Designing your Research

Let’s get started. You have an idea for an empirical legal or socio-legal research project – what next?

You’ll need to think about how to design and execute your research project. This is an important phase of the research process during which you will have to make some (tentative) decisions about your research, or at least think through some of the main aspects of your project. Initially, research design might feel like you are trying to peer into the future, but your future self will thank you for the work you do now!

Without attending to design issues beforehand and thinking critically about what information is required to address the research question, it may very well be possible that your overall research question will not be adequately addressed, and any conclusions drawn will run the risk of being weak and unconvincing. Consequently, the overall validity of your study will be undermined.

Hence the importance of a research design: a plan for the collection and analysis of data. Different types of research designs are (sub)classified in many different ways. Some of the main categories are: descriptive research, experimental research, correlational research, and explanatory research. The design presents a series of guideposts to enable you, the researcher, to progress in the right direction and achieve your goal: finding an answer to your research question. A research design will usually include a specific presentation of the various steps in the research process. These steps include the selection of a research problem, presentation of the problem, formulation of the research question or hypothesis, operationalization of concepts, development of methodology, survey of literature and documentation, bibliography, data collection, analysis of the data, interpretation, presentation and report writing. Thinking about your research design also includes thinking about matters related to the management of your data, as well as any ethical considerations (such as the privacy of the respondents or their status as members of a vulnerable population).