A research design forms a whole—that is all the elements or parts are logically belonging. I like to think of a butterfly as metaphor. Imagine the anatomy of a butterfly (or moth) sitting on a flower or against a surface:
- The issue to be researched or problem to solve through research, forms the body (head, thorax and abdomen)
- The legs represent the research objectives, stemming from the central research problem (the hypothesis in quantitative research).
- The forewing brings to the research a synthesis of the existing body of knowledge regarding the specific problem or issue at hand.
- The hind-wing represents the chosen research methodology in order to operationalise the planned research.
- The antenna serves as introduction (written last) to enable the reader to 'feel' what the research design is about.
Research proposals are used by higher education institutions to ascertain if the researcher (student) has conceived an executable research plan that will enable the student to carry out her research. It is a requirement in the interest of both the student and the institution.
Now imagine the butterfly opening its wings and fly:
The research report, thesis or article again forms a whole. The big difference is a second set of wings now completes the metaphor:
- The second forewing represents the presentation of the data in an understandable way and analysis of the data.
- The second hind-wing represents findings of the research carried out and a discussion thereof.
- The wings and six legs of a butterfly are attached to the thorax (the middle section its body), emphasising the logical interconnectedness.
- The veins on the wings suggest the essential logical flow of arguments. Note further that swallow-tail butterflies are stronger flyers, suggesting presentation that is well summarised at the end of various sections reflect stronger logical argument.
- The antenna, composite eye and proboscis represent the title, abstract and key terms (written last)—giving the reader a glance about the thesis or article. The proboscis is used to extend the reach of the butterfly, for example to drink nectar, which serves as metaphor for increasing the search ability for a research article by means of key terms.
Novice researchers often follow research proposal guidelines as a step-by-step guide and end up with a dissected butterfly—unable to fly and show off its beauty.