My PhD supervisor asked me what the difference between methods and methodology was several months ago and I did not know the answer. All I could muster in a pathetic response was a look of bewilderment. Thankfully, I was referred to a book by Peter Clough and Cathy Nutbrown called A Student’s Guide to Methodology, which I would recommend to all PhD students and candidates.
My problem, as I have since discovered is that I was too busy thinking about my literature review and undertaking all my reading under the misguided notion that methodology was something to be looked at later on. How wrong I was!
Having read Clough and Nutbrown I now acknowledge that methods and methodology should be right up there in terms of priority as a starting point for any PhD research project. Understanding the difference between methods and methodology is of paramount importance.
Method is simply a research tool, a component of research – say for example, a qualitative method such as interviews. Methodology is the justification for using a particular research method.
So if for example, like me, you want to understand the motivations and perceptions of a group of bloggers then you would most likely choose a qualitative, method as opposed to a quantitative one.
But as Clough and Nutbrown explain their book, decisions such as whether to interview, how many participants to interview and so on, “are often based on values and assumptions which influence the study, and as such therefore need to be fully interrogated in order to clarify the research decisions which are made.”
Having a clear idea on the methods and methodology for a PhD thesis can make the job of reviewing literature much more straightforward as you can more precisely target studies in your chosen topic area and critique the whole approach to similar studies, including the methods used.
In short: “A good methodology is more a critical design attitude to be found always at work throughout a study, rather than confined within a brief chapter called ‘Methodology.’”
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