The methodology section will be the chapter that you write following on from your literature review. After you have researched and discovered the gap in the available literature, it is possible for you to create ideas for your proposed research.
In your research proposal, you will have had a suggested methodology where you would have given ideas about how to approach the research: this would have been either through a primary data approach or through collecting secondary data.
Primary data is any form of evidence that you collect yourself through your own research in the form of surveys, interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, observations, experiments. Primary data collection methods does not involve the collection of data from other researchers’ work and their studies.
Collecting secondary data is the collection of evidence from previous researchers’ work. An example could be focusing on another researchers’ experiment and using their findings as a basis for your dissertation. An example could be collecting the findings from two different experiments and comparing the findings of these studies in relation to the question posed.
Once you have decided what type of data you will be collecting, you will then need to determine whether the data being collected is qualitative or quantitative as this will have an impact on the analysis of your research.
Quantitative research only produces results on the specific issue that is being investigated and uses statistical, mathematical and computational programmes.
A closed-ended questionnaire would be analysed using quantitative research if the researcher merely computed the results and produced a series of comments as to the percentages of respondents who gave specific answers. A common programme by which to analyse quantitative research is SPSS.
Qualitative research tends to be used more in the social sciences and arts and is when a research seeks to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ something has happened and explains the reasons with recourse to empirical mathematical models.
Within primary research that uses qualitative research, small focus groups can often be employed.
An open-ended questionnaire that collates and assesses a range of verbal responses would be analysed using qualitative techniques as the answers given do not lend themselves to being processed in the manner described above relating to closed questionnaires.
Another option is through a mixed methods approach, which would be the collection of both primary and secondary data.
In a dissertation where one is assessing, for instance, the effects of flooding in the Wirral peninsula, it is likely that all the research techniques mentioned above would be used.
Secondary data would be used through a literature review. Closed-ended questionnaires could be analysed using a statistical panel and interviews with experts would be commented upon with reference to existing literature.
Accordingly, both primary and secondary research techniques would be utilised as well as qualitative and quantitative mechanisms.
Writing your methodology
You should begin your methodology with a brief introduction to the chapter, this should also include relaying the aims of the study. Following on from this, it is best to start by defining and choosing the research paradigm for the dissertation.
Research paradigms – there are 4 main approaches to research. These are positivism, interpretivism (also known as constructivism), post-positivism and critical theory.
- Positivism: philosophical viewpoint that the validity of research comes from objective experimental testing
- Interpretivism (Constructivism): usually associated with qualitative research, interpretivism research is subjective. This means that results from research are down to interpretation by the researcher i.e answers to questions in an interview
- Post-positivism: as opposed to positivism, post positivism accepts subjectivity in research and tests qualitative data alongside quantitative data
Once you have defined your research philosophy, the next step would be to identify your research approach and instrument.
Research approach – This can be separated by two types:
- Deductive research
- Inductive research
Deductive research is the approach you would take if you had hypotheses that were being tested, then you would be using a deductive research approach.
Inductive research is when there is a set of observations and a theory is developed to explain those observations or any patterns that are amongst those observations.
Following on from this, you would then be expected to discuss your chosen data collection method along with stating if the research is either quantitative or qualitative. When writing about key terms i.e. primary data; it is always best to define, explain and justify why.
In so doing, you should also note (briefly) what is inappropriate about the other approaches as well as the ways in which you have overcome any negatives that are associated with your approach.
If your chosen methodology is the collection of primary data, the next step would be the describe and explain the sampling and participant selection.
Here you would need to describe and explain the chosen sampling method along with the number of participants selected. It is always good to include how you contacted the participants and recruited them for the study.
If you are using primary data, it is always crucial to include a sub-chapter of the work that discusses any ethical concerns and considerations that arose due to your chosen methodology.
For both primary and secondary data, it is necessary to include a sub-section on the data analysis that will be used to collate and analyse the data gathered in the research.
Here you will discuss how you intend to analyse the data and why you have chosen this analytical technique.
Whichever approach you use it is important that you justify your decision and that you do so via reference to existing academic works – and writing only in the third person.
As with the background section of your dissertation, your methodology section needs to be grounded in existing academic opinion.
The following books provide not only an overview of methodological approaches (and the strengths and weaknesses associated with each) but are also the sorts of books that your lecturers may expect to see referenced within your methodology section, depending on the type of course you are doing.
Bell, J. (1993). Doing your research project. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Denscombe, M. (2007). The good research guide (3rd edn). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Flick, U. (2011). Introducing research methodology. London: SAGE.
Grinyer, A. (2002). ‘The anonymity of research participants: Assumptions, ethics and practicalities’. Social Research Update, Vol. 36, University of Surrey.
Morgan, G. and Smircich, L. (1980). ‘The case for qualitative research’, The Academy of Management Review. Vol. 5 (4), pp. 491-500.
Ritchie, J. and Lewis, L. (2003). Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. London: SAGE.
Robson, C. (2002). Real world research (2nd edn). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Silverman, D. (2010). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook (3rd edn). London: SAGE.
You do not need to read them all, but you should show (using appropriate and limited direct quotation for extra marks) at least some knowledge of the arguments contained within these books. For an undergraduate dissertation it would be good practice to include at least five of these books (or their equivalent – depending upon what is available within your library) in your bibliography.
Checklist for writing a methodology
- Have I selected a research method which is within my abilities and matches my aims?
- Have I considered other research methods which may be appropriate?
- Can I critically explain why I ruled these methods out?
- Have I acknowledged the strengths and weaknesses of my chosen method?
See our how-to write a dissertation guide for assistance and tips on writing other sections of a dissertation.
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