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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88 thoughts on “Methods and methodology

  • Avatar
    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.

        Reply
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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
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    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.

    Reply
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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: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Research-Design-Qualitative-Quantitative-Approaches/dp/1452226105 

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

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            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.

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        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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      February 24, 2019 at 12:29 am
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      Methodology looks into epistemological and ontological assumptions underlying your research. Instrumentation (e.g. interview guide, survey questionnaire, scales, etc), as well as sampling decisions (sample frame; number and type of research participants; etc) is still part of a method that ought to stem from your methodology (i.e. your “philosophy of knowledge” – what and why of epistemological and ontological assumptions of yours). Burel & Morgan (1979) “Sociological paradigms and organizational analysis” is a good resource. Don’t be put off by the date of publication – still widely sited and used. Don’t be put off by “sociological” and “organizational analysis” – first three chapters explain various choices of epistemological and ontological assumptions for any researcher. And, even the later chapters that mostly focus on research in the area of organizational studies start out with sections on philosophical traditions (i.e. ontological and epistemological roots) that each approach is based on. This is helpful in any research context.

      Reply
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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 🙂

    Reply
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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  

    Reply
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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. 

    Reply
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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
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    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
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    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
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    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. 

      Reply
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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
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    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
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      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
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        January 25, 2018 at 2:35 pm
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        So I am an undergrad nursing student trying to explain methodology used and compare 2 studies qualitative and quantitative. Would the methodologies be the theories and theorists that the researcher has used to choose the design and method of collecting their data?

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          January 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm
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          Hi Lynn, in answer to your question, methodology is not something that you ‘use’ but refers to a ‘process’ that takes place after you have set your research objectives.

          Methodology
          – The process of fully interrogating the values and assumptions that influence the study.
          – This is a process of justification for using particular research methods.
          – It will help you decide on the right research approach.

          For more information about the values and assumptions that influence your research see https://deborahgabriel.com/2015/02/14/using-conceptual-frameworks-in-qualitative-research/

          This may include particular theoretical frameworks and research paradigms (not the individual theorists but rather the theories/theoretical and conceptual frameworks).

          Reply
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        September 29, 2018 at 12:21 pm
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        Hi Deborah, If then methodology is the “why” for the selected method, where can we place the “justification?”

        Reply
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          September 29, 2018 at 12:50 pm
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          Hi William, ‘methodology’ encompasses all of the planning and decisions that must be taken BEFORE starting a research project. The starting point, once you know what you want to research is creating the research questions that will guide the entire study and shape your decisions, such as whether to adopt an inductive or deductive approach, whether to undertake interviews or focus groups as a qualitative research method. etc. The justification or rationale for these research decisions occur throughout this process.

          Reply
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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

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    November 29, 2017 at 5:38 pm
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    I usually use method and methodology interchangeably but now I know they are not the same. kudos

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    December 10, 2017 at 8:31 am
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    Thank you very much Deborah for differentiating method and methodology, great stuff i tell you!

    Reply
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    December 20, 2017 at 11:51 am
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    This has been super useful. Thank you very much

    Reply
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    January 21, 2018 at 11:06 pm
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    Thank you Deborah. I am in the second year of my PhD and you just helped me understand the fundamental difference between methods and methodology. I have been interchanging them for a while and confusing theoretical frameworks with methodology every now and then. You have a teaching gift.

    Reply
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    February 8, 2018 at 6:11 pm
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    Thanks a million it has helped to a great extent. M.A Strategic and Peace Studies student- University of Dar es Salaam – Tanzania.

    Is there any difference between research methods and research techniques?

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      February 15, 2018 at 9:16 am
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      Research method refers to the specific mode of gathering data. For example one method might be interviews. Research technique refers to the approach used for a specific method. For example, open-ended interviews is one technique that can be used when conducting interviews; semi-structured is another. So there is a distinct difference between method and technique.

      Reply
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    February 11, 2018 at 9:04 pm
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    Hi Deborah,
    I am working on my Master Thesis and I have chosen the Topi and the research question.
    I need your help in determining the Methodology and Methods and as well I need to know how much I should write for the main topic and the research question? and should they be correlated between each other?
    Research topic is: “Legal Aspects and Economical Impact of Intangible assets”
    Research question is: “Soft drink industry”
    And finally, How should be defined the final thesis? e.g. “Legal Aspects and Economical Impact of Intangible Assets on the Soft Drink Industry”?
    Thank you!

    Reply
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      February 15, 2018 at 9:19 am
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      Hi Arsim, I’m happy to offer general guidance on conducting research but cannot provide responses to detailed questions about individual research projects due to time constraints. These are best directed towards your supervisor or tutor.

