get.

Designing research, man looking at notice board with pinned papers, StudySmarterResearchers have to plan the 'best' way to get the answers to their research questions. This is called research design. Pixabay.com

Quantitative and Qualitative Research Design

Research can be carried out in a multitude of ways, but how is it presented? Research can widely be categorised into quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Quantitative research methods are methods that generate numerical data.

Examples include questionnaires (through 'yes' or 'no' questions) and structured interviews.

Questions with open-ended responses such as how do you feel produce qualitative data. So keep in mind that not all questionnaires are quantitative methods.

Qualitative research methods are methods that generate mainly detailed, worded data.

Examples include unstructured interviews and case studies. Now, let's go over some research methods.

The experimental method

The experimental method in psychology refers to establishing cause and effect relationships using independent and dependent variables. This is done through the use of experiments.

Experiments, as you may already know, are tests of a hypothesis. Depending on the experiment's outcome, a hypothesis may be supported, disproved or need further testing.

Types of experimental design

When using the experimental method, researchers have to consider the experimental design. Experimental design refers to the method of allocation of participants in an experiment. There are three types of experimental design:

  • independent groups

  • repeated measures

  • matched pairs

We will briefly go through each of these.

Below you will get an overview of the types of experimental design. We won't cover their advantages and disadvantages here - that's for our 'The Experimental Method' article!

Independent groups design

The independent group design is an experimental design where there are two sets of participants that take part in different conditions of the experiment.

An experiment is conducted using two different conditions: the experimental group and the control group.

Group 1 (experimental) consists of Felix, Abby, Sana, Lucy and Abdul. Group 2 (control) consists of Luke, Andy, Julia, Amina and Enis.

In this experiment, participants were told they would eat a sugary tictac to see if it made them hyper. The experimental actually received the sugary sweet, whereas the control group received a 'fake tictac' that did not contain high sugar.

Repeated measures design

The repeated measures design is an experimental design where the same set of participants takes part in all the conditions of the experiment. The set of participants remains the same, even if experimental conditions are adjusted.

In an experiment about memory recall, Felix, Abby, Sana, Lucy and Abdul take a memory test with only picture clues to help.

They then take another memory test, this time without any picture clues.

Matched pairs design

The matched pairs design is an experimental design where participants are matched into 'pairs' due to key shared features, such as age, sex or biological characteristics.

Once these pairs are created, they must be randomly allocated to either the experimental group or the control group. Due to the key shared features between the paired participants, researchers will be able to compare the participants in different conditions.

In an experiment to test and compare the effects of two new medical drugs, a researcher chooses matched pairs design. Amina and Lucy are paired together because they share the same sex, age, height and weight.

Randomly, Amina is allocated to the experimental group (she takes drug A), and Lucy is assigned to the control group (she is given drug B). The researcher will then compare the effects and results of drugs A and B of the matched pairs.

Types of Experiments

It is also important, of course, for researchers to consider which type of experiment they will carry out. There are three types of experiments:

  • laboratory experiments
  • field experiments
  • natural experiments

They differ in various ways; however, they have some common features. We will consider each type of experiment.

Laboratory experiments

Laboratory (lab) experiments are carried out in controlled, artificial settings. Out of all the different types of experiments, lab experiments are the most controlled.

In lab experiments, all extraneous variables are controlled by either removing them or keeping them in a certain state. In this way, researchers can clearly establish causal relationships by looking at the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

Milgram's shock experiment (1963) is a famous (or perhaps infamous) example of a psychological lab experiment. As all of the extraneous variables were controlled, Milgram could easily establish a relationship between an authoritative figure (the independent variable) and the levels of obedience (the dependent variable).

Lab experiments have their advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that lab experiments are very good at establishing cause and effect relationships (as mentioned above). They are also replicable as the conditions are controlled.

A disadvantage, however, is that they lack ecological validity due to their artificial settings.

Field experiments

Field experiments are experiments that are carried out in a natural setting. This means that the setting is not controlled. Examples of natural settings could be in a school classroom, on a train or in a dentist's waiting room.

Field experiments work by testing the effect(s) of an independent (manipulated or controlled) variable on a dependent (measured) variable.

An example of a field experiment is:

Researchers want to measure public attitudes to homeless people. They may set up an experiment where a (fake) homeless person enters a public space (such as a train carriage) and asks for money. The homeless person is the independent variable, and people's reactions (namely, whether they give money to or ignore the homeless person) is the dependent variable.

