Writing your Dissertation: Methodology

The methodology is a key component of your thesis or dissertation. It is not the same thing as “methods”.

The methodology is the dissertationmethodology.com philosophical basis for your chosen research methods. It includes whether you use quantitative or qualitative methods or a combination of both. And why.

It is important to be clear about the academic foundation for any research method you choose. You cannot simply say “I was interested” or “I felt …’ was not enough.” There must be strong academic reasons behind your choices.
What should you include in your Methodology?

This section should be used to outline your plans if you submit your dissertation in sections.

It is important to link your methodology back to the literature in order to explain why you use certain methods and to support your academic choice.

If you submit a single thesis, the Methodology should describe what you did and any refinements you made along the way. It should be clear and academically supported.
Common Research Methods for the Social Sciences

Research methods can vary widely, so it is important to discuss the best options with your supervisor.

These research methods are common in social science that involves human subjects.
Interviews

Interviews are one of the most versatile and widely used methods to gain qualitative information about people’s views, experiences and feelings.

An interview is a conversation between you (the researcher) and someone from whom you want to learn more (often called the “informant”).

Although there are many options for structure in interviews, most interviewers use a semi-structured approach. The interviewer will create a guideline for the topics he or she wants to discuss in the conversation and may also write out several questions.

The interviewer can choose to take different conversations as they arise during the interview or to ask the informant questions to clarify or expand on specific points. Interviews are a great way to get detailed information when the research question is not closed-ended.

Interviews are not well-suited to gaining information from large groups of people. Interviews can be time-consuming so it is important to select informants with the right knowledge and experience to answer the research question.
Observations

Sometimes, the best way for a researcher to find out what people do in certain situations is to simply observe them.

Qualitative and quantitative research can both include observations. If a researcher wishes to find out if the installation of a traffic signal makes a difference in the speed of cars at dangerous curves, she or he can sit next to them and count how many cars do and don’t slow down. This is a case of quantitative observation, since the data will only be numbers of cars.

If a researcher wants to understand how people react to billboard advertisements, he or she might spend some time watching the reactions and writing down their thoughts. The data would then be descriptive and therefore qualitative.

An observation study can raise ethical issues. Are the subjects being observed aware of this? Is it possible to obtain their consent? Is it possible to “remove” people from the study if they are not happy with being observed?
Questionnaires

Questionnaires are a good choice if you need to collect comparable information from many people in order to answer your research question.

Although questionnaires can be used for both qualitative and quantitative data collection, you won’t be able get as much detail from the questionnaires than you would in interviews.

It is important to take care when designing and delivering questionnaires. However, a well-designed questionnaire can be distributed to more people than would be possible for interviews.

For research that seeks to measure certain parameters (e.g. average age, percentage agreeing to a proposition, level or awareness of an issue), questionnaires are well-suited.
Documentary Analysis

Documentary analysis is the process of obtaining data from documents without needing to interview people, complete questionnaires, or observe their behavior. Documentary analysis is the most common way historians get data about their subjects. However, it can also prove to be an invaluable tool for social scientists today.

Documents are any tangible material in which facts and ideas are recorded. We think of documents as items that were written on paper. This includes newspaper articles, government policy records, leaflets, minutes of meetings, and even minutes of meetings. Documentary analysis can also apply to items in other media, such as films, songs and websites.

Documents can tell a lot about the people and organisations that created them, as well as the social context within which they were produced.

While some documents are in the public domain, they are free and open to all, others may be classified, private, or otherwise not accessible to the general public. When such documents are used for research purposes, the researcher should reach an agreement with the owner of the documents regarding how they can be used and how confidentiality will remain.
How to choose your methodology and precise research methods

It is important to link your methodology back to previous research and research questions.

Ask the librarians at your college or university for assistance. They should be able help you identify standard research methods textbooks in your field. For more ideas, see our section on Research Methods.

These books can help you identify your research philosophy and then select methods that relate to it. This section should be included in your thesis or dissertation. It should place your research within the framework of its theoretical underpinnings.

Your methodology should explain what the weaknesses are and how you plan on avoiding them.
Structure your Methodology

It is a good idea to begin your section on methodology with a description of the conceptual framework within which you intend to work, and a reference to key texts about that approach.

It is important to be clear about your approach’s strengths and weaknesses and how you intend to address them. It is important to note any problems that may arise, such as sample selection issues or how to make your findings more relevant.

Next, you should discuss your research questions and how each one will be addressed.

Here you should outline your research methods and their theoretical foundations, as well as the literature supporting them. It is important to state whether the method has been ‘tried and proven’ or if it is more experimental. Also, you should indicate how much trust you can place in the results. This topic will be discussed again in the discussion section.

You might even want to test your research methods to determine if they are effective in particular circumstances.

End your discussion by summarizing your research methods, your underpinning approach and the key challenges you face in your research. These are the key areas you should revisit in your discussion.
Conclusion

It is crucial that your methodology and the exact methods you use in your research are well-researched.

This section is well worth the time. You should always use the resources you have available, such as discussing your plans with your supervisor. They may be able suggest ways to improve your approach.

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