Skip to Main Content

Chapter 3

Research Approach, Design, and Analysis

Introduction to Quantitative Research Design

The first step in developing research is identifying the appropriate quantitative design as well as target population and sample. 

Please access the NU library database "SAGE Research Methods" for help in identifying the appropriate design for your quantitative dissertation.

Quantitative studies are experimental, quasi-experimental, or non-experimental. 

Experimental is the traditional study you may be familiar with – random sampling and experimental and control groups investigating the cause-and-effect relationship between dependent variable(s) and independent variable(s). The independent variable is manipulated by the researcher. The researcher also designs the intervention. Some examples of designs are independent measures/between groups, repeated measures/with-in groups, and matched pairs. 

Quasi-experimental is when the sample cannot be randomly sampled but still focuses on the cause-and-effect relationship between dependent variable(s) and independent variable(s). The researcher does not have control over the intervention, i.e., the groups already exist, and the independent variable (intervention/treatment) is not manipulated. The intervention/treatment has usually occurred prior to the current study. Control groups can be used but are not required like in an experimental study. Some examples of designs are causal comparative, regression analysis, and pre-test/posttest.

NOTE: Quasi-experimental is often used interchangeably with ex-post facto design, which means “after the fact.”

Non-experimental is when the sample is not randomly sampled and cause-and-effect are neither desired nor possible. These studies often can find a relationship between variables, but not which variable caused the other to change. Therefore, these studies do not have dependent nor independent variables.  Some examples of designs are correlational, cross-sectional, and observational.  

The primary non-experimental quantitative design is correlational. However, you need to keep in mind that correlational just confirms if a relationship exists between two variables, not the degree or strength of that relationship NOR the cause of the relationship. 

NOTE: Variables in correlational studies are NOT dependent and independent, they are just variables. 

If you wish to conduct a more rigorous type of quantitative study still looking at relationships, you can choose regression analysis, which will demonstrate how one variable affects the other. In regression analysis, the “independent variable(s)” should be referred to as “predictor variable(s)” and the “dependent variable(s)” as “outcome variable(s).” 

Also, a causal-comparative design (which is a quasi-experimental design) can help determine differences between groups due to an independent variable’s effect on them.