Types of Research Designs

Types of Research Designs

Broadly, types of research can be looked at from three different perspectives

  1. Applications of the findings of the research study
  2. Objectives of the study
  3. Mode of enquiry used in conducting the study

Type of Research from Application perspective

If you examine a research from the perspective of its application, there are two broad categories: 


  • Pure research
  • Applied research


Pure research is mainly concerned with generalisations and with the formulation of a theory. “Gathering knowledge for knowledge’s sake is termed ‘pure’ or ‘basic’ research. Research concerning some natural phenomenon or relating to pure mathematics are examples of pure research. Similarly, research studies, concerning human behaviour carried on with a view to make generalisations about human behaviour, are also examples of pure research. It is also known as fundamental research. Pure research is also concerned with the development, examination, verification and refinement of research methods, procedures, techniques and tools that form the body of research methodology. 

Applied research aims at finding a solution for an immediate problem facing a society or an industrial/business organisation. Research to identify social, economic or political trends that may affect a particular institution or the copy research (research to find out whether certain communications will be read and understood) or the marketing research or evaluation research are examples of applied research. Thus, the central aim of applied research is to discover a solution for some pressing practical problem, whereas basic research is directed towards finding information that has a broad base of applications and thus, adds to the already existing organized body of scientific knowledge

Type of Research from Objectives perspective

On examining a research study from the perspective of its objectives, a research can be classified as


  • Descriptive, 
  • Correlational
  • Explanatory or
  • Exploratory


Descriptive research attempts to systematically describe a situation, problem, or phenomenon, or provides information about, say, the living conditions of a community, or describes attitudes towards an issue. For example, it may attempt to describe the types of service provided by an organisation, the administrative structure of an organisation, the needs of a community, the attitudes of employees towards management. The main purpose of such studies is to describe what is prevalent with respect to the issue/problem under study.


Correlational research is carried out to discover or establish the existence of a relationship/association/interdependence between two or more aspects of a situation. What is the impact of an advertising campaign on the sale of a product? Or What is the relationship between technology and unemployment? These studies examine whether there is a relationship between two or more aspects of a situation or phenomenon and, therefore, are called correlational studies.


Explanatory research attempts to clarify why and how there is a relationship between two aspects of a situation or phenomenon. This type of research attempts to explain, for example, why stressful living results in heart attacks; why a decline in mortality is followed by a fertility decline

Exploratory research. is when a study is undertaken with the objective either to explore an area where little is known or to investigate the possibilities of undertaking a particular research study. When a study is carried out to determine its feasibility it is also called a feasibility study or a pilot study

Type of Research from Mode of enquiry perspective

From the perspective of mode of enquiry, there are two types of research: 


  • Structure Approach
  • Unstructured approach.

Structured approach to research has everything that forms the research process – objectives, design, sample, and the questions that you plan to ask of respondents – predetermined. It is more appropriate to determine the extent of the problem.

Unstructured approach, by contrast, allows flexibility in all these aspects of the process. It is more appropriate to explore the nature of the problem.

For example, if you want to research the different perspectives of an issue, the problems experienced by people living in a community or the different views people hold towards an issue, then these are better explored using unstructured enquiries. On the other hand, to find out how many people have a particular perspective, how many people have a particular problem, or how many people hold a particular view, you need to have a structured approach to enquiry. Before undertaking a structured enquiry, in the author’s opinion, an unstructured enquiry must be undertaken to ascertain the diversity in a phenomenon which can then be quantified through the structured enquiry. Both approaches have their place in research. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, you should not ‘lock’ yourself solely into a structured or unstructured approach.

Other Types of Research

All other types of research are variations of one or more of the above stated approaches, based on either the purpose of research, or the time required to accomplish research, on the environment in which research is done, or on the basis of some other similar factor. 


  • From the point of view of time, we can think of research either as One-time research or Longitudinal research. In the former case the research is confined to a single time-period, whereas in the latter case the research is carried on over several time-periods. 
  • Research can be Field-setting research or Laboratory research or simulation research,  depending upon the environment in which it is to be carried out.
  • Research can as well be understood as Clinical or Diagnostic research. Such research follows case-study methods or in depth approaches to reach the basic causal relations. Such studies usually go deep into the causes of things or events that interest us, using very small samples and very deep probing data gathering devices.
  • The research may be Exploratory or it may be Formalized. The objective of exploratory research is the development of hypotheses rather than their testing, whereas formalized research studies are those with substantial structure and with specific hypotheses to be tested. 
  • Historical Research is that which utilizes historical sources like documents, remains, etc. to study events or ideas of the past, including the philosophy of persons and groups at any remote point of time. 
  • Research can also be classified as Conclusion-oriented and Decision-oriented. While doing conclusion oriented research, a researcher is free to pick up a problem, redesign the enquiry as he proceeds and is prepared to conceptualize as he wishes. Decision-oriented research is always for the need of a decision maker and the researcher in this case is not free to embark upon research according to his own inclination.
  • Operations Research is an example of decision oriented research since it is a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding operations under their control.
  • Descriptive Research: Descriptive research includes surveys and fact-finding enquiries of different kinds. The major purpose of descriptive research is description of the state of affairs as it exists at present. The term Ex post facto research is used for descriptive research studies. The main characteristic of this method is that the researcher has no control over the variables; he can only report what has happened or what is happening. for example, frequency of shopping, preferences of people, or similar data.
  • Analytical research, on the other hand, the researcher has to use facts or information already available, and analyze these to make a critical evaluation of the material.


  1. Research Methodology-Methods and Techniques by C.R. Kothari, New Age International (P) Limited, Publishers, ISBN (13) : 978-81-224-2488-1
  2. Research Methodology- a step-by-step guide for beginners by Ranjit Kumar , SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, ISBN 978-1-84920-300-5, ISBN 978-1-84920-301-2 (pbk)


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