Methods and methodology

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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53 thoughts on “Methods and methodology

  • May 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm
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    It has helped me a great deal. Now I can differentiate the two but what do they have in common? Or better still their similarities?

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    • May 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm
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      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.

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      • October 11, 2015 at 6:11 pm
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        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.

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    • April 22, 2017 at 2:36 pm
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      I am sitting for my METHODOLOGY exam today as a PHD student. I have just read this article and I have benefitted a lot from it.

      Reply
  • June 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm
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    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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  • June 8, 2013 at 8:58 am
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    method is the way of collecting data for a given purpose.But methodology is how to collect data for a given problem.

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  • November 20, 2013 at 11:27 pm
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    So,method= e.g. interviews
    Methodology= who, why, how many, etc.

    is this right?

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    • November 21, 2013 at 8:15 am
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      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.

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      • June 8, 2014 at 9:47 pm
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        Thank you for your explanation, Deborah. But what is a theoretical framework then? How is it presented in a thesis?

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        • June 10, 2014 at 7:43 pm
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          Hi Tracey, when designing a research project one of the first tasks to be undertaken is to consider what theories underpin the phenomena that you plan to investigate. A theoretical framework describes the process and outcome of grouping together related themes that frame the central topic. I recommend reading chapter three of Research Design: http://deborahgabriel.com/recommended-reading/ 

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          • January 20, 2015 at 6:08 pm
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            Would you then classify theoretical framework as a methodology?

          • February 1, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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            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.

      • October 29, 2017 at 7:46 am
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        This comment in particular has been very helpful for helping me structure my exegesis. Thank you

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  • March 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm
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    Succint and perfect. Now all the other things I've been reading about the two make sense!  Many thanks.

    Reply
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  • March 18, 2014 at 5:25 am
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    Hi would you please give more examples to show the way of applying these two in research?

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  • March 27, 2014 at 12:18 am
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    You have helped. My methodology involves dramaturgy and the method to be used after the data is collected is narrative. It needs to work, thanks for the insight.

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  • April 18, 2014 at 9:59 pm
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    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 🙂

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  • April 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm
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    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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  • December 9, 2014 at 9:35 pm
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    Dear Deborah, Thanks, this article has clarified my thoughts around these two confusing terms.   Regards   Rob  

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  • February 24, 2015 at 5:13 pm
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    Really  I understood, difference between methods&methodology

    Reply
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  • March 30, 2015 at 10:50 am
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    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?

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  • May 10, 2015 at 1:54 am
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    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. 

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  • May 10, 2015 at 2:08 am
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    I have a confusion regarding research design. Could you please suggest any comment on that.

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  • August 4, 2015 at 4:38 pm
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    Thank you for your clear explanation. I do have a chapter on on this but it's at Masters level.

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  • August 14, 2015 at 3:29 pm
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    Thanks so much it's helpfull

    Reply
  • September 23, 2015 at 10:15 am
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    Thanks for your post…it has helped me though i still need more examples of methods and methodology

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  • October 24, 2015 at 11:18 am
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    Thank you very much for your clear explanation on the difference between methods and methodology.

    Reply
  • April 17, 2016 at 2:52 pm
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    Thanks a lot. It's much helpful.

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  • July 1, 2016 at 8:38 am
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    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  

    Reply
  • July 14, 2016 at 8:22 am
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    Very helpful and timely! 

    Reply
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  • November 6, 2016 at 9:31 am
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    Thank you! Very helpful.

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  • January 9, 2017 at 5:31 am
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    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?

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    • January 9, 2017 at 10:09 am
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      Hi Annisa, There is one methodology that is applied to the entire research project – not one for each research question. When examining methodology you look at the project as a whole. 

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  • January 18, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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    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!!

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    • January 23, 2017 at 12:11 pm
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      Hi Rowley, A big congrats for your return to academia and becoming a PhD student. I’m sure you will enjoy the journey. Keep in touch!

      Reply
  • January 20, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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    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

    Reply
    • January 23, 2017 at 12:22 pm
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      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.

      Reply
  • April 5, 2017 at 5:04 pm
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    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

    Reply
  • August 16, 2017 at 3:58 am
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    Hi Miss Deborah!
    Can you help me with my undergrad thesis problem?
    that is, how literature review of research is made or done? thanks a lot

    Reply
    • August 16, 2017 at 10:17 am
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      Hi Nurtimhar, I am going to write a post today on writing literature reviews that should help you – so keep an eye out – or sign up to my RSS feed!

      Reply
  • September 3, 2017 at 9:01 am
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    Hi Deborah!
    Thank you for your views of posting very interesting and important explanation on PhD as I am on the way to complete my PhD preliminary tentative research proposal.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2017 at 11:06 pm
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    Hi Deborah, I am doing my MSc Risk Management course and I am suppose to choose a dissertation topic, I’m looking to research on health and safety risk management but I’m struggling to come up with a topic. Please help.

    Pauline

    Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 8:55 am
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    The best way to select a dissertation topic is to start by reading widely on the topic- in your case ‘health and safety risk mgmt’. As you read you will find specific areas that interest you – for example, occupational health. You should narrow your reading to this area and look for the gaps in the literature. From there you should be able to identify a ‘gap’ that your dissertation will address.

    Reply
  • October 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm
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    I would like to know how someone can choose project related to his/her options of academic studies

    Reply

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