Your study level

We've preselected "All levels" for you, but you can change your study level at any time by choosing one of the options on this menu. Changing your study level will return you to the beginning of the module.

Choosing the right
research method
Two female teachers discuss their research

The research question will suggest much about the methods required and the methods chosen must provide valid data for the subject studied.


Research methods need to be:

  • Appropriate for the setting;
  • Those that will answer the question;
  • Achievable in relation to the resources available (often most significantly in relation to time and finance);
  • Acceptable to participants, and fall within ethical codes for the field;
  • Appropriate to the researcher's skills (but also suit their style of working).
Types of research methods

In broad terms, research methodology may be:

  • Quantitative: data is in the form of numbers, eg the number of times a child shows a particular behaviour;
  • Qualitative: data is in the form of opinions and experiences, eg parent/carer perceptions of their son/daughter's transition process;
  • A mixture of both.

It is not necessary to use only one method; in fact researchers commonly use a combination. An inquiry may explore an issue (for example, 'what are the most challenging times of day to engage pupils in sedentary activities?') through a questionnaire, and then seek to explain it through follow-up interviews and observations.

Research purpose
A couple of sheets of A4 being used in
                  the research planning process

The purpose of a research study will shape the methodology used, depending on whether the inquiry seeks to:

  • Explain (the causes/consequences/processes of something);
  • Predict (an outcome);
  • Explore (the experience of something);
  • Evaluate (the efficacy/efficiency/worth of something);
  • Describe (the nature of something, how something happens);
  • Test (a theory/assumption).
Calibrating the research question

The way a research question is posed will affect the methodology used to answer it. It is important to identify exactly what you are attempting to find out.


For example:

  • What causes a cup of water to overflow? (exploratory);
  • How much water causes a cup to overflow? (test);
  • What happens when a cup of water overflows? (explanation);
  • Is cup A more likely to overflow than cup B? (comparative evaluation).

All of the examples are studies of a cup of water overflowing. But the nature of the question suggests different methods to seek an answer.

Factors that can affect a research study

Even within a particular approach, a number of factors can still potentially affect the results of a research study.


An exploratory study of pupil attitudes towards exams may yield different results depending on whether a questionnaire, individual interviews or focus groups are used.


Identify how you think that these different approaches may influence findings.


Click for the answer


Mixing research methodologies: advantages

A mixture of qualitative and quantitative methodology can have a number of advantages, including:

  • If the results of both methods relate to the same issue, each can confirm the accuracy of the other (known as triangulation);
  • Quantitative data may provide the outcome ('what'), which can then be supported by qualitative data to explain the process ('why' and 'how');
  • Quantitative data often focuses on the researcher's concepts, which can be moderated by qualitative data giving others' perspectives;
  • Qualitative studies often need to be small scale, but additional quantitative data can support generalisation of findings.
Types of research

Research projects come in a multitude of types and sizes. When you read published

research, the researchers may describe their studies using descriptions such as experiment, quasi-experiment, case study, action research, ethnographic study or grounded theory, amongst others. What do these terms mean?

Whilst class-based or school-based inquiry tends to be of small scale, there is still a range of approaches that could be applicable in these settings.


Find out more about this area and mixing and matching research methods in the following document: Research designs.