The methodology is perhaps the most challenging and laborious part of research work. Essentially, the methodology helps to understand the broad philosophical approach behind methods of research you chose to employ for your study.
This means that your methodology chapter should clearly state whether you chose to use quantitative or qualitative data collection techniques or a mix of both.
You will be required to provide justifications as to why you preferred a certain method over the others. If you are trying to figure out exactly how to write methodology or how to structure methodology for dissertation then this article will point you in the right direction.
The methodology generally acts as a guideline or plan to exactly how you intend to carry out your research. This is especially true for students who are required to submit their methodology chapter before carrying out the research.
For those who are submitting their dissertation as a single paper, their methodology should also touch on any modifications that they had to make as their work progressed.
However, it is vitally important to provide academic justifications to all choices made by the researcher.
As indicated previously, the theme of your methodology chapter should be related to your literature research and research questions.
You can visit your college or university library to find textbooks and articles that provide information about the most commonly employed methods of research.
An intensive read of such books can help you to devise your research philosophy and choose the appropriate methods. Any limitations or weaknesses of your chosen research approach should also be explained as well as the methods to overcome them.
Regardless of the chosen research approach, you will find researchers who either support it or don’t. Use the arguments for and against articulated in the literature to clarify why you decided to choose the selected research design and why the research limitations are irrelevant in your research.
The typical structure of the methodology chapter is as follows:
According to USC-Research Guides (2017), the primary function of a research design is to enable the researcher to effectively answer the research questions through evidence. Generally, this section will shed light on how you collected your data.
The researcher will have to justify their choice of data collection methods such as literature research, interviews, phone surveys, questionnaires, observation, online surveys and so on.
Moreover, the choice of data sampling should also be clearly explained with a focus on how you made the choice of ethnicity, group, profession and age of the participants.
What type of questions you intend to ask the respondents and how will they help to answer your research questions or how will they help to test the hypothesis of research?
It is recommended to prepare these questions at the very start of your research; when you develop your research problem and research questions. This approach can allow for the room to change or modify research questions if your methods of data collection are not giving the desired results.
It’s a good practice to keep referring back to your research questions whilst planning or writing the research design section because this tactic will allow you to determine whether what you are planning to do would actually address the research questions you have set.
In short, you will need to make sure that the data you are going to collect relates to the topic you are exploring. The complexity and length of the research design section will vary depending on your academic subject and the scope of your research but a well-written research design will have the following characteristics:
This will discuss your chosen philosophy to strengthen your research and the research model. The most commonly employed research philosophies in the world of academia are interpretivism, positivism, pragmatism, constructivism and post-positivism although there are several other research philosophies that you could adopt.
The choice of the philosophy will depend on many factors including your academic subjective, and the type and complexity of research study. Regardless of what philosophy is employed, you will be required to make different assumptions about the world.
Once you have chosen your research philosophy, the next step will be to describe the context of your research in order to answer all the questions including When, Where, Why, How and What.
Essentially, as a researcher, you will be required to make the decision whether you will be using a qualitative method, quantitative method or a mix of both.
The process of data gathering is different for each method. Typically, you would want to decide whether you are going to adopt the positivist approach; defining your hypothesis and testing it against reality.
If this is the case then you will be required to take the quantitative approach; collecting numerical data at a large scale (from 30 or more respondents) and testing your hypotheses with this data.
The other option for you would be to base your research on qualitative approach which will point you in a direction where you will be investigating broader areas by identifying people’s emotions and perceptions of a subject.
With a qualitative approach, you will have to collect responses from respondents and look at them in all their richness to develop theories about the field you are exploring.
Finally, you can also use a mix of both qualitative and quantitative methods (which is becoming increasingly popular among the researchers these days). This method is particularly useful if you are interested in putting quantitative data into a real-world context or reflect different perspectives on a subject.
Research philosophy in the ‘research onion’
This section will require you to clearly specify how you gathered the data and also briefly discuss the tools you used to analyse it. For example, you may choose to conduct surveys and/or interviews as part of the data collection process.
Similarly, if you used software such as Excel or SPSS to process the data then you will have to justify your choice of software. In this section of your methodology chapter, you will also have to explain how you arrived at your findings and how they are reliable.
It is important to note that your readers or supervisor would want to see a correlation between your findings and the hypothesis/research questions on which you based your study at the very beginning.
Your supervisor or a dissertation research assistant can play a key role to help you write the Methodology chapter to a First Class standard. So keep your supervisor in the loop to get their contributions and recommendations throughout the process.
