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Primary Research

Which Methodology?

As you explore existing research, pay close attention to the methodology sections of research articles you come across.

These sections outline the methods and type of data collection the researchers used to get their results. As you explore the existing literature in your area, think about what makes sense for your research question.

If others have researched similar questions and/or populations, you can use their methodologies to help develop your own.

Often, published research articles will include survey or interview questions in their appendices.


Surveys are a popular methodology for student research, for good reason: they can be easy to develop and allow for a convenient method of collecting data.

What selection of individuals will you survey? How many respondents do you need?

Depending on your research question, you need to select a target population to survey. For example, if you're researching a question related to times of day that students are able to access on-campus dining, it doesn't make sense to ask faculty members about their experiences with on-campus dining. Additionally, think about the number of individuals you'll feasibly be able to survey from your target population.

How will you get responses to your survey?

There are a number of ways you can collect responses, such as through an online form or asking individuals to take your survey in person. When deciding how to collect responses, consider the time your survey will take to complete, how likely your population will be to respond, and the amount time you have to collect responses.

What questions will you ask?

When developing survey questions, it's important to ask questions in a way that collects information you can analyze to answer your research question. Additionally, you have to present questions in a way that won't bias the respondents' answer.


Interviews are a useful research methodology for collecting more in-depth information from a smaller number of individuals than can be reached by surveying. Interviews can be conducted in-person, via video or phone, or through email.


During observation, you collect data on people or elements of the natural world. For example, you could count the number of students who get lunch at a specific location during a certain time of day.

Think about what types of questions could be studied using observation and how you would plan to observe. Using the example above, these are a few questions you would need to consider when planning: how will I record my observations? Is there a way for me to reliably tell the difference between a student and a faculty or staff member? Do I need to record anything else other than the number of students I count, such as the weather? Will my observation interfere with the results I may get?