Already I have written several blogs about the use of research methods. But how do you choose a suitable research method for your research? Here are several steps to take.
Think carefully about what information you need to answer your research questions. You may already have information at hand that you can use to answer your research questions. Think, for example, of a data file that you keep with data from participants and the cash register printout of your sold tickets.
Still, you might need more information to answer your research questions.
► Look at the information you already have and can use to answer your research questions. Think about what information you still need and want to collect.
Once you have an idea of the information you need to answer your research questions, determine where you can find that information. Do you need to conduct interviews to obtain extensive information, or do you want to reach large numbers of respondents with, for instance, a questionnaire? Carefully consider how you will approach the respondents; young people should be approached differently than older people. Or maybe you need to search further in the literature to find the correct information.
► Therefore, clearly define what information you want to find, which persons can help you with the information, and how you will approach them.
Once you have a clear idea of what information you want to collect and who you will consult, you can establish what you can combine. Which subjects will recur in the interview, and what will you pay attention to when making your observations.
► Make a diagram showing what information you want to collect, from whom, and in what way.
Each research question requires its own way of researching. For some research questions, the answer is best found by doing qualitative research. For other inquiries, quantitative research is more appropriate. But what exactly do qualitative and quantitative research entail? In this blog, I will explain this to you.
Qualitative research is aimed at obtaining information about what matters and why. It provides in-depth information by examining the underlying motivations, opinions, wishes, and needs of the research group.
The following methods are appropriate for qualitative research:
Quantitative research focuses on quantity. It gives you numerical results about a specific group. To speak of representative research, you need a minimum number of participants within your target group who give their opinion. For this, you can draw a sample. When this sample has a specific size and characteristics (depending on the research question), statements can be generalized to the entire target group.
For quantitative research, a (digital) questionnaire/survey is primarily used as a method. The answers from the questionnaire are then processed in a data processing program (e.g., Excel or SPSS), after which you can conduct analysis and calculation. Percentages and numbers usually describe the results.
In my next blog, I will explain for which answers it is best to do qualitative research and when, on the contrary, it is wiser to choose quantitative research.
Be creative when choosing your research methods. There are many ways to collect your data. And you can make all sorts of combinations. Think beyond the standard research methods.
By adapting standard methods, you can make it easy for respondents; this will increase your response rate. People will enjoy participating in your research. For example, tear-off cards are very short questionnaires. And short interviews are questionnaires with many open questions. A brief conversation in which a respondent can tell their story over a cup of coffee is a nicer experience than filling out a questionnaire.
Using panels makes good use of people who want to participate in your research, and they are often rewarded for doing so. You pay per respondent, and the panel administrator is happy to help you assess representativeness. You can often select your target group very precisely based on all kinds of background characteristics.
Combining methods gives depth to the information collected. For example, you can interpret the results of a questionnaire in group discussions. Alternatively, you can compile a questionnaire based on a literature review. Or first, analyze existing data files and then ask what is missing in a questionnaire. That way, you don't have to ask several things in your questionnaire, and you can go in-depth about the subject matter in your questionnaire.
You can make respondents keep a logbook and combine this with tracking. This way, you can see what the respondents do, and the respondent also describes it. Please keep the privacy laws in mind.
Combinations I like to use are observations and short conversations based on a questionnaire. Based on what you have observed, you ask some questions. For example, why someone did what they did or how they experienced it.
Questionnaires often use scales to measure respondents' opinions but also to look at what they did. However, you can also use scales in observations, logs, tear-off cards, and interviews.
There are several different scales you can use, and they all give slightly different information.
The validity of a study explains the extent to which the questions asked measure what they are supposed to measure. In other words, are the questions asked unambiguous. Could the respondent have interpreted the question differently than you had intended it? And regarding the questionnaire as a whole: do the questions asked in the questionnaire answer the research question.
By challenging a questionnaire, you can find out if it is valid. You can do this by presenting the questionnaire to a test person and having them think out loud while completing it. Another possibility is to present the questionnaire to a test group and have them ask questions as soon as a question is unclear. It is essential that your test persons/group resemble your research population. So if you want to present the questionnaire to young people aged 15 to 18, your test persons/group should consist of young people aged 15 to 18.
After this test, especially with a test group, analyze the answers and ask for advice from a fellow researcher. Are the answers consistent? Is the logic within the questionnaire correct? Are the results consistent with similar studies?
It is more important to test, adapt, and retest with newly developed research instruments. Especially if you want to measure more abstract concepts such as attitude or development, extensive testing is needed to get a valid questionnaire.
When using an existing questionnaire, you should take a moment to see if it has already been tested for comprehension and consistency.
