The main aim of research is not merely to gather information. Instead, it goes beyond that. The true goal of research is to seek answers to previously unanswered questions to contribute to the body of knowledge in a discipline according to Goddard and Melville (2001, p.1). But for your peers, and indeed the whole world, to recognize your newly discovered or created knowledge, you have to show evidence of its validity or truthfulness.
Determining the validity of your study is anchored on your research paper’s methodology. According to Somekh and Lewin (2005), a research methodology is both “the collection of methods or rules” you apply to your research, as well as the “principles, theories, and values” that support your research approach. Simply put, a research paper’s methodology section must shed light on how you were able to collect or generate your research data and demonstrate how you analyze them (SHU Library, 2020).
For novice researchers, writing the methodology of a research paper can be an overwhelming process, especially considering the intricate elements covered by this section (J. Ellis & Levy, 2009, p. 323). The goal of this article is to define what is research methodology, guide novice researchers in their research methodology writing, and to help them gain a clear understanding of a research methodology’s structure.
Methodology in research is defined as the systematic method to resolve a research problem through data gathering using various techniques, providing an interpretation of data gathered and drawing conclusions about the research data. Essentially, a research methodology is the blueprint of a research or study (Murthy & Bhojanna, 2009, p. 32). As such, the methodology in research proposal is of utmost importance.
The confusion between “methodology” and “methods” in research is a common occurrence, especially with the terms sometimes being used interchangeably. Methods and methodology in the context of research refer to two related but different things: method is the technique used in gathering evidence; methodology, on the other hand, “is the underlying theory and analysis of how a research does or should proceed” (Kirsch & Sullivan, 1992, p. 2). Similarly, Birks and Mills (2011, p. 4) define methodology as “a set of principles and ideas that inform the design of a research study.” Meanwhile, methods are “practical procedures used to generate and analyze data (Birks and Mills, 2011, p. 4).
To summarize these definitions, methods cover the technical procedures or steps taken to do the research, and methodology provides the underlying reasons why certain methods are used in the process.
Now that you know what is methodology in research, the next step is to identify the different methods used in research. Traditionally, researchers often approach research studies using the methodology research institutions typically use which are two distinct paradigms, namely positivistic and phenomenological (Collis & Hussey, 2013). Also sometimes called qualitative and quantitative (Dumay, 2008), positivistic and phenomenological approaches play a significant role in determining your data gathering process, especially the methods you are going to use in your research.
Research methods lay down the foundation of your research. According to Neil McInroy, the chief executive of Centre for Local Economic Strategies, not using the appropriate research methods and design creates “a shaky foundation to any review, evaluation, or future strategy (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 3). In any type of research, the data you will gather can come either in the form of numbers or descriptions, which means you will either be required to count or converse with people (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9). In research, there are two fundamental methods used for either approach—quantitative and qualitative research methods. Even if you take the path of a philosophy career, these are still methods that you may encounter and even use.
This approach is often used by researchers who follow the scientific paradigm (Haq, 2014, p. 1). This method seeks to quantify data and generalize results from a sample of a target population (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9). It follows structured data collection methods and processes with data output in the form of numbers. Quantitative research also observes objective analysis using statistical means (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9).
Based on a report, quantitative research took the biggest portion of the global market research spend in 2018 (ESOMAR, 2019, page 27).
Source: Global Market Research 2019
Unlike the quantitative approach that aims to count things in order to explain what is observed, the qualitative research framework is geared toward creating a complete and detailed description of your observation as a researcher (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9). Rather than providing predictions and/or causal explanations, the qualitative method offers contextualization and interpretation of the data gathered. This research method is subjective and requires a smaller number of carefully chosen respondents.
Source: Greenbook Research Industry Trends Report Q3-Q4 2018
A contemporary method sprung from the combination of traditional quantitative and qualitative approaches. According to Brannen and Moss (2012), the existence of the mixed methods approach stemmed from its potential to help researchers view social relations and their intricacies clearer by fusing together the quantitative and qualitative methods of research while recognizing the limitations of both at the same time.
Mixed methods are also known for the concept of triangulation in social research. According to Haq (2014, p. 11), triangulation provides researchers with the opportunity to present multiple findings about a single phenomenon by deploying various elements of quantitative and qualitative approaches in one research. This is the kind of method that one may use when studying sleep and academic performance.
Saunders et al. (2007) proposed the concept of the research onion model to help researchers develop a methodology and construct research design techniques within the field of future studies. This research onion model has six main layers, which serve as a step-by-step guide for researchers on how to write a research methodology.
The methodology section of your research paper is not all about describing your data gathering process and your analysis. The methodology is about the overall approaches and perspectives of the research process. If you want to study abroad for free and have to present a research proposal to the institution for acceptance, then you have to be able to clearly delineate your analytical methods for your study. Here are some tips as well as problems to avoid in order to write an effective research methodology. Out of these, you can construct your own research methodology example for future reference. While doing so, you can apply research methodology best practices for optimal results.
Even in writing a methodology, researchers must adhere to ethical norms to ensure trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness (Resnik, 2015). According to Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill (2003, p. 131), there are some ethical considerations that researchers must be mindful of, especially during the process of gathering and presenting research data:
It’s now clear that the methodology section is where a researcher indicates and elaborates on the plans that must be put into motion in order to achieve the objective of the research. Being acquainted with research methodologies, however, does not make choosing the appropriate methodology easier. Walker (2006) states that selecting which research methodology is a difficult step in the research process. It can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for novice researchers. Even if you are aiming for a career in the humanities and social sciences, having a clear research methodology is still essential.
According to Holden and Lynch (2004), research should not only be “methodologically led” but the choice of which methodology to use should be consequential not only to the social science phenomenon to be investigated but also to the philosophical stance of the researcher. Similarly, Goulding (2002) claims that the choice of methodology should be based on the researcher’s interests, beliefs, and convictions. Meanwhile, other significant factors such as epistemological concerns must also be taken into consideration when choosing a research methodology (Buchanan & Bryman, 2007). On top of philosophical underpinnings and personal convictions, there are also practical considerations that can affect a researcher’s decision on what methodology to use, including the amount of existing data or knowledge, available time, and other resources (Ahmed et al., 2016, p. 32).