Research Methods for Dissertation

Published by at August 13th, 2021 , Revised On September 16, 2021


What are the different research methods for the dissertation, and which one should I use?

Choosing the right research method for a dissertation is a grinding and perplexing aspect of the dissertation research process. A well-defined research methodology helps you conduct your research in the right direction, validates the results of your research, and makes sure that the study you’re conducting answers the set research questions.

The research title, research questions, hypothesis, objectives, and study area generally determine the best research method in the dissertation.

This post’s primary purpose is to highlight what these different types of research methods involve and how you should decide which type of research fits the bill. As you read through this article, think about which one of these research methods will be the most appropriate for your own research.

The practical, personal, and academic reasons for choosing any particular method of research are also analyzed. You will find our explanation of experimental, descriptive, historical, quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methods useful regardless of your field of study.

While choosing the right method of research for your own research, you need to:

  • Understand the difference between research methods and methodology.
  • Think about your research topic, research questions, and research objectives to make an intelligent decision.
  • Know about various types of research methods so that you can choose the most suitable and convenient method as per your research requirements.

Research Methodology Vs. Research Methods

A well-defined research methodology helps you conduct your research in the right direction, validates the results of your research, and makes sure that the study you are conducting answers the set research questions.

Research methods are the techniques and procedures used for conducting research. Choosing the right research method for your writing is an important aspect of the research process.

You need to either collect data or talk to the people while conducting any research. The research methods can be classified based on this distinction.

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Types of Research Methods

Research methods are broadly divided into six main categories.

Experimental Research Methods

Experimental research includes the experiments conducted in the laboratory or observation under controlled conditions. Researchers try to study human behavior by performing various experiments. Experiments can vary from personal and informal natural comparisons. It includes three types of variables;

  • Independent variable
  • Dependent variable
  • Controlled variable

Types of Experimental Methods

Laboratory experiments

The experiments were conducted in the laboratory. Researchers have control over the variables of the experiment.

Field experiment

The experiments were conducted in the open field and environment of the participants by incorporating a few artificial changes. Researchers do not have control over variables under measurement. Participants know that they are taking part in the experiment.

Natural experiments

The experiment is conducted in the natural environment of the participants. The participants are generally not informed about the experiment being conducted on them.

Example: Estimating the health condition of the population.


A quasi-experiment is an experiment that takes advantage of natural occurrences. Researchers cannot assign random participants to groups.

Example: Comparing the academic performance of the two schools.

1. Methods of Data Collection 2. Methods of Analyzing Data
  1. Surveys
  2. Observations
  3. Case Study
  4. Questionnaires
  5. Interviews
  6. Experiments
  1. Statistical analysis

Descriptive Research Methods

Descriptive research aims at collecting the information to answer the current affairs. It follows the Ex post facto research, which predicts the possible reasons behind the situation that has already occurred. It aims to answer questions like how, what, when, where, and what rather than ‘why.’


1. Methods of Data Collection 2. Methods of Analyzing Data
  1. Surveys
  2. Observations
  3. Case Study
  1. Table of Means
    It studies the tables containing the groups’ means to compare and distinguish between the categorized and independent variables.
  2. Cross Tabulation
    It includes the tables containing the data of the participant groups and sub-groups of survey respondents.
  3. Audit Studies
    It is also known as paired testing, where two people are assigned specific identities and qualifications to compare and study types of discrimination.

Historical Research Methods

In historical research, an investigator collects, analyzes the information to understand, describe, and explain the events that occurred in the past. Researchers try to find out what happened exactly during a certain period of time as accurately and as closely as possible. It does not allow any manipulation or control of variables.

