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Research design

In this section we include guides to a number of different approaches to research design. The ESRC guidelines for postgraduate training indicate that researchers in education:

‘need to understand a range of subject-specific types of research strategies and designs which may include life histories, action research, discourse and other forms of linguistic analysis, experimental methods, evaluations and ethnographies. Students should acquire knowledge about sampling strategies including the consequences of small samples and related sampling errors and biases, and an awareness of issues relating to criteria for assessing the validity of data, the interpretation of claims about the results of research, and the ways that research designs may affect user and practitioner views about the results of research.’ (see: ESRC guidelines for postgraduate training)


Included here are a range of walkthroughs related to different research designs appropriate to different research questions:

Social Networks by A. Brown

Practitioner Research by A. Campbell

Researching Teachers’ Lives and Careers by Jennifer Nias

Participant Observation:  Some Sources of Ambiguity and Tension by Jennifer Nias

Researching how children learn gender by C. Paechter

Auto/biographical and narrative approaches by P. Sikes

Resources from RCBN and Journal: research designs by C.Taylor

Analysis of teacher-learner and learner-learner dialogues, and their role in
the aquisition of skills and understanding
by Andrew Tolmie

The use of large scale data-sets in educational research by K. Hansen & A.Vignoles

Historical methods applied to higher education policies and practices by D. Watson

Experimental Designs by Stephen Gorard

Post-Structural-Feminist and Queer Action Research by Deborah Youdell

Additional Resources

Some early TLRP papers may also be of historic interest. A paper presented at the first TLRP conference in 2000 by Michael Bassey discussed the nature of generalization: Fuzzy generalisations and best estimates of trustworthiness: a step towards transforming research knowledge about learning into effective teaching practice. Stephen Gorard (2001) produced a paper on The role of cause and effect in education as a social science that was intended to act as a stimulus to discussion on the nature of cause:effect models, and their role in educational research.

All TLRP research projects reported on aspects of their research design, so please use the search facility to explore further, but here is a small selection of resources in this area drawn from the TLRP database:

Brzeski, A; Fowler, Z (2005) Researching with students: challenges and possibilities
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Heath, S; Johnston, B H M (2007) Decision-making about employment and education pathways as an embedded social practice: methodological challenges - Working Paper 1
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Johnston, B; Heath, S (2007) Educational decision-making as an embedded social practice; methodological challenges and ways forward - Working Paper 7
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Johnston, B (2007) Methodological review: mapping the literature in relation to the challenges for the non-participation project - Working Paper 4
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Pollard, A (2007) The identity and learning programme: 'principled pragmatism' in a 12-year longitudinal ethnography
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Colley, H; Diment, K (2001) Holistic research for holistic practice: making sense of qualitative research data
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Procter, R; Carmichael, P (2005) Network tools, software design and research design
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Leitch, R; Gardner, J; Mitchell, S; Lundy, L; Odena, O; Galanouli, D; Clough, P (2007) Consulting Pupils in Assessment for Learning classrooms: The twists and turns of working with students as co-researchers
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Howes, A; Davies, S (2006) Designing for complex change? Critically evaluating an application of design study in relation to teachers developing more inclusive practices
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Heath, S; Johnston, B (2006) Decision-making about employment and education pathways as an embedded social practice: methodological challenges
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