Chapter 1: Research design

Activity 1

Anne is a student on an early childhood studies degree course. She is about to embark on her dissertation and is interested in researching something relating to children with special needs. As part of her course she is on placement for 2 days a week in a preschool setting with children aged from 3 to 4. The setting has a policy of offering inclusive care and education for children with special needs and disabilities. The facility is expecting to admit a 3-year-old who has cerebral palsy, communicates by signing and uses a wheelchair. Anne has 3 months for data collection and her first thoughts are that she would like to evaluate how the child settles in and the provision that is made available.

  • Write an overall aim for Anne’s research.
  • Suggest possible research questions.
  • What methodological approach will be most appropriate (quantitative or qualitative)?
  • Suggest suitable methods of data collection that will provide Anne with the information she needs to answer her research question.
  • What ethical issues will Anne need to think about? (Chapter 6 in the textbook will help.)

Activity 2

Read the following research studies and suggest an appropriate sampling method, outlining possible advantages and disadvantages. The table included in this activity may help you organize your thoughts.

  1. A longitudinal, prospective study investigating the effects of maternal smoking on the development of babies and children.
  2. A cross-sectional study aimed at understanding the decisions parents make when choosing day care for their children.
  3. A piece of action research being undertaken in a private day care facility with the aim of improving parental partnership. (Chapter 11 describes action research.)
  4. A study investigating practitioners’ practice and attitudes towards supporting preschool children who enter the school not speaking English, but who have well developed language skills in their home language.
  5. An investigation into the various approaches taken by early childhood settings to superhero and weapon play. (In this scenario we want to know how you would go about obtaining a sample of relevant settings.)


Suggested sampling method























Activity 3

Read the following two articles and respond to the questions.

Wiseman, N., Harris, N. and Lee, P. (2016) ‘Lifestyle knowledge and preferences in preschool children: evaluation of the Get up and Grow healthy lifestyle education programme’, Health Education Journal.

With growing concerns about childhood obesity in children there has been a growth in initiatives to increase the level of physical activity in young children and to help them make ‘healthy’ food choices. This article evaluates one such programme.

  • Read the abstract and the section at the end called ‘Implications for research and practice’. Notice that in this journal the abstract is divided into headings. What methodological approach has been taken?
  • No formal hypothesis or research question was stated in the paper, but reading through the abstract it is possible to understand the aim of the study. In your own words explain what the aim is.
  • What sort of sampling was used? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of sampling?
  • What methods were employed to maximize the reliability of the sample selection?
  • What did analysis of the demographic data reveal and how does this relate to reliability? (Look at the end of page 6 and the beginning of page 7.)
  • What were the overall conclusions of the research?

De Gioia, K. (2013) ‘Cultural negotiation: moving beyond a cycle of misunderstanding in early childhood settings’, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 11(2): 108–22.

In this fascinating Australian study, De Gioia uses qualitative methodology to investigate the differing expectations of parents and practitioners in early childhood settings, with emphasis on communication and continuity of care practices between the home and the setting. We will use this article to help you understand more about the design of qualitative studies.

  • Read the abstract and the discussion. This will help you understand the article when you read it in full. Note how you can get a good understanding of the research just by reading these sections. Also note how the methodological approach is ‘flagged up’ in the abstract. This is often the case in qualitative studies, but rarely seen in quantitative ones. The ‘conversation’ about methodology is often given more prominence in qualitative studies.
  • The next section (from after ‘Keywords’ to the heading ‘The Research Study’) constitutes the literature review. Different journals set out their articles in different ways. Sometimes you will see a heading ‘Introduction’. Read this section and note how the content includes information about the demographics of families who use childcare and education services and current practice regarding parental partnership.
  • Skim through the literature review and note the headings that are used to organize the material. These are the main themes of the literature review which will underpin the current research study. Now read this section in detail and note how both research findings and theory are used to explain the key themes.
  • What is the aim of the study?
  • How were participants recruited for the interviews and what sampling method was used for the semi-structured questionnaires? What factors were taken into consideration when choosing which centres were to be included in the study?
  • What were the main findings of the study?
  • In the discussion section, a ‘cycle of misunderstanding’ between parents and settings is suggested. If you are involved in the work of an early childhood setting, reflect on how this explanation may be affecting relationships between parents and practitioners.