      Reply
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    February 26, 2018 at 10:39 am
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    It’s my first time of coming across your meaningful write up. I enjoy it. If your door is open to me I will like to develop a good relationship academically. Thanks

    Reply
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    March 10, 2018 at 11:03 pm
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    Thank you Dr.this helped me alot.

    Reply
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    March 31, 2018 at 5:56 pm
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    Thanks a million, billion and trillion times for your patience to explain these terms Dr Deborah, I really appreciate your work. Thanks alot.

    Reply
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    May 22, 2018 at 11:28 pm
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    Hello deborah, I am just getting used to the concept of methods, methodology, theoretical framework, literature review. I was really happy to have stumbled on your write-up plus the comments. Unfortunately, none of the links in the comment section is working.
    Please mail me the active links for the above headings.
    Thanks

    Reply
  • Avatar
    July 13, 2018 at 11:42 am
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    Thank you very much Deborah, I really gained a lot from your explanation of the different between methods and methodology research. I would like to know what system approach theory is all about and its focus, merits/contributions, critics and relevance to modern day public administration.

    Reply
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    August 19, 2018 at 11:52 pm
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    Thank you very much Deborah. Your article and your replies to comments have been helpful. Can I just make sure I got it right? So before I decide on the methodology, I need to think of the purpose/aim of my study and to be able to choose a method, I should go back to my methodology. I did a study about the contribution of private universities to graduates’ employability (aim/purpose) and I explored the perceptions of graduates of these universities of the role of their institutions (methodology), and therefore, I used interviews to get in-depth information about various educational services (method). I could have used surveys (method). Is this example correct? Thanks again.

    Reply
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    August 20, 2018 at 2:09 pm
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    Hi Heba,

    Yes – you’ve got it! No doubt, you considered the options and decided that in-depth interviews would be the best method to explore graduate perceptions. I would have used this method myself – sounds like a great study!

    Reply
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    September 7, 2018 at 5:24 pm
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    HI Deborah,
    I am planning to conduct research. It’s about finding out students’ perceptions and responses toward the effectiveness of a product (a translation tool) and the effectiveness of that product to improve their translation ability. Can you suggest what methods I could apply?

    Thanks for your help

    Reply
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      September 14, 2018 at 1:30 pm
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      Hi Muhyas, This could be done in a number of ways. To give you one suggestion, you could do a mixed methods study involving quantitative and qualitative methods. You could begin with a quantitative method such as a questionnaire, finding out from the respondents what type of translation tools they use, how often etc. You could then interview some of the respondents (qualitative method) to ask in-depth, probing questions on their experience of using the translation tool and how effective it was for them. The overall approach is inductive as you are looking for new understandings to emerge, as opposed to testing a hypothesis that presumes to know what responses participants will give.

      Reply
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    September 18, 2018 at 11:09 pm
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    I am preparing for my senior project and I am struggling with all the methodology content. I previously focused on the literature review and finding information that are relevant to my topic and did not give my research methodology a second though. The article helped a lot in clearing things out for me. Thank you and God bless.

    My research is about the effect of a marketing strategy on the attitude of volunteers joining an NGO and how this could increase the organizational effectiveness. My empirical study will handle an international NGO and I will be reaching out to volunteers in this NGO, however I am very confused as to what research method I should use. I am mainly thinking about a questionnaire but afraid if it is enough to study attitude. Would appreciate it if you provide me with your help.

    Reply
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    October 24, 2018 at 2:02 am
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    I am embarking on a PhD programme and I need a bit detailed explanation of the theoretical framework and empirical framework.

    Reply
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    November 10, 2018 at 5:56 am
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    Hi Deborah. Could you please explain the difference between research process and research methodology. Writing research on tuesday and just would like to know whether it is the same or not and if not a short sentence of how it is diff. Thank you

    Reply
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    November 23, 2018 at 8:13 am
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    I have an expose’ on the difference between research methodology and research method tomorrow. Have been struggling online to get clearifications on the two till I found this nice article. I believe from what I have read above, I will do a wonderful presentation. Thanks a lot. Most grateful.

    Reply
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    December 6, 2018 at 2:36 pm
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    Your comment about not being able to answer your PhD supervisor when he asked you the difference between methods and methodologies gave me hope! Thank you for your “easier than most text books” explanation of methods and methodology. Can you help me to understand where an epistemological realist approach fits in to all this?
    Many thanks

    Reply
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    March 11, 2019 at 9:15 pm
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    Thanks a lot Deborah Gabriel! I appreciated your post and it has enlightened me.

    Reply
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    April 10, 2019 at 5:32 am
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    Thanks Deborah for the clarification on the two. However I am currently carrying out a research on this topic “How can inclusive, sustainable growth and accountable governance be achieved in Africa”, but am confused on the methods and methodology to use. Could you please help me on this

    Reply

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