How do you write a research design?

What is a research design?
Someone who writes his bachelor thesis or another thesis or research paper is sometimes asked by his supervisor to submit a research design – also called research design, research plan or research concept – to him in advance (cf. Hug / Poscheschnik 2015: 70). In other cases, the research design itself is a central chapter of the scientific work itself and can be found under this name in the table of contents .

In both cases one describes the approach to the processing of a research question and its concrete implementation (see Töpfer 2009: 120 and Trimmel 2009: 114). The procedure is explained step by step, explaining the chosen methods and techniques. It is thus comprehensible to the reader how certain research data was created and how the respective results were obtained.

The research design also explains why one has opted for a specific procedure – and why one did not use other methods, objects of investigation or data instead. These exclusion criteria narrow down the topic of research (see Guidelines of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen ).

The research design and the synopsis are synonyms for the same type of text (see  notes from the University of Dusseldorf ). In general, however, “research design” is more commonly used in science and social science subjects, while the word “exposé” is more commonly found in the humanities.

Writing a research design for the bachelor thesis?
Not every degree program requires a research design for the bachelor thesis. Often, however, it is expected to do a study, an experiment or a series of experiments, for example in subjects such as social sciences, psychology, medicine or other scientific or technical courses.

Before handing in the entire work, you should submit a shorter text about his approach to the supervising professor. In this way, he can check beforehand whether the research question can be pursued stringently and that the necessary restrictions have been made so that the topic can not be dealt with (see presentation at the University of Siegen ).

For the supervisor, this is also a way to identify difficulties in the research work at an early stage and to intervene in good time, if one is on the wrong path, eg because the red thread is missing. What exactly he expects in a research design and what extent this should have, it is best clarified in a personal conversation with him.

But even if a research design is not required by official side, it can be helpful for yourself. Because when writing you are strategically dealing with how you want to continue to proceed. So you make an exact plan, which research steps follow each other and how to implement these in the best order.

What are the central contents?
In the research design, three key factors for dealing with the question are answered: What is being investigated? Where is it being investigated? How are the examination data collected and evaluated (see Hug / Poscheschnik 2015: 72)?


To find out what opportunities students use to manage the literature used for their bachelor thesis, a survey was conducted using a questionnaire followed by an interview .
Which object of investigation is chosen?
When conducting a study, one must ask oneself when writing the research design, how many objects of investigation one wants to incorporate and according to which criteria one selects these. For example, for a survey to be representative, you have to have a certain number of participants to get a sample and make general statements.

In other studies, a case-by-case analysis is useful, for example, in the detailed description of a rare course of disease (see Hug / Poscheschnik 2015: 72). Depending on the scope of the bachelor thesis, you may therefore have to limit yourself, for example according to gender, age, place of residence or educational background of the persons studied.


As a participant in the survey former students were selected who completed their bachelor’s degree at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich in the winter semester 2016/2017 and the summer semester 2017, respectively.
Where does one conduct his research?
Also the place can be crucial for the results of the research and therefore it should be named and justified in the research design. In general, a distinction is made between laboratory studies and field studies. Depending on the research project, both places have their advantages and disadvantages and must be weighed against each other accordingly.

In a laboratory you are in a sterile room. You can perform tests here several times in succession under the same conditions or you can only modify one specific factor at a time. In field research, on the other hand, one examines an object in its natural habitat. For example, interviewees can then feel more secure and speak more openly when they visit them in their home (see Hug / Poscheschnik 2015: 72).

Which research methods are chosen?
Depending on which research results one seeks, one chooses either quantitative or qualitative methods (see Lueger 2010: 15f). In certain cases, you can also combine both types of methods, for example, with a questionnaire that already contains ready-made answer options, but also leaves room to formulate your own answers.

In addition, on the one hand, you can carry out countings and generate statistics from the data collected, as well as incorporate your own observations of the experiments. Since every research method has its strengths and weaknesses, it should also be addressed in the research design.


The study determines what percentage of the surveyed students use special literature management software . For this purpose, the questionnaires were evaluated accordingly and billed in an Excel spreadsheet.
Since the numbers alone were not meaningful enough, additional interviews were conducted to answer the question of why students opted for a particular administration program and what added value they promised. These interviews were recorded with a recording device and then received an  audio transcription .