In addition to validity, the concept of reliability is often discussed when conducting research. Want to know more about this? Also read my blog about reliability.
When you conduct interviews, you can find out a lot. You collect primarily qualitative data. (There are some tricks to collect quantitative data as well.) Before you start an interview, it is crucial that you have well-defined interview questions. Because you don't ask questions just for fun: respondents have to answer the central question of your research. That is why I am giving you tips on how to design your interview questions as well as possible:
Finally, I would like to inform you that remaining objective during the interview is essential. Your own opinion plays no role in this; make sure the interviewee can tell their own story.
More tips to prepare for your interview? Then please read my blog '15 tips for a good interview'.
If you are going to conduct research, it is essential to formulate the right research question. The purpose of the research and the research question indicates what the setup of the research will contain. A good research question ensures that you have the correct information to actually work at the end of the research. There are five steps to formulating the right research question:
The first step in deciding on a proper research question is to answer the question, "why are you going to research, evaluate, or monitor? Answering these questions will give you an idea of the type of research question you will ask, what information you need, and which answers you need. Do you want to improve a project, or do you want to justify your project? With both goals, you're going to be evaluating, but the answers you wish to obtain afterward are very different—improvements versus demonstrated effects.
Based on your goal (Step 1), you can determine what information you need to meet this goal. What do you need to know to meet your goal? Do you want to improve goal attainment? If so, you need information in the form of points for improvement (what is going well and what could be improved?) Is the goal to legitimize your project for funders? Then you need information in the form of the impact of the project. Do you want better alignment with the target group, and is this the goal of your research? Then you need information in the form of characteristics, wishes, and needs of the target group. Always ask yourself the question: what am I going to do with this information? This will enable you to set priorities.
Based on your research goal and the accurate description of your information needs, you can formulate your research questions. Formulate these questions as precisely as possible. When preparing the questions, remember that you or a researcher will soon be answering them. So will you achieve your research goal, and can you take follow-up action if you get answers to these questions?
Various preconditions can be linked to the research. It is essential to gain insight into this in the phase of formulating the research question. Preconditions you need to consider include time, budget, availability of specific data, and so on.
Research results can be delivered in a variety of forms. <LINK to blog>Digitally, physically, a report, a fact sheet, a book, a video, an article, a discussion session, a presentation, a website, a PowerPoint presentation, an infographic, an animation, a magazine, a flyer, to name a few. And what is communicated therein? Impacts, arguments, or areas for improvement. Make a representation of what you would like to get at the end of the research and whether you can use it to take your intended action, convince others, improve policies or activities or make a decision.
Sending out a survey is an excellent method to question many people in the same way. If you can obtain a good response rate, you’ll get a representative picture of your research group. But how do you ensure an adequate response?
Many people think of interviewing as the widely used method in which the interviewer asks questions to the interviewee. But there are other ways to interview. In this blog, I'll give you some examples.
- #Tip Use a different interviewing method than the widely used question-answer. LINK
- Another new blog is online. Interviewing: What forms are there, and when do you use them? LINK
- Besides the well-known question and answer method, there are other ways you can interview. You can read more examples in this blog: LINK
- With an interview, you don't always have to work with a prepared questionnaire. You can also let respondents get started themselves. LINK
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Suppose you want to research a target group of as many as 10,000 people. Do you have to interview all 10,000 people to get the right results? Certainly not; only a part of the research population needs to participate in your research to get representative results. Let me explain what representativeness means and when the results are deemed characteristic.
Representativeness means the degree to which the respondents in a sample group are a good reflection of the target group of your research. Therefore, your research is representative, which means that the conclusion of your research is true for 'everyone' in your research population.
If you have a research population of 10,000 people, you will ultimately need to interview 400 people to arrive at the opinion of the larger group. This does not mean that you only need to approach 400 people. You have to deal with a response rate. This is the percentage of people who participate in your survey. Your response rate depends on the subject you are researching, how easy and fun it is to participate in your research, and what people get in return. I often use a response rate of 30% because I usually research fun subjects, and I am experienced in making it easy to participate in a survey. I also ask the client for a nice gift for the people who participate in the survey. Tips to increase your response rate
Because not everyone will participate in your survey, you will need to have a larger sample group. If you need 400 respondents and assume a response rate of 30%, you will need to interview a sample group of 400/30%=1,333.
When you conduct a survey, you must keep in mind that the smaller the research population is, the larger the number of respondents will be to arrive at the desired representative results. Sometimes, however, respondents' input is more valuable than the number of participants. In this case, you're referring to qualitative research, and it can be more important to focus on the research results than the representativeness in some cases.
If you want to know how many respondents you need for your research population: go to a sample calculator. These will often immediately tell you how many people you need to approach in your sample.