Field experiments have their advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that they are high in ecological validity.

Contrast this point with laboratory experiments, which have low ecological validity.

One disadvantage is that not all extraneous variables can be controlled, and therefore it may be hard to establish causation between independent and dependent variables.

Natural experiments

Natural experiments are experiments that are also carried out in a natural setting. However, they differ from field experiments in one key way: in natural experiments, the researchers do not control an independent variable, so they must simply measure the dependent variable. This is because the independent variable already exists.

Researchers will measure the dependent variable and assume that this is due to the independent variable.

An example of a natural experiment is:

Researchers want to compare the brains of those suffering from alcoholism and those without alcoholism. In this case, they cannot manipulate the independent variable as it already exists, namely, the people suffering from alcoholism. Researchers will not be able to control who belongs in the 'alcoholic' and 'non-alcoholic' categories.

Field experiments have their advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that they are also high in ecological validity as they are conducted in natural settings.

One disadvantage is that there may be a sampling bias as the independent variable cannot be manipulated.

Interviews

Interviews are an example of a qualitative research method. Psychological research often involves some interaction between the participant(s) and the researcher. This interaction could be:

  • in person
  • online
  • over the telephone

Designing research, two women sitting at a table in conversation, StudySmarterInterviews are a good way of obtaining data for research purposes. Unsplash.com

Types of interviews

Not all types of interviews are the same; researchers have to consider what is best for their research and purpose. Does the researcher have questions prepared before the interview? Or will the interview be free-flowing?

Let's consider some different types of interviews.

Structured interviews

Structured interviews consist of close-ended questions; neither the participant nor the researcher can add to the question or answer, as the answer is designed to be concise.

The answer to the question "What is your favourite ice-cream flavour?" would be something straightforward and simple in a structured interview, e.g. "strawberry". You would not have the opportunity to elaborate further on this answer.

A researcher is likely to have a set of standard questions that they go through. For this reason, structured interviews may be carried out fairly quickly compared to other types of interviews.

Unstructured interviews

Unstructured interviews consist of open-ended questions; since the questions are not prepared beforehand, the interview can take the form of an informal conversation between the researcher and participant.

A question such as "How do you feel about the subject of History at school?" is a good question for an unstructured interview because it allows the participant to answer openly.

Depending on the participant's answer, the researcher may ask follow-up questions, such as "Why do you feel this way?" or "Can you elaborate on that?"

Semi-structured interviews

As demonstrated by the name, semi-structured interviews consist of a mix of structured and unstructured interview questions. The researcher may have a set of prepared questions, but they can also ask follow-up questions if deemed necessary.

Focus groups

Focus groups consist of a group of participants that are interviewed at the same time by a researcher. They can often take the form of a semi-structured interview.

Focus groups are popularly used by businesses to gauge the quality of their goods or services. They may ask a small group of people to, for example, test their new food product and conduct a focus group to get an idea about the quality of the product. They may ask questions about taste, texture, packaging, etc.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires are a popular method used in psychological research as they are a good way to collect data in a fast and inexpensive way. They can be administered:

  • in person
  • over the telephone
  • using a paper questionnaire
  • online

Questionnaires can consist of closed or open-ended questions.

Closed questions

Closed questions only accept answers from a set amount of options. Multiple-choice questions are a good example of closed questions, as participants must select from a fixed set of answers.

Open questions

Open questions allow the participant to add more detail to their answers. This may involve, for example, the questionnaire asking, "Please explain why you selected this answer". This may give more insight to researchers.

Designing research, icon of person conducting survey on a tablet, StudySmarterQuestionnaires can consist of open and closed questions. Pixabay.com

Case studies

Case studies are another example of a qualitative research method. A case study is a type of research design that places a heavy focus on a single person, event, phenomenon or issue. The idea is to gain in-depth detail so that researchers can understand how the person or situation works.

Case studies may be suitable when researchers want to explore a new area of research or a new issue in more detail. They may also be suitable when researchers are trying to decide whether further research is needed in the area.

In psychology, a famous case study is the case of Little Hans conducted by Sigmund Freud. Freud analysed Hans' phobias through Hans' dreams and concluded that Hans was scared of his father.

Case study methodology

Due to the level of detail needed for case studies, case study methodology can be varied. Researchers can use triangulation, which is the use of multiple research methods. This can help researchers collect not only a wide variety of data but different types of data.

To uncover the reason(s) behind a particular event, researchers may conduct unstructured interviews to gain people's opinions as well as numerical data to understand how the event happened.

