Research Methods

Broadly speaking, qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis can be considered in academic research.

Qualitative research is most often of exploratory nature with a focus on common themes of experiences from the perspective of the people it involves, and reported by the researcher in a descriptive manner. Various qualitative research methods include detailed contextual analysis to reveal underlying thoughts, opinions and/or motivation. Interviews, storytelling or surveys present different ways of data collection.

Dependent on the format of questions in a qualitative survey, a 'semi-quantitative' approach allows for the inclusion of numerical analysis of study data, for example when questioning is based on multiple choice or Likert scale type of questions with a range of answer options to choose from.

A commonly used mixed-methods approach opens up the possibility of exploration in one to serve the other, for example survey outcomes can inform the relevance and focus of questions prepared for a more in depth and enriching interview.

Quantitative research tends to be analytical, be it observational or interventional. Generally speaking, observational studies allow an objective view and independent attitude of discovery and openness to unpredictable findings.

Analytical data analysis in observational research using human study participants can be retrospective, evaluative and/or descriptive. Alternatively, quantitative research can employ experimental or computational models as testing platforms for fundamental science and clinical practice investigations into mechanistic or physiological underpinnings of thought, behaviour, function or disease. As such, interventional studies more directly aim to test a change in a prospective manner, for which a more rigid controlled study design is required.

To learn more about what research design, what suits your interest and what method is most appropriate in your academic field to find the answers you are looking for, the following educational resources are available to consult:

  • SAGE Research Methods – Notre Dame staff and students have access to the core collection of SAGE Research Methods content, including cases (#1 only), articles, handbooks and reference materials. To learn how SAGE Research Methods can help you with queries on research design, study tools and statistical analyses, watch their guide to the platform and access the platform via the Library link to SAGE Research Methods.
  • Research designs and study types in evidence-based research - The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) at the University of Oxford, UK, provides indepth information on study design in medical research underpinning translation into clinical practice. Its resources are licensed under a creative commons license (CC International 4.0), which allows free access and reuse of their educational material. Among others, its pages on research design, linked classification of specific research types and the level of evidence these studies contribute to the medical literature present educational resources for researchers in health and medicine. The library at Notre Dame also provides detailed information on the diversity of study designs and evidence in clinically relevant research which contributes to evidence-based practice. Further insightful information on systematic reviews is offered as well. You can find out how a systematic review is defined and should be undertaken.
  • Power and Sample – A free and easy to use analysis tool online for the calculation of power and sample size of a new research study including study participants. It is helpful in the design of new research approaches, surveys and experiments.
  • StatHand – a learning platform for statistical decision-making in quantitative research. The program uses a decision tree to select appropriate statistical tests or procedures for different types of data, research questions and hypotheses. Stathand is also freely available for downloading as an iOS application developed with funding from the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching
  • SPSS is commonly used a statistical software package available to research staff and students at Notre Dame. If required, HDR students can access funds to purchase a NVivo license. Expert biostatisticians at The Institute for Health Research can be contacted for advice on research methods and statistical analysis.