Research & School Improvement services

Improving performance, engagement and achievement with teaching and learning

NFER offers products & services to support you:

NFER Products & Services Self-Review Tool Enquiring Schools NFER Resources Research Mark

Methods of Research

Getting started
What should I research? | Where should I research? | How should I research?
Who can do Research? | Planning your research

How should I research?

Your approach should be determined by your overall research question and practical considerations (such as your skills and availability).

There are two main approaches:

  1. A qualitative approach explores an issue in detail across a small sample (or cases). It can be useful for investigating ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ questions. Qualitative methods include interviews and focus groups. Data can be time-consuming to collect, collate and analyse, but it will be very rich in detail.
  2. A quantitative approach looks broadly across a topic and gathers data from a large number of participants (or respondents). Quantitative research usually involves numbers and surveys. Devising a good questionnaire can take time, but you can usually collect and analyse the data quite quickly. Analysis will involve you using statistical techniques. There are specialist software analysis packages, but lots of analysis can be done in a spreadsheet.

Who will be involved in your research?

There are many different ways of choosing who to invite to be involved in your research – this is often referred to as ‘sampling’. For example, if you are going to administer a questionnaire to 25 per cent of learners in your school, you can chose participants by randomly selecting them from a list containing all the learners in the school (known as ‘simple random sampling’); if you are carrying out interviews with science teachers you may approach particular colleagues who will be able to tell you about the area you are interested in (known as ‘purposive sampling’). How you choose your sample will determine the extent to which you can generalise your findings later on.


Next: Who can do research?