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Methodology

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Methodology

One of the most important elements of any research paper is the methodology. Methodology is a fancy term for explaining your research method, or the process you use to answer your research question. There are different types of methodologies, so you should always choose one that best answers your research question. When describing your methodology, you will need to define it, describe it, and justify it in your research paper's abstract.

Methodology Definition

When you hear the word “methodology,” it might sound intimidating! But it's really just a fancy word referring to an explanation of your research methods.

A research method is the steps you take to answer your research question.

When describing your methodology, explain what you will do to answer your research question and how you will accomplish it.

Methodology. A book sinks in the sand. StudySmarter.You need to develop a method before you sink.

Methodology Examples

In an abstract, you will need to explain your methodology. Below are some examples of such explanations. As you read through each one, think about what you would have to know about your research plan to describe it similarly.

This study will analyze presidential candidates' speeches from the twentieth century to explain how the rise of television changed the rhetorical strategies of American presidential candidates. Using the University of Virginia's Miller Center speech repository, the speeches of candidates who ran for president before the invention of television are compared to those of presidential candidates after television was invented. Analysis focuses on the differences between speech structures and rhetorical strategies to understand how the medium of television changed how presidential candidates appeal to Americans.

Note how this example breaks down a) what the writer is analyzing, b) where they obtained their sources, and c) how they analyzed their sources to answer their research question.

A mixed-method approach was used to understand how local high school students perceive dress codes. Firstly, a Likert scale survey was disbursed to over 200 students from the Albany school district. The Likert scale is generally considered to be the gold standard of ordinal data collection. Survey takers were asked to rank their agreement with statements about dress codes on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” At the end of the survey, participants were asked if they would be interested in discussing their opinions further in an interview. Open-ended interviews were conducted with 50 respondents to contextualize and gain a more in-depth understanding of the survey rankings.

Note how this example makes it clear a) what type of survey was used, b) why the author chose that survey, c) what they hoped to learn from the survey, and d) how they supplemented it with interview questions.

Methodology Types

Your methodology is unique to your paper topic, but it will largely fall into one of 4 types: qualitative, quantitative, mixed, or creative.

Which type of methodology you choose will depend on:

  • Your research question
  • Your field of research
  • Your purpose for research

The Four Types of Methodology

Look over the table below for an overview of the different types of methodology:

MethodologyDescription UsesExamples

Qualitative Methods

Non-numerical research that goes deeper into smaller sample sizes.

  • Explain experiences and perceptions.
  • Describe context in detail.
  • Show how/why social change occurs.
  • Discover how/why things are the way they are.
Interviews, open-ended surveys, case studies, observations, textual analysis, focus groups.

Quantitative Methods

Numerical or factual data used to gather broader information about larger sample sizes.

  • Identify cause and effect.
  • Discover how small patterns generalize into larger patterns.
  • Describe correlations.
  • Compare groups.
Surveys (not open-ended), lab experiments, polls, physical measurement, analysis of numerical datasets.

Mixed Methods

Combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. This uses parts of each to confirm either with the other or present a more comprehensive picture.

  • Confirm qualitative data with numerical statistics.
  • Dig deeper into experiences or opinions identified through quantitative methods.
  • Present a more comprehensive picture.
Surveys combined with interviews, physical measurements combined with observation, textual analysis combined with data analysis, focus groups combined with polls.

Creative Methods

Uses artistic or engineering processes to develop products, design solutions, or define roles. May include elements of other research methods.

  • Develop or conceptualize an idea, design, or work of art.
  • Describe aesthetic reasoning for stylistic choices made in the development of an idea, design, or work of art.
Realistic plans for building a hypothetical structure or material, design of a tool, new musical or dance composition, painting idea, play proposal, costume design plan.

Choosing Your Methodology

To choose your methodology, follow this process: determine your approach to answering your research question, determine the type of methodology you need, try different methods, and narrow down your choices. Consider your project's time, space, and resource limitations before making a final decision.

Need help? Follow the step-by-step below to choose your methodology:

Step 1. Determine Your Approach

Every research project is guided by a research question.

A research question is the main question you hope to answer in a research essay.

You may have a general idea of your research question, but it helps to write it out. Use this question to identify your approach. Maybe you are trying to explore patterns, explain a concept, or create a new design. Looking at your research question, ask yourself, "What am I trying to do with this research?"

Different Approaches

Explore: This is a non-experimental approach. You aren't experimenting with ideas so much as trying to understand them more deeply. When you explore a topic, you examine an aspect of it, look for themes, or identify variables. If your topic is not very widely known, you might be exploring it!

Explain. This is an experimental approach. You are describing connections between groups or variables. You are looking to see if things are connected in a way we don't already know. If a topic is already well-known, but you are trying to prove a specific aspect or connection, you might be explaining!

Create. This approach is a creative process rather than an attempt to explain or explore a concept. With this approach, you design a solution to a problem, establish a need, and describe how your solution meets that need. If you are coming up with an entirely new process or design, you might be creating!

Methodology. A sunbeam shoots through a cave. StudySmarter.Are you exploring something in your paper?

Step 2: Choose a Method Type

Your approach determines which type of method you need. Use the flowchart and guidance below to determine which type of method you need:

  • If you are exploring, you likely need to use a qualitative approach to understand your topic on a deeper level.
    • Ask yourself, "Do I also need numerical data to explore this?" If the answer is yes, you should use mixed methods, combining both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • If you are explaining, you likely need numerical or factual data to describe connections between things.
    • This means you should use quantitative methods. Ask yourself, "Do I also need to analyze people's words and experiences to explain this topic?" If the answer is yes, you should use mixed methods.
  • If you are creating, you probably need to use creative methods to develop and describe your idea.
    • Ask yourself, "Do I also need to examine numerical data or people's words and experiences to create this idea?" If the answer is yes, you should use mixed methods, combining creative methods with either quantitative or qualitative methods.

