Conduct research

Planning steps

The guide to planning an educational research study is designed primarily for college and university faculty.  By following each step, you will create a research plan customized to your needs. While some of the tasks may seem self-evident, they are all necessary to create a valid study.

STEP 1: Identify the problem or topic

Identify a research problem or area of interest from everyday life experiences, practical issues, past research, or theory.   Pay attention to the feasibility of your research problem or topic and whether it can be researched systematically.  Determine the resources needed to conduct the study, your interest level, its size and complexity, as well as the value of your results or solution for both theory and practice.

To thoroughly describe the research problem or topic, create a statement that includes the educational topic or specific problem and the justification for research.

STEP 2: Review prior research

Explore the research literature to gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge pertaining to your research problem.  A review of prior research will inform you if your research problem has already been explored (and if a revision or replication is needed), how to design your study, what data collection methods to use, and how to make sense of the findings of your study once data analysis is complete. Reviewing prior research can also help with creating research questions, what population to explore, and laying the theoretical groundwork for your study. 

If you are conducting qualitative research, this step is sometimes used throughout the research process or after data is collected (e.g., grounded theory research). 

The most effective and efficient way to review prior research is to search educational journals through electronic computer databases such as ERIC, PsychINFO, or Google Scholar.   Searching other library databases is also recommended.   

STEP 3: Determine the Research Purpose, Research Questions, or Hypotheses

Identifying a clear purpose and creating a purpose statement helps determine how the research should be conducted, what research design to use, and the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study.

Four general purposes for conducting educational research are to explore, describe, predict, or explain the relation between two or more educational variables.  

The purpose of your study will help you determine which research design you should follow. [more]  Three research designs are mixed, qualitative, and quantitative paradigms. View a table comparing the three research approaches

Your research purpose will also help you develop the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study. A research question is an extension of your purpose statement and specifically states the questions you will attempt to answer. Usually, research questions are used when your study’s purpose is more exploratory or descriptive.

A hypothesis states your expectations concerning the relation between two or more variables in the research problem or your area of interest.  Usually, a hypothesis represents an extension of a purpose statement or research question by adding a prediction or explanation component.

STEP 4: Consider research implications

Implications are the practical ways your research will assist the field of education. These are the underlying goals, the rationales for, or the importance of your study. Implications are linked to your research problem or topic, research purpose, and research question(s) or hypothesis(es).

STEP 5: Construct a research proposal

The research proposal is a detailed description of how the study will be conducted that includes the study title and researcher names, statement of the research problem and research purpose, review of relevant literature, and the research question(s) or hypothesis(es).  The proposal also includes a formal description of the procedure to be used in the study that includes the information or variables to be gathered, the participants of the study and potential benefits or risks, the design and procedure for gathering data, what data gathering method(s) will be used, and how the data will be analyzed.

Example Proposal: A Study of Student Course Evaluation Data at a Public University

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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