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Planning a research project

There are broadly six steps in the process of doing a research project, from inception to the final stage of completion.

This diagram gives an overview of the research process.

This is a diagram that shows the six stages in the research process

The research process. A full figure description for this diagram is provided in the screen readable PDF provided in the download section. (Source: Adapted from Sharp et al. 2002)

In this open course, we are mainly concerned with the stage of the process that looks at planning your research.

What resources will you need to get started?

One of the preliminary steps before starting your research is to make sure you have access to the resources that you will need for your investigation.

Resources may be:

  • Physical (eg, equipment)
  • Human (eg, research participants)
  • Financial (eg, funding to purchase equipment)

To get an idea of what your requirements might be, you will need to read around your subject area.

Designing your research

Hart (2005) defines research design as the structure which holds together your research and enables you to address your research questions in ways that are appropriate, efficient and effective. Good research design minimises the chances of drawing incorrect causal inferences, while ensuring that your evidence answers your research question in a logical way.

When designing your research, it is important to consider the type of evidence or information that you want to tease out in the process to help you answer your research question. The way in which researchers develop research design is fundamentally affected by the type of research – whether it is descriptive or explanatory.

Descriptive research describes the phenomenon to be investigated and its characteristics, with less focus on the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ questions. Descriptions can be concrete or abstract. Good description provokes the ‘why’ questions of the explanatory research.

Explanatory research focuses on the ‘why’ questions to provide explanations. Answering ‘why’ questions involves developing a causal explanation. For instance, causal explanation will argue that productivity in construction (phenomenon Y) is affected by workers’ age (phenomenon X).

Research questions are influenced by the type of research, whether it is a descriptive study or an explanatory one. Social researchers, for instance, usually ask two fundamental questions: ‘What is going on?’ represents descriptive research; ‘Why is it going on?’ represents explanatory research.

Your task

Next week you will be carrying out a peer review activity, creating a draft of the key stages of a research proposal.

Make some notes in your learning log on the sources of information you think you could access when preparing for a research project and the resources you might need.


Hart, C. (2005). Doing Your Masters Dissertation. London: Sage

Sharp, J.A., Peters, J., Howard, K. (2002) The Management of a Student research Project 3rd edn. Aldershot: Gower Publishing

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This article is from the free online course:

Research for Construction Management

Coventry University