This can give researchers a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.

Observation Studies

Observation studies are often carried out in psychology to observe behaviours in various settings. Although this may sound like a simple form of research, there are many different types of observations.

Let's consider these in turn.

Participant and non-participant observation

Will the researcher be involved in the observation?

Participant

This is where the researcher themselves are involved in the activity that the participants are being observed in.

For example, if participants are playing a game, the researcher may decide to be the judge and observe the 'players'.

Non-participant

This is where the researcher does not take part in the activity and simply watches the participants.

Covert and overt observation

When designing observational research, researchers may consider whether the participants need to know that they are being observed or if it is better to remain 'undercover'?

Covert

This is where the researcher does not tell the participants they are being observed. Researchers could remain behind a one-sided mirror glass so that they can see the participants but not vice versa.

Overt

This is where the participants know that they are being observed.

Naturalistic and structured observation

In what kind of setting should the participants be observed?

Naturalistic

This is where participants are observed in a natural setting, such as in a park, classroom or at home. The researcher does not stage or change the setting in any way.

Structured

Structured observations are where participants are observed in a staged or altered setting in order to test the effects on behaviour. For example, a researcher may choose to observe children's behaviour when their parents are in the room versus when they leave the room.

Factors to consider when conducting observation studies

Researchers should consider categories of behaviour and inter-observer reliability.

Categories of behaviour

In an observation of many participants, there is likely to be a lot of activity and behaviour. How will researchers decide which behaviours to observe and which are relevant for the research?

Due to this issue, researchers should operationalise behaviours by creating categories of behaviour. Within these categories, researchers can look out for specific behaviours.

In a classroom observation, researchers create the following categories of behaviour for students working on group projects. They look for specific behaviours within these categories:

  • Aggression (shouting, hitting, kicking, pushing, arguing)
  • Collaboration (sharing resources, asking each other questions, laughing and/or chatting)
  • Withdrawal (silence, sitting in isolation)

In this way, researchers can find and measure behaviours that are directly relevant to their research purpose.

Inter-observer reliability refers to the degree to which two (or more) researchers agree on the behaviour that is being observed and recorded.

Inter-observer reliability can also be referred to as inter-rater reliability.

If two researchers are observing a classroom to measure levels of aggression and conflict between students, they may have different views on what 'counts' as aggressive behaviours. One may consider shouting as aggressive, and the other may not.

If they disagree with the observed behaviours, it is unlikely that their observation will be reliable.

To continue from the above example, if researchers operationalise 'shouting', they will both be able to count how many times students shouted. They will have the same figure.


Designing Research - Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of research design is to help researchers find answers to their questions in the 'best' way possible.
  • Designing research involves considering both quantitative and qualitative research methods.
  • The experimental method refers to the testing of the relationship between an independent and dependent variable. The three types of experimental design are independent groups, repeated measures and matched-pair design.
  • The types of experiments are laboratory, field and natural experiments.
  • Other research methods include interviews, questionnaires, case studies and observational studies.

Frequently Asked Questions about Designing Research

Research design refers to the research plan and procedure that is followed during a study. It is a specific plan the researcher(s) uses to collect, analyse, and interpret data.

The research design refers to the plan and procedure followed during a study. On the other hand, a research method refers to the way in which data is collected. An example of a research method is a questionnaire.

The steps in designing research involve formulating a hypothesis and creating a research design. This includes experimental design (participant allocation) and research methods (how to collect data). 

Psychologists commonly use these five research designs: 


  • review and meta-analytic
  • semi-experimental
  • correlational
  • experimental
  • descriptive

Research psychologists study a wide range of human behaviour; they plan and carry out experiments designed to test human behaviour, thought, feeling and action in different conditions. 

Final Designing Research Quiz

Question

What is the definition of an interview?

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Answer

Interviews are a method of collecting data in psychological research by an interviewer directly asking the participants about their behaviours, thoughts and feelings. It involves direct contact, which can be either face-to-face or over a video/audio call.

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Question

What are the three main types of interviews used in psychology?

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Answer

Structured, unstructured, semi-structured interviews

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How may interviews be carried out? 

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Answer

Face-to-face or over a video/audio call.

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Question

Can structured interviews be considered to have high reliability? 

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Answer

Since structured interviews have all of their questions pre determined and fixed, it's easy for other researchers to repeat the research and replicate the study by asking the same questions in the same order. Therefore, structured interviews have higher reliability. 

