Research Designs

There are several types of research designs:

  • Action Research Design: Initiated to solve an immediate problem or a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a “community of practice” to improve the way they address issues and solve problems.
  • Case Studies: An empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used
  • Causal Design: The investigation into an issue or topic that looks at the effect of one thing or variable on another.
  • Cohort Design: A longitudinal study (panel study) that sample a cohort (a group of people who share a defining characteristic, typically who experienced a common event in a selected period, such as birth or graduation), performing a cross-section at intervals through time.
  • Cross-Sectional Design: A type of observational study that analyzes data collected from a population, or a representative subset, at a specific point in time—that is,cross-sectional data (also known as across-sectional analysis, transversal study, or prevalence study).
  • Descriptive Design: A study designed to depict the participants in an accurate way. The three main ways to collect this information are: Observational, defined as a method of viewing and recording the participants. Case study, defined as an in-depth study of an individual or group of individuals.
  • Experimental Design: A blueprint of the procedure that enables the researcher to test his hypothesis by reaching valid conclusions about relationships between independent and dependent variables. It refers to the conceptual framework within which the experiment is conducted.
  • Exploratory Design: A research conducted for a problem that has not been studied more clearly, establishes priorities, develops operational definitions and improve the final research design. Exploratory research helps determine the best research design, data-collection method and selection of subjects.
  • Historical Design: The purpose of a historical research design is to collect, verify, and synthesize evidence from the past to establish facts that defend or refute a hypothesis.
  • Longitudinal Design: An observational research method in which data is gathered for the same subjects repeatedly over a period of time. Longitudinal research projects can extend over years or even decades. In a longitudinal cohort study, the same individuals are observed over the study
  • Meta Analysis Design: A subset of systematic reviews; a method for systematically combining pertinent qualitative and quantitative study data from several selected studies to develop a single conclusion that has greater statistical power. To provide a more complex analysis of harms, safety data, and benefits.
  • Mixed Method Design: A methodology for conducting research that involves collecting, analyzing and integrating quantitative (e.g., experiments, surveys) and qualitative (e.g., focus groups, interviews) research
  • Observational Design: A type of correlational (i.e., non-experimental)research in which a researcher observes ongoing behavior. There are a variety of types of observational research, each of which has both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Philosophical Design: Study aims to present work by authors who conceive of philosophy as a cooperative scientific enterprise. It clarifies meanings, make values manifest, identify ethics, and studies the nature of knowledge.
  • Sequential Design: A combination of longitudinal and cross-sectional designs, by following several differently aged cohorts over time.


Learn More:

USC Research Guides:

Types of Research Designs:

What is Research Design?:

Understanding Research Study Designs:




5 Steps to Know Your Enemy: Beat the Competition or Collaborate

1. Know thyself.

When was the last time you Googled yourself? Updated your CV? Updated your career goals? Took a good long look at what you’ve accomplished thus far…and where you want to be in 10 years? When was the last time you asked for constructive criticism on your research?

2. Name thy enemy. 

A comprehensive literature review is the first step in generating a fundable research idea. When you’re working on the literature review, pay attention and start making a list of the competition. Who are the main authors? Who are the collaborators? Do a search on this year’s annual conference abstracts to find those who is presenting in your area. Generate a list of names of those in your field who are actively working in your area.

3. Research thy enemy.

Next, head to the NIH RePORTER and plug-in those names! See what is funding these people, where is the money coming from? Check the publications, check the NIH, check everywhere to find out who and what is funding this area of research. (Remember, you can use your competitor’s abstracts and key words to improve your next grant proposal!)

4. Humble thyself. 

Is there someone who is dangerously close to your line of research? Sounds like it might be time to invest in some Starbucks time and meet this person for coffee at the next annual meeting. See if there’s something small you can work on together.

5. Sit thy butt down and write a grant proposal. 


Probable Cause vs. Conscious Consent: An Open Letter to a Utah Detective and an Argument for Life

“The detective didn’t have a warrant, first off. And the patient wasn’t conscious, so he couldn’t give consent. Without that, the detective was barred from collecting blood samples — not just by hospital policy, but by basic constitutional law.” (Derek Hawkins, Washington Post)

There have been countless discussions raised by this event. But, the most basic question on the table is this: Is probable cause of a crime enough to revoke your right to consent?

