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How to design a Quantitative research study

Beginning the design of a quantitative research project can feel like stepping foot into a maze; there are lots of different potential routes you can take, and it can be hard to know which the right one is. Due to the potential complexity of designing a study like this, knowing which first step to take can be confusing. To help clarify the process and make it easier for you, we’ve split up the decision making into several distinct points that you can address separately as you plan your quantitative research project.

1. Decide what your key question(s) is/are

First, the most important thing to do is to work out why you’re designing and conducting this experiment in the first place; in other words…

What is the key question that you’re trying to answer? 

Focus on what interests you and use this to guide some of your reading in the area. Read relevant articles and concentrate on the other experiments that they reference. This will help you work out what gaps in knowledge there are in the field and how your own project can make a novel contribution. 

2. Identify the methods you will use

Once you know what the question is that you’re trying to answer, your next step is to work out how you will answer it. In other words…

What will your methodology be?

Reading other papers in the area will be helpful at this stage too. You might find that you can adapt a paradigm from another experiment, or that there are commonly used measures in your area. 

3. Narrow in on your variables

A good thing to do after identifying the method that you will use is to decide exactly what the independent and dependent variables will be in your experiment(s). 

  • Independent variable (IV) is the factor that you will manipulate in your experiment. For example, this might be which stimuli a participant is shown or which treatment they are given.
  • Dependent variable (DV) is what you are measuring. This could be reaction time, score on a particular measure or ratings that the participants give.

4. Formulate your hypothesis

Now that you’ve identified your question, methodology and variables, you can begin to formulate the hypothesis for your experiment(s). In other words…

What do you expect to happen? 

A hypothesis should be clear and directional, for example:

In this experiment, we expect that participants who see the colourful stimuli will give higher ratings than those who see the black and white stimuli.

Your hypothesis should always be based in evidence, using findings from other previous studies and research to guide what you expect to see. Again, reading relevant papers will help you to arrive at better hypotheses.

Next steps

Now that you have more clarity on designing your research project, you can proceed to actually put those plans into action. Start preparing for and conducting your experiments to collect the data, then analyse those results to find out if your hypothesis is correct.


Read next (third/final) in series: How to design a qualitative research study

Read previous (first) in series: Deciding between a quantitative design and a qualitative design for your study


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