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Designing and producing
Primary and secondary research
There is a variety of of research methods
that you can use when developing your design projects. These
may assist you in the investigation stage of a Preliminary course
design project or for your Major Design Project (MDP). Not all
of the methods may be suited to your project. It is important
to understand what each one involves and how to use it and then choose
the most appropriate for you needs.
This material addresses aspects of the following syllabus outcomes:
P5.2 The student communicates ideas and solutions.
P5.3 The student uses a variety of research methods to inform the
development and modification of design ideas.
Source: Board of Studies NSW, Stage 6 Design and Technology
Syllabus, Preliminary and HSC Courses (2007)
Research can be described as primary or secondary research.
Primary research is the research you generate by asking questions,
conducting trials and collating results. This research can take
the form of quantitative or qualitative research.
Quantitative research uses a scientific approach. An hypothesis
may be stated and the researcher attempts to prove or disprove
that hypothesis. The techniques used are usually easy to measure.
The data generated can be analysed mathematically.
Qualitative research on the other hand is more concerned with
opinions and feelings. The data does not necessarily end up as
a set of numbers that can be analysed. It looks at the total
picture rather than the separate components.
Secondary research is based on the findings
from other people's research. It involves the gathering of the results of
other's research from books, reports or the Internet. Selections or summaries
are made of the research allowing for evidence to be gathered
to support your conclusions.
- Explain the difference between qualitiative and quantitative research.
- Give some examples of research problems that could be answered using qualitative
- Give some examples of research problems that could be answered using
Ethics in research
Ethics are moral principles accepted
and practiced by the community. Some are even upheld by law.
To ensure you conduct research in an ethical way:
- outline what will happen to the information you collect
- acknowledge material from other sources
- present accurate findings even if they are not what you would have liked
- follow the checklist for surveys and questionnaires.
Primary research methods
Surveys and questionnaires
Among the most commonly used forms of social
research are surveys and questionnaires. This type of research
collects primary data. Primary data includes any data collected
from an original source. Secondary data is data that already
exists, for example, from data bases, records, Australian Bureau
of Statistics or other texts.
We often refer to surveys and questionnaires
as being the same thing when in fact they are different.
A survey is usually general and covers a wide range of
issues. It is designed to find information rather than to investigate
specific questions about an issue. We tend to use surveys when
we don't know about something and we want to identify the most
important ideas, questions and issues.
A questionnaire usually focuses more on a particular topic
or issue. We tend to use these when we know something about the
topic and we have some hunches about what might be the most important
issue or questions to investigate.
Advantages of using these research methods
Some of the advantages of using surveys and questionnaires are:
- You can easily collect a lot of information from a large number of people.
- The researcher
does not necessarily have to be involved in the data collection
process. You may use a proxy (another person) to gather a sample
of opinions and views and then select some of these for follow
up interviews for more depth.
- Results from
surveys and questionnaires, if the forms are designed well, can
be collated and analysed quickly, especially using numerical
techniques, such as spreadsheets.
Preparing a survey or questionnaire
The secret of a successful survey or questionnaire
is the time you take to develop the forms and making sure the
questions collect the data you are looking for. Preparing an
effective form takes time if you want to make analysis easier.
The main stages in preparation are:
The six stages of constructing a survey or questionnaire:
- Deciding upon the areas you want to investigate
You cannot fit onto a form all the facets
of a project. Remember the more questions you select the longer
it will take to fill out and hence the less likely people will
want to take part. On the other hand you don't want to make it
too short, so that it becomes a wasted exercise. Consider your
audience. Young children, elderly people and working mothers
and fathers for example, may not be able to give you detailed
- Collecting and drafting possible questions
This is the first attempt at trying to
write questions, which will get the information you want. Try
to be as clear as you can about the area you have decided to
investigate. Background reading on your project topic may suggest
important issues and questions that should be included. There
are two types of questions you can use: closed and open.
Closed questions have a choice
of definite responses, such as yes or no or an
answer can be ticked. For example:
They are much easier to collate and analyse
than questions which allow respondents to use their own words.
Multiple-choice questions are another example of closed questions, for example:
Does any member of your family participate in a team sport:
Likert scales are useful for collecting people's perceptions
or attitudes to an issue or project.
Type A Likert scales have a clearly graded scale of response,
Type B Likert scales ask people to allocate their attitude on
a continuum between two extreme alternatives, for example from
most desirable to least desirable:
Ranked priorities or choices for a
given situation allow people to list their preferences in order.
The respondent, for example, places numbers from 110 to indicate
their preferences from most favourite to least favourite. This
is useful for deciding between options in your project, for example,
the finish of a component.
