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Methods and Methodology

Some researchers take the view that it is important to make a distinction between
methods and methodology. For others, who regard the terms as synonymous, it is
relatively unimportant. However, the trend, in recent times, has been to make the
distinction, though this may simply be a matter of fashion. While in your research you
will not, necessarily, be expected to make the distinction, you will be expected to show
that you understand the difference and justify the approach you take.

Research Methodology may refer to nothing more than a simple set of methods or
procedures, or it may refer to the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that
underlie a particular study relative to the way in which it is appraoached. It can be a
description of process, or may be expanded to include a philosophically coherent
collection of theories, concepts or ideas as they relate to your particular discipline or field
of inquiry. It can also be an analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates
employed by a particular discipline, or even a systematic study of methods that are, can
be, or have been applied within a discipline.

Research Methods more usually refers primarily to the process you use to investigate
the subject(s) that are the focus of your research interest. Research methods include
formulating research questions, sampling (random, opportunistic), measurement
(surveys, scales, qualitative measures etc), research design (experimental and quasi-
experimental), data analysis of the data, and describing your findings.

Note: In order to establish how best to collect meaningful data you need to identify, as clearly and
concisely as possible, the particular task you have set yourself, understand the inherent limitations
that all methods have and, in particular, the limitations of your chosen approach. Your chosen
method(s) should also address major issues underpinning the integrity of the research including:
e.g. its validity, reliability and all ethical concerns.
It is also important to note that the distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods are
not always clear-cut, and that often researchers use both within a single study. However, you
should be aware that some quantitative researchers argue that qualitative studies give no valid
findings, asserting that the samples are not representative (e.g. based on a single case or few
cases) and that the findings are incapable of extrapolation. On the other hand, some qualitative
researchers reject statistical and other quantitative methods as providing superficial or misleading
information and not completely missing what is happening in real life.

Where you have decided to make a clear distinction between the methods and
methodology of your research make sure that you have researched the terminology, can
reference what you have read and justify your chosen approach. Like many current
researchers, you can regard a research method is a technique, or way of proceeding
while gathering data, and consider methodology as a theory and analysis of the
philosophical parameters within which your research should proceed.

You can think of the term method as a reference to the tools of data collection such as
questionnaires and interviews while methodology is the approach or paradigm that
underpins the research in, for example, feminist theology. Using a cooking metaphor, it
can be argued that the distinction between methods and methodology can be likened to
methods being some of the (research) ingredients (cheese, butter, milk, eggs, sugar
etc.), whilst methodology provides the reasons for using a particular (research) recipe to
produce different outcomes from the same or similar ingredients, such as making a
cheesecake, or making a cheese flan. If you want a more authoritative reference than
the my homely illustration above you could say that methodology provides the reasons
for using a particular research recipe as distinct from methods which are some of the
ingredients of research as such, it seeks to identify and articulate research decisions
providing justification for the choices made (Clough and Nutbrown, 2007, p.23).1

Clough, P. and Nutbrown, C. (2007) (2nd Edition) A Students Guide to Methodology, London, Sage