Ethical Considerations, Reliability & Limitations
Other important sections of your methodology are:
Always take into account how your research will influence other individuals who are beyond the scope of the study. This is especially true for human subjects. As a researcher, you are always expected to make sure that your research and ideas do not harm anyone in any way.
Discussion concerning the data protection, data handling and data confidentiality will also be included in this brief segment.
Is your research study and findings reliable for other researchers in your field of work? In order to establish yourself as a reliable researcher, your study should be both authentic and reliable.
Good dissertation writers will always acknowledge the limitations of their research study. Limitations in data sampling (did your research study used data that was collected from only one country?) can decrease the reliability of your results.
A classic example of research limitation is collecting responses from people of a certain age group when you could have targeted a more representative cross-section of the population.
A methodology section for a scientific study will need to elaborate on the reproducibility and meticulousness more than anything else. If your methods have obvious flaws, the readers are not going to be impressed. Therefore, it is vitally important to ensure that your chosen methodology is vigorous in nature.
Any information related to the procedure, setup and equipment should be clearly stated so other researchers in your field of study can work with the same method in future.
Variables that are likely to falsify your data must be taken into the equation to avoid ambiguities. It is recommended to present a comprehensive strategy to deal with these variables when gathering and analysing the data and drawing conclusions.
Statistical models employed as part of your scientific study will have to be justified, and so your methodology should include details of those statistical models.
Another scholar in future might use any aspect of your methodology as the starting point for their own research.
For example, they might decide to base their research on your methodology but analyse the data using some other statistical models. So this is something you should be mindful of.
Just like scientific or lab-based research, a methodology for behavioural and social sciences needs to be built on the same lines. The chosen methodology should demonstrate reproducibility and firmness so other scholars can use your whole research methodology or a part of it based on their own research needs.
But there are additional issues that the researcher must take into consideration when working with human subjects. However, as a starting point, you will need to decide whether your analysis will be based on qualitative data, quantitative data or mixed method of research; where qualitative data is used to provide contextual background to quantitative data or the other way round. Here are some questions for you to consider;
While you will be required to demonstrate that you have taken care of the above questions, it is equally important to make sure that you address the ethical issues surrounding your research study.
Of course, the first step in that regard will be to obtain formal approval for your research design from the ethics bodies, but still, there will be many more issues that could trigger a sense of grief and discomfort among some of the readers.
Here are some example ethical issues that you should be mindful of;
All such issues should be categorically addressed and a justification provided for your chosen method of research by highlighting the benefits of the study.
The rigour and dependability of the methods of research employed remain undisputed and unquestionable for humanities and arts-based dissertations as well. However, the way you convince your readers on the thoroughness of your humanities and arts dissertation is slightly different.
Unlike social science dissertation or a scientific study, methodology of dissertations in arts and humanities subjects needs to be directly linked to the literature review regardless of how innovative the topic of your dissertation might be.
For example, you could demonstrate the relationship between A and B to discover a new theoretical background or make use of existing theories in a new framework.
Methodology section of humanities and arts-based dissertations are less complex, and so it might appear that there is no need to justify it in detail. It is possible for students to achieve a seamless transition from literature review to analysis.
However, it is important to recognise the importance of providing a detailed justification of your chosen methodology and relating it to the research problem.
Failing to do so could leave some readers unconvinced of the suitability of your theoretical foundations, which could potentially jeopardize your whole research.
Make sure that you are paying attention to and giving enough information about the social and historical background of the theoretical frameworks your research methodology is based on. This is especially important if there is an essential difference of opinion between researchers of the past.
A justification of why opposing schools of thought are in disagreement and why you still went ahead to use aspects of these schools of thought in your methodology should be clearly presented for the readers to understand how they would support your readings.
Some degree programmes in the arts allow students to undertake a portfolio of artworks or a piece of creative writing; rather than having to produce an extended dissertation research project.
However, in practice, your creative research will be required to be submitted along with a comprehensive evaluative paper including background information and explanation that hypothesizes your innovative exercise.
While this might seem like an easy thing to go, in reality, critical evaluation of one’s work is highly complex and notorious in nature. This further reinforces the argument of developing a rigorous methodology and adhering to it.
As a scholar, you will be expected to not only showcase the ability to critically analyse your methodology but also show that you are capable of critically evaluating your own creative work.
Such an approach will help you to justify your method of creating work which will give the impression to the readers that your research is grounded in theory.
For example, some of the text material may seem appropriate to both literature review and methodology sections, and you might even end up moving information from pillar to post between different chapters as you edit and improve your dissertation.