These invite a more lengthy answer from the respondent and the answers will
be more individual. They are not as easy to collate and represent
in graphical form. The respondent must provide their own answer
and does not receive any possible scenarios. You can record their
answers using tables or include or refer to them in your written
text. For example, "Do you believe our current
recycling program is effective? Why or why not?"
The amount of space you leave on the form for your answers should indicate the amount of detail you require.
One of the dangers in framing questions
is the chance that you will make them leading questions, that
is, one that leads a person to a particular response. For example, "Do
you think that all students should be provided with laptops by the government?"
- Trialling the questions
After you have done your first draft you should trial your survey or questionnaire with your friends, family or teachers in an informal way. During this stage you can check:
- Are the questions clear in their intent?
- Can people follow your instructions?
- Are the words simple enough to understand?
- Are people interpreting your questions in the same way?
- Is the survey too long or too short?
- Are the answers you are getting, the kind of answers that you want to get?
- Refining and polishing the questions
Time to make alterations, replace questions, add extras
etc., based on your answers from family and friends.
- Conducting a pilot survey
This trial is more formal than the first one. This time
you are trialling your questions on the full range of people
who are going to be included in the final sample. You do
not need to survey a large number, as one person from
each category should be sufficient.
- Presenting the final form
After your pilot study you should have a good idea as
to whether your survey or questionnaire will gather the information
you need. If not you may need to add new questions or perhaps
modify your project. You should now be ready to administer
Your sample will depend on the following:
- The project requirements.
- How much time you have to give out forms and process the data you collect.
- How many people you can survey.
Your sample should be adequate.
Make sure your sample contains a variation in the type of people.
This means there should be a representation from different ages,
sex and occupational groups. Avoid bias by selecting a group
known to have certain views on a subject.
Suggestions for distributing your survey or questionnaire
- Approach people in public places, for
example a shopping centre, bus stop or a train station. (It is
a good idea to get permission from the centre manager or stationmaster.)
- Mail, fax, email or conduct your survey
by phone. Remember some of these can be expensive and people will not always respond.
- Leave copies at desks of stores with similar target markets.
- Focus on local target market groups, for example, sporting clubs, wood turners or other craft groups.
Checklist for your survey or questionnaire
- Is it neatly typed?
- Does it include a brief introduction at the top of the form? This should:
- explain the purpose of the survey
- identify you and your role
- assure confidentially
- provide an expression of gratitude
- Does not require names?
- Asks for suburb only not full address?
- Does not ask too many questions? (Remember
you don't want to put them off and you have to process responses.)
- Be aware of asking people for their age and income.
These are two areas, which will usually offend some
people. If you include them, provide people with a range
to choose from, e.g. 1619 years, 2023 years etc.
never comment on the respondent's responses in front of them. If
someone refuses to complete the survey don't take it as a personal
rejection and remain positive.
These can be face-to-face or over the telephone or Internet. It is crucial
to have a list of questions prepared. This helps prevent being side tracked
and ensuring the information you require is collected. These questions may
provide insight into the development of your project, as you
should endeavour to seek expert advice. After all designers often
work as part of a team when brainstorming ideas and solutions
to problems. Many have spent their lives building up knowledge
in specific areas. The yellow pages are an easy way to get in
touch with such experts.
Observing people in their environment
can often provide insight or assist you in gaining specific information.
Common areas that this type of research is used are hospitals
and child-care situations. Observational checklists are
used as a tool for gathering profiles to work out what the person's
needs are and what they require in their environment.
Tests and experiments
Selecting and applying appropriate research methods is an area that requires vigilance. Tests and
experiments must be relevant to the data required for the design
project. For example, be wary of just following tests you may
see in texts. There is little to be gained from undertaking a
burn test on fabrics for a formal dress unless the wearer plans
to leap through lighted hoops continuously.
Secondary research may include:
- statistical analysis where information is readily available from the
census studies, Australian Bureau of Statistics, local councils
and other government bodies, is analysed to give a notion of
the need for a particular target market for a project. This may
be useful for establishing if there is a genuine need for a project.
- information research, including all forms of print, that is, texts,
magazines, journals, pamphlets. It also includes electronic sources.
These need to be checked for reliability and relevance. Anyone
can publish on the Internet. Print sources should not be too
out of date. Use your school and local librarians, they are trained
to help you find information.
Secondary research can save time, you can easily incorporate your sources from Internet searches into your folio. However these need to be referenced, commented upon and
analysed. Avoid plagiarism. Internet sources may also
assist you in development of relevant tests and provide clues
for how to collate and present data.
Choosing the appropriate research method and collecting data
is the first stage of research. The next stage is presenting
the data, interpreting the results and analysing the data and
identifying any trends that may become evident.