First, I want to start with the definition of life. I need to start here partly because I was an English major and I have an absurd obsession with vocabulary, but mostly because it is so very important to fully understand this basic point. Life, in its most primitive and basic form is a heart beating. Two lungs expanding and collapsing. Oxygen in its infinite race with blood. A brain that understands light from dark, hot from cold, danger from safety. This is life. You are alive. You are awake. You are aware.

Life is not the choices someone makes. It is not what they decide to do with their time. It is not their level of education, their profession, or even how they choose to define right from wrong. It is not their gender, their sex, their height or their skin color. It is a breath. It is an open eye. It is the capacity to understand.

In this country, the right of a human being to live―to be alive, awake, and aware―surpasses every other thing.

Detective, I respect and admire your fight for justice. I know that you have a dangerous and difficult job—that you risk your life to protect me. I understand that it can be a thankless job, even a scorned and mistrusted position. I appreciate your fight for honesty. I appreciate you.

But nothing, not even a true and honest fight for justice, comes before a human being’s right to life—the physical and mental state of being alive, awake, and aware.  Nothing.

If that person is truly guilty, there will be another way to prove their guilt. You do not need to violate their right of consent when they are fighting for their right to live. There will be another day to fight this battle. Human life is more important than being right.

This is the essence of our country, and the reason why I choose to live in the United States of America. It is the reason why I work at a hospital. It is the reason why I choose to spend my time working in medical research. We as a people decided that a person’s right to life is most important. We have fought long and bloody wars (we are still fighting long and bloody wars) over this very belief.

So, I return to the question on the table. A question that so many people, so much smarter than me, have struggled with and have come to this same conclusion. Is probable cause of a crime enough to revoke your right to consent? The answer is no.

Human life is more important than being right.

A Story of Reference Citations and a Comma Casualty

How much time do you spend on the references page? How many tears have been wiped away in frustrated anger? Did the absence of a comma cost you?

I’ve recently come to know a citation management option called Zotero. The best part? It’s free. And it thinks like we do–you can tag and categorize different citations and form a ‘playlist’ of your favorite citations to make life easier.

Look at that, I used “citations” and “easier” in the same sentence.

It’s both Mac and PC compatible (crazy, right?) and there’s a button for your browser to make one-click additions easier than…well, pie. (Because if you’ve ever made a pie you know it’s not easy.)

So, check it out. Stop wasting time with whatever citation method you’ve come to hate, and check out Zotero:

You wrote a new policy, but is your research team ready for culture change?

It’s not enough to make a new policy. Today, you must also activate “culture change” to ensure compliance. Daunting, I know. But not impossible. It means we need to rethink the way we roll out new policies and govern research.

Here are a few quick thoughts on who you need on your team to motivate a culture change through a new policy.

First, you need the connector who understands the innovation strategy and the need to engage the entire research team to promote the cultural change (Tucker). This is likely your office managers who can bring together their entire division to help adapt their mission to align to the new policy.

Second, you need the maven who will keep everyone honest (Tucker). This is the research coordinator who is highly knowledgeable and who understand the impact of the new policy on every project, and how to adapt the policy for every person in the division. Their knowledge is deep and they are capable of sharing knowledge with the team to inspire culture change.

Third, you need the salesperson with crazy mad negotiation skills to make others agree with them (Tucker). This is your administrative director who can easily motivate investigators and project directors into sustainable action. And who has the ears of higher administration to help negotiate the transition.

Lastly, you need the messenger who can deliver the details of the message far and wide (Tucker). The messenger is only as good as the message. According to Gladwell, the message needs a “stickiness factor” that makes it memorable. This means you cannot just hand out the new policy and expect wild results. We need to make the message practical and personal to create sustainable patterns and behaviors. The message should have personal meaning for our investigators with a practical reality, “I see a way to do it” that can fit into “my” life, and “a reason why it matters” (Tucker).

If you want to cause a culture change—a hospital-wide insane epidemic of culture change—you need to involve everyone and you need to foster a creative and inviting environment that is conducive to success. Good luck!


  • Tucker SJ, Carr LJ. Translating Physical Activity Evidence to Hospital Settings: A Call for Culture Change. Clin Nurse Spec. 2016 Jul-Aug;30(4):208-15. doi: 10.1097/NUR.0000000000000212.
  • Gladwell M. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Little Brown. 2000.

