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.’”

Citing This Article


Gabriel, D. (2011). Methods and methodology. Accessed on ‘date’ from


Gabriel, D., 2011. Methods and methodology.. Accessed on ‘date’ from

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106 thoughts on “Methods and methodology

  1. 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?

    1. 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. 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. Thank u so much Deborah, I’m conducting research and this is helpful to all of us who reads this.

    2. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

    1. 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. Thank you for your explanation, Deborah. But what is a theoretical framework then? How is it presented in a thesis?

          1. 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.

      2. Am so grateful, but not yet understood, please how can I draft out research method and methodology on effect of inflation on unemployment assuming in Nigeria?

      3. Hi Deborah. It’s really helpful how you can differentiate the two in brief. I’m grateful

    2. 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.

  3. Succint and perfect. Now all the other things I've been reading about the two make sense!  Many thanks.

  4. Hi would you please give more examples to show the way of applying these two in research?

  5. 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.

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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.

    1. Hi Deborah,
      I am a first year PhD student. I found this post very helpful and informative. Would you please let me know how can I develop strengthen my methodological perspective?

  8. Dear Deborah, Thanks, this article has clarified my thoughts around these two confusing terms.   Regards   Rob  

  9. 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?

  10. 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. 

  11. I have a confusion regarding research design. Could you please suggest any comment on that.

  12. Thank you for your clear explanation. I do have a chapter on on this but it's at Masters level.

  13. 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  

    1. I thank you Deborah for helping me to carry out my project work. Now I can differentiate between method and methodology. God bless you.

  14. 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?

    1. 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. 

  15. 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!!

  16. 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. 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.

      1. 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?

        1. 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.

          – 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

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

      2. Hi Deborah, If then methodology is the “why” for the selected method, where can we place the “justification?”

        1. 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.

          1. Thank you Dr.Deborah. I am currently doing
            My thesis on the assesing the contributing factors of academic achivements of secondary school students in Ethiopia. I employee mixed method. An I am still confused in how to fix philosophical assumption, method and methodology. Now I get hint and I elaborate this idea. But could you send me some supporting materials on this regards?

  17. 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

  18. 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

      1. Hi Deborah,

        I couldn’t find the find the writing literature review post. Could you please help with the correct link to follow. Thank you

  19. 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.

  20. 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.


  21. 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.

  22. I would like to know how someone can choose project related to his/her options of academic studies

  23. Thank you very much Deborah for differentiating method and methodology, great stuff i tell you!

  24. 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.

  25. 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?

    1. 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.

  26. 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!

    1. 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.

  27. 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

  28. Thanks a million, billion and trillion times for your patience to explain these terms Dr Deborah, I really appreciate your work. Thanks alot.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. 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

    1. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. I am embarking on a PhD programme and I need a bit detailed explanation of the theoretical framework and empirical framework.

  36. 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

  37. 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.

  38. 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

  39. 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

  40. This is an awesome resource. Thank you for your clarity. I also learned a lot from your responses to the posted questions.

  41. Hi Deborah,
    Thanks for this wonderful post. It clarified the concept of methodology very well for me. I am a new PhD student and aiming to develop my methodological perspective. Would please give me some guidance on how can I develop my methodological perspective?

    1. Hi Rabeya, I would definitely recommend reading the book ‘A Student’s Guide to methodology’. But you need to reflect on what you are researching and why – then you can develop your methodology which is about select the research method that will best answer your research questions and meet your research objectives.

  42. l think your definition of methods and methodology cuts across from diploma, degree, masters and phd. thank for your meaningful definition

  43. I have just started research and trying to understand the difference between methods and methodology, your post has made it very clear. Thanks a great deal.

  44. Hi….! Deborah. I was confused during my thesis and now I’ve got the clear picture of method and methodology. Thanks once again.

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