Step 3. Try Different Methods

Once you know which type of method you need, it's time to decide on the specifics. Exactly what methods within that type do you need?

Write down a few ideas. For example, if you need qualitative methods, you might consider interviewing people, analyzing texts, or conducting open-ended surveys. Don't limit yourself! This is the experimental phase. Write down as many possibilities as you can think of.

Step 4. Narrow Down Your Method Choices

Once you have some ideas, it's time to make some tough choices. You should only have 1-2 methods.

To narrow down your choices, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the best way to answer my research question?
  • Which of these choices have I seen other researchers on this topic using?
  • What are some of the most commonly accepted methods in my field of study?
  • Which methods will I have time to complete?
  • Which methods do I have the resources to complete?

Justifying Your Methodology

When describing your methodology in an abstract, you need to justify your choices. Explain why this method is the best one to answer your research question.

Be Specific

When describing your chosen methods, be as specific as possible. Make it clear exactly what you did and how you did it.

Fifteen new mothers (women who gave birth for the first time less than one year ago) responded to a 10-question survey of open-ended questions on new motherhood. These questions focused on what it is like to experience new motherhood in the hospital immediately following birth, in the few weeks after returning home, and relating to jobs and family life. Survey responses were analyzed to understand how new mothers' experiences are shaped by these first few weeks.

Methodology, Doctors, StudySmarterBe focused for your audience.

Back It Up with Research

To justify your methods, you also need to clarify how your methods align with the best practices in the field you are studying. To justify your methods, you might include any of the following information:

  • Which other researchers have used similar methods to study this topic or a closely related topic.
  • Whether your methods are standard practice in your field of study.
  • How your methods align with industry standards (this is particularly helpful for creative methods).

Methodology - Key Takeaways

  • Methodology is a fancy word for research methods. A research method is the steps you take to answer your research question.
  • Your methodology is unique to your paper topic, but it will largely fall into one of 4 categories: qualitative, quantitative, mixed, or creative.
  • To choose your methodology, determine your approach to answering your research question, determine the type of methodology you need, try different methods, and narrow down your choices.
  • You should have only 1-2 methods for your research paper.
  • When describing your methodology in an abstract, you need to justify your choices by being specific and using research to back it up.

Frequently Asked Questions about Methodology

Methodology means the research methods used for a research project. Research methods are the steps you take to answer a research question.

An example of methodology is as follows:

To explain how the rise of television changed the rhetorical strategies of American presidential candidates, this study analyzes the speeches of presidential candidates from the twentieth century. Using the University of Virginia's Miller Center speech repository, the speeches of candidates who ran for president before the invention of television are compared to those of presidential candidates after television was invented.  Analysis focuses on the differences between speech structures and rhetorical strategies to understand how the medium of television changed the ways in which presidential candidates appeal to Americans.

Methodology is important for explaining your research methods when writing a research paper. 

English language teachers show you how to  develop and explain research methodologies so you can answer your research questions and describe how you did so convincingly.

Final Methodology Quiz

Question

Finish the sentence:

Methodology refers to an explanation of one's ______.

Show answer

Answer

Methodology refers to an explanation of one's research methods.

Show question

Question

What are research methods?

Show answer

Answer

Research methods are the steps you take to answer your research question.

Show question

Question

What does the type of methodology one chooses depend on? 

Show answer

Answer

The research question

Show question

Question

A researcher uses case studies to describe the context of a situation. What type of methodology is this an example of?

Show answer

Answer

Qualitative

Show question

Question

A researcher conducts a lab experiment to identify the effects of a vitamin. What type of methodology is this an example of? 

Show answer

Answer

Quantitative

Show question

Question

A researcher analyzes numerical datasets to identify correlations between smoking and alcoholism. They also interview people who identify as both smokers and alcoholics to explore why these correlations exist. 


What type of methodology is this an example of?

Show answer

Answer

Mixed

Show question

Question

A researcher explains how they would make a theorized model of a perfect building into a reality using techniques developed by a little-known engineer. 


What type of methodology is this an example of?

Show answer

Answer

Creative

Show question

Question

What is a research question?

Show answer

Answer

A research question is the main question you hope to answer with your research.

Show question

Question

Which research approach is experimental?

Show answer

Answer

Explain

Show question

Question

Which research approach allows one to understand things more deeply?

Show answer

Answer

Explore

Show question

Question

Which research approach allows one to design a process or product to solve a problem?

Show answer

Answer

Create

Show question

Question

If one is exploring, which type of methodology do they likely need?

Show answer

Answer

Qualitative

Show question

Question

If one is explaining, which type of methodology do they likely need?

Show answer

Answer

Quantitative

Show question

Question

If one is taking a creative approach, but also needs to examine numerical data or people's words and experiences to create their idea, what type of methodology do they need? 

Show answer

Answer

Mixed

Show question

Question

Once one has determined the type of method they need, what should they do next? 

Show answer

Answer

Try on different methods

Show question

Question

How many methods should one use in a research paper?

Show answer

Answer

One should use only 1-2 research methods. Too many methods means too much work and not enough time!

Show question

Question

How can one justify their methodology in a research abstract?

Show answer

Answer

Be specific

Show question

Question

To narrow down your research methods, ask yourself:

Show answer

Answer

What is the best way to answer my research question?

Show question

Question

To narrow down your research methods, ask yourself:

Show answer

Answer

Which of these choices have I seen other researchers on this topic using? 

Show question

Question

Qualitative approaches are not as good as quantitative approaches.

Show answer

Answer

False. It depends on your paper.

Show question

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