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How to Write a Dissertation Methodology

What is a Dissertation Methodology?

What you reader wants to hear in this chapter is what your research approach is, why you have chosen this specific approach, and how you have developed your research design out of this approach. You need to convey how all of the above aligns with your overall research problem and purpose so that everything fits together. The methodology chapter, then, must present an argument: for why you have chosen to follow this particular methodology and not another one. As with any other argument, you will generally present a main claim, which would be around your research approach and analysis. This would be accompanied by subsidiary claims, which might be around a particular methodology or design or data collection method. For instance, if you choose to use open-ended interviews as opposed to surveys, you are effectively making an argument for the value of open-ended interviews over surveys (in measuring the particular phenomenon in question). Before beginning the write-up, it is useful carefully to consider your main claim and sub-claims of your study. You should think these through thoroughly, getting your ideas straight. Perhaps use index cards to plot the evidence you will need. This will help you arrange your ideas in a coherent way, thus aiding you to construct an argument. As an example, with open-ended interviews you would look to find in the scholarly literature evidence indicating that this particular approach has been used in other research projects to access this kind of data. You might note down such parallel studies on the index cards, marking down key advantages and disadvantages therein. Thus you would use these sources to show that the way you have set up your project is in line with the way other scholars have conducted comparable research before. Such sources constitute evidence that your approach is likely to be reliable and therefore successful.

Structure

A methodology, like other chapters in an academic dissertation, begins with an introduction. In the introduction, you want to link to the previous chapter, to establish continuity. You also want to identify the purpose of this chapter, to let the reader know your intention. Complementing this, you may perhaps include a roadmap which details for reader exactly what the chapter will include and in what order. The bulk of the research methodology will be made up of a number of different sections, which commence with the broad and progress to the specific. Finally you would have a concluding paragraph where you include a summary of the key points (that is, your key arguments). Here, it may be useful to emphasise the key message of the chapter, linking this in some way to the next chapter, again providing continuity, cogency and thus coherency.

Focus

A key focus of the methodology, around which the rest of the chapter will rotate, is the research paradigm. A paradigm is a specific kind of pattern, example or model. Hence a research paradigm is a pre-established way of conducting research. As such, it is a broad term and can relate to a good many different concepts and approaches. For example qualitative and quantitative approaches represent different paradigms, as do structuralism and post-structuralism, rationalism and empiricism, positivism and post-positivism, realism and idealism, and so on down the list. The particular research paradigm selected will depend on your discipline and department. The research paradigm determines your theoretical framework. Hence the objective in defending your research paradigm is to prove its appropriateness for researching the problem at hand and achieving the purpose of the research and development. Again, recall that you are making an argument. You need to persuade your reader of your position. Accordingly, you want to cite sources which demonstrate that other studies in the field successfully employed similar approaches to your own.

Design

Another crucial part of research methodology is the research design. This is the architecture of the academic study; it shows the reader how everything fits together within your research paradigm. So, if you were conducting qualitative research, a key assumption of this paradigm is that people’s experiences are central in determining how they make meaning out of the world. As a result, you would want to use a narrative research design as your approach, because this fits within the qualitative paradigm. For, the assumption in narrative research is that people’s stories are important in how understand their environments. These narrative accounts, the paradigm holds, can tell us something useful about society because they are products of that society. Thus, in this instance, you are not looking for objective, factual data about what people know. Instead, you are looking for subjective data about how people know what they know; their experience of that knowledge. If contrarily you were looking for data on what people knew, you probably would not use a narrative paradigm. You would use a different approach; perhaps using surveys, questionnaires or whatever else best fitted your overall purpose.

So, to recap, the methodology essentially sets out for the reader the precise approaches, procedures and instruments you intended to employ in your dissertation. This chapter may be written fairly early on, seeing as it does not depend upon the outcome of your work. Rather, it sets the parameters within which the project will be undertaken. The methodology allows you to justify your chosen research methods. In this chapter, you should state your research question and how it relates to existing literature. You should describe how you will investigate your research questions (are you using interviews, questionnaires or diaries, for example?). You will explain why these methods are suitable in helping you to answer your research questions, why you are using these and not other methods. You want to detail the limitations of your chosen approaches. Here, you would also address any relevant ethical issues. Remember, it is expected that your methodology chapter will include references. There are a number of scholarly texts which cover the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods. If you want to score top marks, you should refer to some of these in relation to the methods that you have chosen. This demonstrates critical reflection and shows that you are aware of the limitations in your selected approach.

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