Methods and methodology

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.’”

Has this post helped you? If so then please leave a comment!

SEE ALSO: Inductive and Deductive Approaches to Research & Using Conceptual Frameworks in Qualitative Research

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    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Hi Rita, the most appropriate way to think about methods and methodology is in terms of the relationship and inter-connectedness between the two. You should not start thinking about research methods for any study without developing a methodology. Methodology is the consideration of your research objectives and the most effective methods and approach to meet those objectives. Methodology is the first step in planning a research project, so it is not a question of difference or similarity but of relationship.

      1. Dauda

        Hi Deborah, my wife and I were organizing a workshop for some postgraduate students on method and methodology and I happened to come across your post, it was most helpful. Thanks a lot.

  1. Mariya Razzaghian

    I think its an excellent writing. Short but meaningful, while many have failed to address these two terms in such a simple manner. However, I would like you to explain more about quantitative methods. Thanks 🙂

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    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Almost. Methodology is much broader than you have indicated. It encompasses your entire approach to the project; it is research questions, research objectices, reasons for selecting particular research methods, choice of theoretical framework, research approaches (e.g.critical) etc.

          1. Deborah Gabriel

            A theoretical framework is part of your methodology – that is, considering what approaches and research methods are appropriate for your research project in terms of answering your research questions.

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  4. Denise

    Thank you Deborah. I hope to find the Students' Guide to Methods and Methodology in the library. I tutor two graduate students and your information has been most informative. Denise 🙂

  5. Joseph Ayuen Majok

    Thank you very much Deborah, with your specification on method and methodology, I can differentiate them now as well explaining them clearly in my research and to others who are interested in research. please have wounderfull credit for that remark.

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  7. josephat aryatwijuka

    Thank you Deborah, I can now differetiate methodology and methods, inductive and deductive, its very educative. I would like to know about conceptual frame work, how is it involved in research?

  8. Vikram Paswan

    Thank you so much Deborah for giving such a wonderful way of differenciating methods and methodoligy.

    Could you provide any book or any thing else to have deeper understanding. 

  9. Yves

    This is very helpful. I really needed something practical and to the point. Though I was thinking along the same lines, this post just gave me the reassurance that I needed. Thanks  

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  11. Annisa

    Hi Deborah, thanks this is very useful!  However, when we are doing our PhD, for instance we have four sub research questions, So it means that each of them will have their own methodology and methods, and then we also will have one GRAND methodology for our MAIN research questions. Is it right?

  12. Rowley

    Thanks Deborah. As a first year DProf student returning to academia after 11 years away, I find myself on a wonderfully eye opening journey, not least because of the diversity of terminology. You have just enlightened me no end!!

  13. piu

    Hi Deborah,

    Very beautiful site.. with nice GUI as well.. Thanks for explaining this better than what i have so far found. What I have gathered is method is the way you conduct the research and methodology is why you chose that method. There could be other alternatives too. Could you give some other example as well because I saw two questions which leave me more mixed up:

    1. what would be the research method you would explore/ employ with reasons

    2. expand with reasons on the type of research methodologies you would use

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Hi Piu, spot on regarding the simple difference between methods and methodology. With regards to your two questions, the same principles apply. Why choose a particular reserch method? The answer should be because it is the most effective method to answer the research quetions and it is appropriate for the participants. So for example, let’s say you are interested in finding out whether social media influences what music young people download – you might decide to use focus groups as a suitable method. So you would need to give your reasons for choosing focus groups over one-to-one interviews. Question 2 merely asks you to expand your answer by elaborating on your methodologies. In other words, how and why you have designed the whole research project in a particualr way.

  14. Rick

    Dr. Gabriel, this is very nicely described. You are totally correct in your advice on the two being needing to be thought of and understood at the onset of a study. Fortunately, I saw that there was a need for me to understand it early enough during my previous doctoral program simply due to the fact that I kept seeing the two different words in various information. It was then that I decided to look deeper to find out why one was always just called "methods" while the other was "methodology". Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and needed post. Dr. Rick D. Johnson

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