Plan your Research Design

Research design is a plan to answer your research question. Research methodology is the specific procedures or techniques used to identify/collect, select, process, and analyze information about a topic. Research methods are strategies used to implement the research design.

This section provides an overview of the several different types of research designs categorized into three main types-quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods.  

Choosing the appropriate research design

Research design is a plan for your entire research process that defines the research topic, purpose and scope as well as the type of study best suited to answer your research question. It also incorporates the most suited research methods and procedures.

An overview

Quantitative design


Additional resources about some specific quantitative methods

Research with health administrative data
  • Presentation: Using health administrative data for primary care research – Dr. Michelle Howard and Shuaib Hafid, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
  • Presentation: Geographic information systems and health research – Shuaib Hafid, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
  • Resource: Navigation Guide to Primary Care Data Sources – This guide introduces Canadian data sources that can be used for secondary analyses to answer research questions relating to primary care.
Tool Validation
  • Presentation: Validating tools – Dr. Matt Kwan and Jeffrey Graham, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
Survey Development
Research with medical chart data: Retrospective Chart Reviews
  • Presentation: Retrospective Chart Reviews by Dr. Michelle Howard and Jeffrey Templeton, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
  • Journal article: Matt, V., & Matthew, H. (2013). The retrospective chart review: important methodological considerations. Journal of educational evaluation for health professions, 10.
  • Tutorial: McMaster Chart Review Research Ethics Tutorial
    • Successful completion of this tutorial is required before your application for retrospective Review will be reviewed by the HiREB. The tutorial takes about 15 minutes to complete and contains guidance for researchers, several privacy scenarios, a quiz with 5 questions and a certificate of completion.  

Qualitative design


  • Book Chapter:  Creswell, J. W. (2007). Five qualitative approaches to inquiry. In J. W. Creswell (Eds.) Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (pp. 53-84). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
  • Presentation:  Introduction to Qualitative Research – Dr. Meredith Vanstone, Spring Retreat
  • Presentation: Overview of Qualitative Methods – Dr. Meredith Vanstone, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
  • Book: Giacomini M. Theory matters in qualitative health research. The SAGE handbook of qualitative methods in health research. 2010 Aug 19:125-56.
  • Presentation: Grounded Theory, Phenomenology & Narrative Methodologies: Designing methodologically rigorous qualitative studies – Dr. Meredith Vanstone,  Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]

Additional resources about some specific qualitative methods

Qualitative Description
Content Analysis
Reflexivity and rigour in qualitative research

Mixed methods design



Ethical Considerations

This section includes information about the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HiREB) and different types of HiREB applications and processes to apply for them. It also includes resources related to research involving Indigenous communities and data ownership.


  • Tip sheet: DFM HiREB Application Review Process
  • Presentation: HiREB Applications and Resubmissions Presenter – Janice Sancan, Research Ethics Officer at the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
  • Presentation: Research Agreements – Caroline Woods, Senior Agreements Officer, Health Research Services [Video Slides]
  • Journal article: Emanuel, E. J., Wendler, D., & Grady, C. (2000). What makes clinical research ethical?. Jama283(20), 2701-2711.*

Additional – Working with specific populations

  • Presentation: Indigenous Data Ownership – Research Data Canada Webinar
  • Presentation: Research involving Indigenous Communities – Renee Corbiere, Research Huddle [Video | Slides]

Population and Sample Considerations

This section provides guidance on sample size calculation, sampling techniques and participant recruitment.

Sample size



Sampling techniques




Specialized Methodologies

Decolonizing Research Methodologies

Decolonizing research is a process of conducting research with Indigenous communities that places Indigenous voices and epistemologies in the center of the research process. There is no fixed path for decolonizing research methodologies, publications in the section provide a broad framework for decolonizing methodologies and research paradigms

Community-Engaged Research

Type of partnership approach where individuals as patients or communities are engaged in research as members of the research team to help shape the research priorities, scope, implementation and outcomes.

Quality Improvement

  • Presentation: QI in Primary Care — When, how, and how is it different from research? by Drs. Dale Guenter and Kathryn Cottrell [Video | Slides]

Implementation and Evaluation

  • Presentation: Implementation Science in Family Medicine by Drs. Henry Siu and Dee Mangin [Video]
  • Presentation: Exploring Evaluation by Ms. Rachel Harris [Slides]

*DFM faculty members can access full text articles from the McMaster Health Sciences Library using your MacID. To request your MacID, or if you’re having issues, please email Faculty Relations at

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