Writing your Dissertation: Methodology

Methodology is an important part of your thesis. This is not the same as’methods.

The methodology describes the philosophy that underpins your chosen research methods. This includes whether you are using quantitative or qualitative methods and why.

Be clear about your academic reasons for choosing the research method that you prefer. It is not dissertationmethodology.com enough to say, “I was interested”, or “I thought …’ was too complicated.” You must have good academic reasons for your decision.
What should your methodology include?

You should include this section if your dissertation is being submitted in sections. The methodology must be submitted before you actually begin the research.

Your methodology should be linked to the literature to explain the reasons you are using these methods and the academic basis for your decision.

If you are submitting a single thesis then the Methodology should detail what you did. It should also include any refinements made during your work. The Methodology should provide a clear academic explanation of your choices and link back to the literature.
Common Research Methods for the Social Sciences

There are many research methods available for scientific subjects research. Your supervisor should help you choose the best one.

The following methods of research are used frequently in social sciences that involve human subjects:
Interviews

Interviews are one method that is flexible and most widely used to gather qualitative information about peoples’ experiences, views, and emotions.

An interview is often described as a guided conversation between you, the researcher, and someone who you are interested in learning something. This person is sometimes called the ‘informant’.

Interviewers can be flexible in how structured they want to make an interview, but the majority of them will use semi-structured formats. This means that interviewers will have a plan for what topics they want to cover and might even prepare a list of questions.

Interviewers are free to explore different conversation paths or prompt informants to clarify and elaborate on points. Interviews can be a powerful tool for gathering detailed information, especially when the research question has a wide range of answers.

Interviews are not a good way to gather information from large numbers of people. Interviews are tedious and time-consuming. Therefore, it is essential to carefully select the informants who have the experience or knowledge necessary to answer your research question.
Observations

A researcher may want to learn what people do in different situations. Sometimes the easiest way to obtain this information is to observe them.

Quantitative or qualitative research can include observation. A researcher might want to see if a traffic sign affects the speed at which cars stop on a dangerous curve. To do this, she/he would sit close to the curve and count how many cars are slowing down. This is quantitative observation because the data will consist of numbers of cars.

To understand how people respond to a billboard advertising, a researcher might spend time observing and recording their reactions. This would result in qualitative data, as the data would not be descriptive.

An observation study could lead to ethical concerns. Is it clear to the people being monitored that they are being watched? Do they consent to being observed? Can you’remove’ people from the study, if they’re not comfortable being observed?
Questionnaires

A questionnaire may be the best option if your research question calls for standardised information (and thus comparable) from a variety of people.

You can use questionnaires to collect quantitative and qualitative data. However, qualitative responses will not provide the same level of detail as an interview.

Although questionnaires need to be designed and delivered with care, they can be distributed to much more people than it is possible to interview.

Research using questionnaires is particularly useful for measuring certain parameters in a group (e.g. the average age, percentage of agreeing with a proposition or level of awareness), or for making comparisons between groups (e.g. to determine if members of different generations hold different views about immigration).
Documentary Analysis

Documentary analysis allows you to extract data from existing documents, without the need to ask people questions or conduct observations. Documentary analysis is a key tool for historians to obtain information about their subjects. But it can also be useful for current social scientists.

Documents are tangible documents that contain facts and ideas. We often think of things written on paper such as newspaper articles and Government policy records. Leaflets and minutes from meetings are examples of document types. Other media items can also be subject to documentary analysis, such as songs, films, websites, and photographs.

Documents can reveal much about the people or organisations that produced them as well the social context in the which they were created.

Some documents are public domain and can be accessed freely. Others may be classified or confidential, making them unavailable for public access. These documents can be used as research data if the researcher and the holder must agree on how the contents will be used and how privacy will be maintained.
How to choose the right methodology and exact research methods

Your research questions and prior research should be reflected in your methodology.

Ask librarians at your college and university libraries for help. They will be able to assist you in identifying the best research method textbooks in the field. You can also see the section on Research Methods to get more ideas.

These books will help identify your research philosophy, then guide you in choosing the methods that best suit it. This section of your thesis or dissertation should establish the theoretical foundations of your research.

You should also describe the weaknesses in your chosen method and how you plan avoid them.
Structure your Methodology

It is helpful to start your section about methodology by defining the conceptual framework within the framework you will use, with references to key texts.

It is essential to know the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, as well as how you plan on addressing them. Also, note any potential issues that might arise in sample selection or making your findings more relevant.

The next step is to discuss your research questions and the ways you plan to answer them.

This is where you will present your chosen research methods. Include their theoretical basis and literature support. This section should clarify whether or not the method has been tried and tested. It also needs to indicate what level of trust you would place on the results. In the discussion section, you will need to address this issue again.

Research may also be conducted to test research methods in order to see if these work under certain conditions.

The conclusion should include a summary of your research methods and your underpinning approach. Finally, you should identify the key challenges facing your research. These are the areas you’ll want to return to in your discussion.
Conclusion

The success of your research depends on the methodology you use and the methods you choose.

To ensure you are correct, it is worth taking the time to read through this section. Your supervisor may be able help you to identify any flaws in your plan.

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