1. Methods of Data Collection 2. Methods of Analyzing Data
  1. Primary sources of information
    • Biographies
    • Documents
    • Literature review
    • Numerical records
    • Oral statements
    • Artifacts
    • Remains
    • Relics
  2. Secondary sources of information
    • Textbooks
    • Encyclopedia
    • Newspapers
    • Periodicals
  1. Theoretical model
    Researchers use multiple theories to explain specific phenomena, situations, and types of behavior.
  2. Thematic analysis
  3. Coding System
    It takes a long to go through the textual data. Coding is a way of tagging the data and organizing it into a sequence of symbols, numbers, and letters to highlight the relevant points.
  4. Quantitative data to validate interpretations
    Quantitative data is used to validate interpretations of historical events or incidents.

Quantitative Research Methods

Quantitative research is associated with numerical data or data that can be measured. It is used to study a large group of population. The information is gathered by performing statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques.

Quantitative research isn’t simply based on statistical analysis or quantitative techniques but rather uses a certain approach to theory to address research hypotheses or research questions, establish an appropriate research methodology, and draw findings & conclusions.

Some most commonly employed quantitative research strategies include data-driven dissertations, theory-driven studies, and reflection-driven research. Regardless of the chosen approach, there are some common quantitative research features as listed below.

  • Quantitative research is based on testing or building on existing theories proposed by other researchers whilst taking a reflective or extensive route.
  • Quantitative research aims to test the research hypothesis or answer established research questions.
  • It is primarily justified by positivist or post-positivist research paradigms.
  • The research design can be relationship-based, quasi-experimental, experimental, or descriptive.
  • It draws on a small sample to make generalizations to a wider population using probability sampling techniques.
  • Quantitative data is gathered according to the established research questions and using research vehicles such as structured observation, structured interviews, surveys, questionnaires, and laboratory results.
  • The researcher uses statistical analysis tools and techniques to measure variables and gather inferential or descriptive data. In some cases, your tutor or members of the dissertation committee might find it easier to verify your study results with numbers and statistical analysis.
  • The accuracy of the study results is based on external and internal validity and the authenticity of the data used.
  • Quantitative research answers research questions or tests the hypothesis using charts, graphs, tables, data, and statements.
  • It underpins research questions or hypotheses and findings to make conclusions.
  • The researcher can provide recommendations for future research and expand or test existing theories.
1. Methods of Data Collection 2. Methods of Analyzing Data
  1. Surveys with close-ended questions
  2. Online surveys
  3. Online polls
  4. Mobile surveys
  5. Telephone interviews
  6. Questionnaires
  1. Statistical data analysis
    It is a method of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting ample data to discover underlying patterns and details. Statistics are used in every field to make better decisions.
  2. Correlational analysis
    The correlational analysis is carried out to discover the interrelationship between the two or more aspects of a situation.
  3. Dispersion
    It distributes values around some central value, such an average. Example: the distance separating the highest from the lowest value.
  4. Distribution
    It counts the maximum and a minimum number of responses to a question or the occurrence of a specific phenomenon.
  5. Sociological diagnostics
    It determines the nature of social problems, such as ethnic or gender discrimination.
  6. Logistic regression
    It explains the relationship between one dependent binary variable and one or more independent variables.
  7. Analysis of variance (ANOVA)
    This parametric technique is used while comparing two populations or samples.

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Qualitative Research Methods

It is a type of scientific research where a researcher collects evidence to seek answers to a question. It is associated with studying human behavior from an informative perspective. It aims at obtaining in-depth details of the problem.

As the term suggests, qualitative research is based on qualitative research methods, including participants’ observations, focus groups, and unstructured interviews.

Qualitative research is very different in nature when compared to quantitative research. It takes an established path towards the research process, how research questions are set up, how existing theories are built upon, what research methods are employed, and how the findings are unveiled to the readers.

You may adopt conventional methods, including phenomenological research, narrative-based research, grounded theory research, ethnographiescase studies, and auto-ethnographies.

Again, regardless of the chosen approach to qualitative research, your dissertation will have unique key features as listed below.