However, make sure that you are not making the following a part of your dissertation methodology, even though they appear to fit in there nicely;
It might seem relevant to include details of the models your dissertation methodology is based on. However, a detailed review of models and precedents used by other scholars and theorists will better fit in the literature review chapter, which you can link back to. This will help the readers understand why or why not you decided to go ahead with a certain tactic.
There is absolutely no need to provide extensive details of the lab equipment an experiment procedures. Having such information in the methodology chapter would discourage some readers who might not be interested in your equipment, setup and lab environment.
Your aim as the author of the document will be to retain the interest of the readers and make methodology chapter as readable as possible.
While it is important to get all information relating to how your experiment can be reproduced by other scholars across to the readers, it is equally important to ensure your methodology section isn’t unnecessarily long. Again, additional information is better to be placed under the Appendix chapter.
Avoid presenting any numerical data collected as part of your research. The methodology is not the section to provide raw data even if you are only discussing the data collection process. All such information should be moved to the Appendix section.
Even before starting to work on a dissertation paper, it is common for the researcher to develop broad ideas about the type of research methods and models they will want to base their dissertation.
After a thorough assessment of the existing literature, critical evaluation of other scholars' work in your area of study and regular communication with your supervisor, you will be able to develop your ideas further and decide on what would be the best methodology for your own research.
Postgraduate students are more likely to be already aware of the opposing schools of thoughts in their preferred area of study and may have a broad understanding of the diverse theoretical frameworks.
On the other hand, this may well be your first experience of performing independent research in a broad area especially if you are an undergraduate student. This means that evaluating different methods of research and schools of thought could become an extremely perplexing and overpowering task for you.
However, it is important to note that you will be required to review in detail the existing literature and tweak your own research questions to develop a methodology for your dissertation; whether you are writing an undergraduate or postgraduate dissertation.
As you read the literature available on your research topic, you will figure out what approach will work best for you to address your research problem.
Essentially, this means that you should be able to finalise your research methodology once you have read enough literature and before actually writing the literature review, so you can use theories and insights to position the methodology as a natural, organic and flawless progression.
The factors upon which we can decide what makes a great dissertation methodology depends on whether you are writing an undergraduate or postgraduate dissertation.
Undergraduate dissertations are of course less complex and less demanding. At most universities in the UK, undergraduate students are required to exhibit the ability to conduct thorough research as they engage for the first time with theoretical and conceptual frameworks in their chosen area of research.
As an undergraduate student you will be expected to showcase the capacity to reproduce what you have learnt from theorists and precedents in your academic subject, and transform your leanings into a methodology that would help you to address the research problem or test the research hypothesis as mentioned in the introduction chapter.
A great undergraduate level dissertation will not only incorporate different schools of thought but should also make a valuable contribution to existing knowledge. However, in general the focus of undergraduate level dissertations should be to show thorough desk based and independent research skills.
Postgraduate dissertation papers are much more compound and challenging primarily because of the fact that they are expected to make a substantial contribution to existing knowledge.
Depending on the academic institute, some postgraduate students are even required to develop a project that could be published by leading academic journals as an approval of their research skills.
It is important to recognise the importance of postgraduate dissertation towards building your professional career especially if your work is considered impactful in your area of study and receives citations from multiple scholars which will significantly enhance your reputation in academic communities.
Even if some academics cite your literature review and conclusion in their own work, it is a well-known fact that your methodology framework will result in many more citations regardless of your academic subject.
Other scholars and researcher in your area of study are likely to give much more value to a well-crafted methodology that is grounded and original and that they can use as the starting point for their own research.
Of course, they can alter, refine and enhance your methodology in one way or the other, they can even apply your methodological framework on a new data set or apply in a completely new situation that is irrelevant to your work.
Finally postgraduate dissertations are expected to be highly convincing and demonstrate in-depth engagement. They should be reproducible and show rigour so the findings and conclusions can be regarded as authentic and reliable among scientific and academic communities.
Methodology is the door to success when it comes to dissertation projects. An original methodology that takes into consideration all aspects of research is likely to have an impact in the field of study.
As a postgraduate student, you should ask yourself this question “Is your dissertation methodology reproducible and transferable? Producing a methodology that can be reproduced by others in future is as important as answering research questions with it.
The methodology chapter can either make or break the grade of your research/dissertation paper. So you should take your time when it comes to choosing the design and philosophical approach of your research.
Always make use of authentic academic sources and discuss your plans in detail with your supervisor if you believe your research design or approach has flaws in it.
Did this article help you learn how to write dissertation methodology and how to structure dissertation methodology? Let us know in your comments.