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Question

What is a structured interview?

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Answer

Structured interviews are when questions are fixed before the interview, and all participants are asked the same questions in the same order. 

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What is a semi-structured interview?

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Answer

Type of interview with a combination of structured and unstructured questions. Some questions are predetermined, and others are determined by the interviewees answers. 

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Question

What is an unstructured interview?

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Answer

Type of interview where questions are not predetermined. Open questions are asked, and subsequent questions are determined based on the interviewees answers. 

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Question

What is the definition of open questions?

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Answer

Open questions produce longer, detailed, insightful, non-restricted answers, which give qualitative data, e.g. questions beginning with who, what, why, how, where, when, etc.

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What is the definition of closed questions?

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Answer

Closed questions - produce short, limited, straight forward answers, which gives quantitative data, e.g. questions which require a yes or no response.

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Question

What are the advantages of unstructured interviews?

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Answer

  • Unstructured interviews provide detailed, insightful and rich information. The participants can explain their responses, which helps researchers understand why they behave, feel or think in the way they do. 
  • The interviewee and interviewers are more likely to build a rapport, the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee. A rapport is expected to be built because the interview is conversation-like. This is important as the responses are more likely to be truthful, increasing the validity of the findings.

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Question

What advantages do semi-structured interviews have?


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Answer

  • Since semi-structured interviews have some flow and the opportunity for the participants to explain themselves, the information obtained is valuable and more rich and detailed.
  • Since there is some structure and fixed questions, comparing participants' responses later when analysing the data makes it easier to draw conclusions (but not to the extent of structured interviews).
  • It is flexible and sensitive to each participant's individual experience and responses.

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Question

What is social desirability bias?

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Answer

Social desirability bias is when participants respond in a way they think others will find favourable rather than their actual response. 

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Question

What is the disadvantage of unstructured interviews regarding drawing conclusions?


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Answer

Since unstructured interviews mean every participant is asked different questions, it is difficult for researchers to compare participants' responses and draw conclusions from them. 

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Question

Why are structured interviews time-efficient?

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Answer

Structured interviews gather a lot of information quickly due to the ease of having a structure and fixed questions for every participant, so they can be considered time-efficient. 

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Question

What kind of disadvantages do semi-structured interviews have?

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Answer

semi structured interviews have the disadvantages of both structured and unstructured interviews. 

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Question

What is a case study? 

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Answer

Case studies are a type of research design that is used when a researcher is investigating a single person, group or event/phenomenon. This research method collects in-depth data on either of these. 

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Which of the following are reasons that case studies are used in research?

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Answer

They are always better than laboratory settings 

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Question

Why was a case study used to investigate Phineas Gage? 

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Answer

As Phineas Gage's case was unique and his conditions could not be replicated using the experimental method (against ethical standards of research) a case study was the only appropriate method to use. As little was known about the function of the frontal lobe the research was also explorative. Therefore, it may have been difficult to form hypotheses.

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Question

Typically case studies use various methods to collect data, true or false?

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Answer

True.

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What is triangulation? 

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Answer

Triangulation is when researchers use multiple methods to collect data. 

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What type of data do case studies favour? 

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Answer

Qualitative 

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Question

What is a typical structure that case studies use for writing reports?

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Answer

A structure that researchers may follow to report a case study is that they may identify key themes or findings. Then, evidence of this is included such as an extract from a transcribed interview as evidence. 

The data will likely include quantitative statistical data too 

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Case studies can use what forms of analysis?

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Answer

Content analysis

Statistics

Thematic analysis

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Question

What are the advantages of using case studies? 

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Answer

The advantages of using case studies are:

  • researchers can get an in-depth understanding
  • it can be used to help direct future research
  • it can be used to research unique situations or characteristics of people that cannot be replicated

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What are the disadvantages of using case studies? 

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Answer

The disadvantages of using case studies are:

  • they lack reliability
  • they lack generalisability
  • it is time-consuming 
  • it can be expensive

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Why are questionnaires useful in research? 

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Answer

Questionnaires are helpful in research because they can be used to learn about many things such as relationships, work-life, mental health, opinions etc. 

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What are the important characteristics of questionnaires? 

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Answer

It is important to keep in mind the characteristics of questionnaires when constructing a questionnaire. For instance:

  • the researcher should determine what they are interested in investigating and how it will be measured, e.g. open- close-ended questions or both
  • questions asked should be simple and easy to follow 
  • questions asked should not be leading
  • questions should be presented in a logical way
  • the same questionnaire should be given to each respondent

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Question

What are the types of questionnaires in research? 