  • The research questions that you aim to answer will expand or even change as the dissertation writing process continues. This aspect of the research is typically known as an emergent design where the research objectives evolve with time.
  • Qualitative research may use existing theories to cultivate new theoretical understandings or fall back on existing theories to support the research process. However, the original goal of testing a certain theoretical understanding remains the same.
  • It can be based on various research models, such as critical theory, constructivism, and interpretivism.
  • The chosen research design largely influences the analysis and discussion of results and the choices you make. Research design depends on the adopted research path: phenomenological research, narrative-based research, grounded theory-based research, ethnography, case study-based research, or auto-ethnography.
  • Qualitative research answers research questions with theoretical sampling, where data gathered from an organization or people are studied.
  • It involves various research methods to gather qualitative data from participants belonging to the field of study. As indicated previously, some of the most notable qualitative research methods include participant observation, focus groups, and unstructured interviews.
  • It incorporates an inductive process where the researcher analyses and understands the data through his own eyes and judgments to identify concepts and themes that comprehensively depict the researched material.
  • The key quality characteristics of qualitative research are transferability, conformity, confirmability, and reliability.
  • Results and discussions are largely based on narratives, case study and personal experiences, which help detect inconsistencies, observations, processes, and ideas.s
  • Qualitative research discusses theoretical concepts obtained from the results whilst taking research questions and/or hypotheses to draw general conclusions.

Now that you know the unique differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods, you may want to learn a bit about primary and secondary research methods.

Here is an article that will help you distinguish between primary and secondary research and decide whether you need to use quantitative and/or qualitative primary research methods in your dissertation.

Alternatively, you can base your dissertation on secondary research, which is descriptive and explanatory in essence.

Types of Qualitative Research Methods

Action research

Action research aims at finding an immediate solution to a problem. The researchers can also act as the participants of the research. It is used in the educational field.

Case study

case study includes data collection from multiple sources over time. It is widely used in social sciences to study the underlying information, organization, community, or event. It does not provide any solution to the problem. Researchers cannot act as the participants of the research.


In this type of research, the researcher examines the people in their natural environment. Ethnographers spend time with people to study people and their culture closely. They can consult the literature before conducting the study.

1. Methods of Data Collection 2. Methods of Analyzing Data
  1. Focus groups
  2. Individual interviews
  3. Surveys with open-ended questions
  4. Participant observation
  5. Document analysis
  1. Content analysis
    It is a method of studying and retrieving meaningful information from documents.
  2. Thematic analysis
    It aims at identifying patterns of themes in the collected information, such as face-to-face interviews, texts, and transcripts.
  3. Narrative description
    It focuses on people’s oral stories, including surveys, field observations, and interviews.
  4. Discourse analysis
    It is a study of how language is used in texts and contexts.
  5. Grounded theory
    The researchers analyze the available data and develop a theory. They do not need to consult literature before conducting the study.

Mixed Methods of Research

When you combine quantitative and qualitative methods of research, the resulting approach becomes mixed methods of research.

Over the last few decades, much of the research in academia has been conducted using mixed methods because of the greater legitimacy this particular technique has gained for several reasons including the feeling that combining the two types of research can provide holistic and more dependable results.

Here is what mixed methods of research involve:

  • Interpreting and investigating the information gathered through quantitative and qualitative techniques.
  • There could be more than one stage of research. Depending on the research topic, occasionally it would be more appropriate to perform qualitative research in the first stage to figure out and investigate a problem to unveil key themes; and conduct quantitative research in stage two of the process for measuring relationships between the themes.

Note: However, this method has one prominent limitation, which is, as previously mentioned, combining qualitative and quantitative research can be difficult because they both are different in terms of design and approach. In many ways, they are contrasting styles of research, and so care must be exercised when basing your dissertation on mixed methods of research.

When choosing a research method for your own dissertation, it would make sense to carefully think about your research topicresearch questions, and research objectives to make an intelligent decision in terms of the philosophy of research design.

Dissertations based on mixed methods of research can be the hardest to tackle even for PhD students.

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About Carmen Troy

Troy has been the leading content creator for Research Prospect since 2017. He loves to write about the different types of data collection and data analysis methods used in research. Troy has also been lucky enough to work as an editor for BBC.