Why Research Administration?

In the world of available careers, “why research administration?”

It’s been an interesting year for my career. After my PI left for a glorious new job on the California coast, I had a number of job offers—all of which were more glamorous than staying in my departmental role. International travel, exciting new startups, and even ownership in a company that’s 5 minutes from my house. And yet, I’m still here. Why? Because I cannot think of a single thing that is more important in this world than pediatric research.

I know what you’re thinking—if pediatric research is so important to you, then why don’t you become a researcher? In order to fully explain it to you, I’ll have to show you some data—because that’s how we do it over in research.

In the last 25 years, there have been over 50 new research regulations and over 20 revised regulations which have directly impacted the conduct of research under federal grants and contracts, according to the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR). I understand to the non-research mind that doesn’t sound like a lot—only 50 new and 20 revised? But each of the new regulations and restrictions have lead to unimaginable implementation, interpretation, and management kerfuffles (and yes, I said kerfuffle). Frankly, it’s a Christmas miracle that any research gets done at all anywhere, let alone for kids.

Several groups have done studies to look at how all these changes affect the investigators and study teams. Here is a summary of the information from Mark Dutton:

The National Science Board (NSB) published the report Reducing Investigators Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research in March of 2014 naming the top reported burdens:

  • Financial Management
  • Proposal Preparation and Submission
  • Required Reports – Progress and Others as Required
  • Effort Reporting

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) published survey results in 2013 in the report Findings of the FASEB Survey on Administrative Burden naming the top burdens:

  • Proposal Preparation and Submission
  • Personnel Management
  • Effort Reporting
  • Financial Tracking and Reporting

Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) published the report 2012 Faculty Workload Survey which focused on how faculty conducting research spent their time when focused on their research efforts:

  • 7% on Active Research
  • 4 % on Proposal Preparation
  • 6% on Post-Award Administration
  • 6% on Report Preparation
  • 7% on Pre-Award Administration

As you can see, the percentage of time that faculty spend conducting research vs. doing administrative tasks is a cavernous trench of unproductivity.

That is why I choose research administration—for the kids.

If I can help to close the cavernous trench of unproductivity for my investigators by handling some of the paperwork, that means actual research gets accomplished, cures get found and millions of kids are leading healthier and longer lives.

And in the end, that’s the most important thing.

How to Define Your Personal Core Values and Why it Matters

Hundreds of reports have been released confirming that millennials are more motivated by personal values and aspirations than by career advancement. If this is true, it begs the question-what are your values?

Everyone has heard the quote, “because if we don’t stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” So I ask of you, dear professionals, what is it that you stand for? What are your personal values? Could you name them all?

I was intrigued by the question: Could you name all of the personal core values that you believe in, and would this knowledge alter the way that you approach your work?  And so, as a dutiful and diligent researcher, I spent weeks drafting and redrafting to define the list of core values.

#1: You will need a thesaurus.

The first thing that I found was that it’s nearly impossible to represent a core value with just one word. Words have certain connotations, and you will find that you need to get very specific. In order to truly get to the heart of the issue and understand the emotion or action, you will need to use a group of synonyms. For example, which is better and more meaningful:

  • Eloquence
  • Eloquence, Expressivity, Cleverness, Quickness, Wittiness

#2: Write now, rank later.

It is hard to write down your core values, and even more impossible to write them in the order of importance. It’s like the chicken and the egg question, both family and loyalty are core values–but which comes first? Don’t worry about ranking your core values, just write down as many as you can think of and go from there.

#3: Consider your personality.

If you get stuck, consider taking a personality test online and see what your results are. Often these types of exercises help us to clearly articulate our fuzzy thoughts onto paper.

#4: Put things in categories.

Take a look at your list and begin to place things into broad categories. For example, think of the broad themes such as excellence, integrity, wisdom, beauty, and discovery.

 #5: Refine, edit, and finalize.

Once you have a good solid list and 4-5 categories, go back through and edit everything. Weed out any duplications. Rethink the word useage. Try to rank your categories in order of importance.

Here are some examples to get you started:

Have you taken the time to define your core values? What did you learn about yourself and how did it change the way you approach your work?