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Answer

The types of questionnaires in research are:

  • Online questionnaires 
  • Telephone questionnaires 
  • Post questionnaires 
  • Open-ended questionnaires
  • Close-ended questionnaires (including questionnaires that measure responses using Likert scales).

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Question

Can questionnaires collect prospective data? 

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Answer

Yes

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What type of data does a mixed-design questionnaire collect? 

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Answer

Qualitative and quantitative 

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What are the disadvantages of questionnaires? 

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Answer

  • Questionnaires require respondents to respond truthfully to ensure that the findings are valid. However, this may not always be the case, especially when the questions are regarding sensitive areas (Social desirability bias). 
  • There may be a low response rate of questionnaires, especially when sent via post; this can affect the generalisability of the results. 
  • If questionnaires are not carefully constructed, then the validity of the measure can be lowered. 

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What are the advantages of questionnaires? 

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Answer

  • Questionnaires allow researchers to collect data in a short time frame in a cost-effective way from a large sample.
  • As there are many methods to send questionnaires, the researcher can send the questionnaire to a large and representative sample; this means the results of a study are more likely to be generalisable.
  • Questionnaires in research are useful because they can be used in conjunction with other techniques to provide a more rounded and comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon. 
  • Questionnaires are flexible; this means that the researcher has control over the type of data they will collect, e.g. qualitative, quantitative or mixed.

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Question

How can researchers ensure that their research is reliable? 

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Answer

To ensure reliability, the same questionnaire should be given to each participant, and this means that the order of the questions should also remain the same. Moreover, the questionnaires should be given to a large and representative sample. 

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Question

What is a Likert scale? 

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Answer

A Likert scale assigns a numerical value to understand how strongly someone feels about a phenomenon. 

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How can researchers improve the validity of their questionnaires? 

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Answer

Factors that can improve the validity of a questionnaire are that the order of questions should be logical and should be written in a simplistic and easy to understand way. The purpose of this is to prevent respondents from getting confused. 

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What is a valid questionnaire? 

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Answer

A valid questionnaire is a questionnaire that measures the phenomena that the researcher intends to measure.

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Question

Are questionnaires in research often used alongside other research techniques? 

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Answer

Yes

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Question

Why are questionnaires considered flexible? 

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Answer

 Questionnaires are considered flexible because they can be posted, sent via email, completed over the phone or online and handed out to whoever is available at the time. This is useful because it makes it easier for researchers to collect data from a large sample. Furthermore, the researcher can ask various types of questions depending on their interest. 

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Question

What type of data do questionnaires measuring responses on a Likert scale collect? 

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Answer

Quantitative 

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Question

What is the definition of questionnaires? 

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Answer

Questionnaires are a self-report technique used in research to learn about participants' opinions and experiences of a phenomenon that the researcher is interested in investigating. 

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Question

Why is it important to learn about designing research and research methods?

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Answer

When psychologists are planning their research, they need to consider research methods; namely, which method is best for their research. This can depend on a lot of things; the hypothesis, the research subjects, the environment and so on. Due to this, there is no 'one size fits all' with regards to research methods.

Show question

Question

What is research design?

Show answer

Answer

Research design refers to the research plan and procedure that is followed during a study. It is a specific plan the researcher(s) uses for the collection, analysis and interpretation of data.

Show question

Question

What is the main difference between quantitative and qualitative research methods?

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Answer

Quantitative research methods mainly generate numerical data whilst 

qualitative research methods generate mainly worded data.

Show question

Question

What is the experimental method?

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Answer

The experimental method refers to the establishing of cause and effect relationships using independent and dependent variables. This is done through the use of experiments.

Show question

Question

What are the three types of experimental design?

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Answer

Independent groups, repeated measures and matched pairs design.

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Question

What is the name of the experimental design where the same set of participants take part in all conditions of the experiment?

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Answer

Repeated measures 

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Question

What are the three types of experiments?

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Answer

Laboratory, field and natural experiments.

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Question

What do we mean when we say an experiment is conducted in a natural setting?

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Answer

A natural setting means that the setting is not controlled.

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Question

What is one way in which natural experiments differ from field experiments?

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Answer

In natural experiments, the researchers do not control an independent variable so they must simply measure the dependent variable. This is because the independent variable already exists.

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Question

Name the four different types of interviews.

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Answer

Structured, unstructured, semi-structured and focus groups.

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