Research design is a complex and multifaceted topic. The research design process is different for each field in which research is conducted, and thus the methods for evaluating research design are different from one field to the next. Nevertheless, there are basic principles of research design that hold true for all disciplines. These principles include relevance, methodology, collaboration, ethics and originality. These are the standards against which all academic research designs must be judged.

Determine the nature of the research you need to evaluate. Research can be broadly divided into two categories: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative research takes into account case evidence and observations to form a clear picture of an object, while quantitative research uses experimental processes to arrive at precise, measurable conclusions. Qualitative research designs are evaluated in terms of the approach to gathering information, while quantitative research designs are evaluating in terms of experimental method.

Review all sources cited in the research proposal. Ask yourself whether they are reputable and relevant to the topic at hand. If you are not familiar with the research sources in question, look them up on an academic search such as Academic Search Premier or JSTOR. If the authors are not well published in their field, that could be a sign that the sources are unreliable.

Check the research design for conformity to standards of scientific research. A qualitative research design must use a diverse array of primary and secondary sources, and use clearly stated questions in any polls or surveys taken, to ensure consistency and accuracy in results. A quantitative research design must conform to the standards for the scientific method: identify a topic and research question; form a hypothesis; describe independent, dependent and control variables; and outline a testing procedure.

Identify whether the design is descriptive, correlational, semi-experimental or experimental. Descriptive designs draw upon observation, correlational designs draw upon statistics and experimental/semi-experimental draw upon controlled experiment results. In general, descriptive and correlational designs are used in qualitative studies, experimental designs are used in quantitative studies and semi-experimental designs may be used in any type of study.

Look for any ethical problems that may arise in the design. If the project would cause financial loss, emotional stress, embarrassment or injury to a human subject, it is unethical. If the project would result in severe injury or loss of life for animal subject -- without contributing to a life-saving medical research program -- it is unethical. If the project breaks any laws, it is unethical.

Review existing literature in order to determine whether the research has been done before. Scientific research should be original and contribute to the advancement of knowledge on a subject. A research design that simply replicates a previous research project does not meet these standards.