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.

How to Write a Letter of Intent

Congratulations! You have a brilliant idea, a solid plan to propose, and now you’ve found a funding agency that is funding in your field. Now you have to submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) to tell the sponsor that you exist. Remember, while the Letter of Intent is not a contractual agreement, it is a first impression that in some cases cannot be reversed. The Letter of Intent should reflect the overall structure and logic of your full proposal.

Here are some tips to keep your letter focused and concise. Remember to check what your specific RFP (Request for Proposal or Application) requires. Most LOIs require some of these elements, but there may be a detailed specifications list from the Sponsor that you need to carefully follow.

  • The introduction should immediately establish the relevance of your proposal to human health, and establish a need by covering the current knowledge to help the less expert members of the review panel get up to speed from the most important, older knowledge to the edge of the field as it exists today.
  • The statement or assessment of need section needs to explain further the gap in knowledge base/unmet need that will drive your application. Introduce them to what is missing and therefore, holding back the field. Finish with a statement of need and objective evidence for its existence. Be sure to include a section on the geographical area and target study population, and any appropriate statistical information surrounding your topic.
  • The organization description is a very detailed and concise section that explains the ability of the organization as an organization to meet the needs of your project and foster a successful environment. You can provide a brief history of your department’s history, the history of the hospital and how the current resources and goals are supporting your future goals and the goals of this specific application.
  • The objectives section should describe what you seek to accomplish, which must be either to fill the gap or meet that need that you delineated in the introduction. Add a sentence or two about your central hypothesis and link it to the objective, and then how the central hypothesis was formulated—how you focused on this starting point. Close with your rationale to convey why you want to undertake the proposed research.
  • The project design section should present a logical and realistic succession of activities leading to each specific aim and to the eventual closing of the project.
  • The preliminary budget submitted with the letter of intent should be as accurate as you can reasonably be within the beginning stages of your proposal.

Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions about the Letter of Intent in the comments section below.

Preparing to Write the Letter of Intent

The Letter of Intent is telling the funding agency that you plan to apply for funding. While it is not a contractual agreement, it is a first impression that in some cases cannot be reversed. Depending on the funding agency, in some cases only approved projects that pass through the Letter of Intent review will be asked to submit a full application proposal. In all cases, but this case in particular, the Letter of Intent must reflect the structure and logic of your full proposal in a concentrated format that communicates your general intention, your specific aims and key objectives, a preliminary budget and provide tangible evidence of the significance of your proposal.

  • Ensure that you have all of the proper instructions for completing the Letter of Intent for not only your chosen organization, but also your specific RFP (Request for Proposal or Application). Then, revisit your one-page specific aims document and use similar phrases within your letter to ensure the significance and need are communicated in your Letter of Intent.
  • In your excitement do not glaze over the important administrative details, double-check your:
    • Name, address, and telephone number of the Principal Investigator(s), and the
    • Number and title of the funding opportunity.
    • Think hard about the team members you list as your key personnel, in many cases having a name and institution associated with each role, rather than a “to be determined” placeholder makes your application stronger.
    • If you have multiple institutions participating, be sure to highlight the collaborations and the various strengths each partner brings to the table.