Methodology and methods

Methodology and methods
To implement the design and carry out the project in accordance with the theory and concepts that are guiding and organising your research study, we need a range of methods and techniques and instruments. And, you guessed it, these have to “fit” with(in) the question-design-frameworks logic. They have to be consistent with them. That is, they have to cohere with them. They have to be developed in negotiation or conversation with them. They represent another Matryoshka doll nested within the other dolls within which they have to fit and to which they are “accountable”.

Hopefully this will help illuminate a distinction between “methodology” and “methods”.

Methodology is the study/exercise that leads us to our choice of methods. It will also help us see why the fluidity of the process somewhat breaks down the dolls analogy. When we engage in the methodology part of our study, what we are doing is engaging in the kind of study that allows us to make decisions about methods that are appropriate. It is the study that informs us about the kinds of methods that will effectively be a Matryoshka doll that fits within the outer dolls.

Of course, thinking about methodology as a study will include reading and thinking about aspects of design as well as about aspects of conceptual and theoretical frameworks. This is because only some methods go with certain theories. And only certain methods will be consistent with the conceptual tools you may be wanting to deploy.

For example, you can only use surveys to get at certain kinds of information. You can use a survey to get at what most people believe is the right thing to do in a given situation. But it’s only if you have a particular theory about what counts as “determining what the right thing is” that you could use a survey to get at this. Many theories (of ethics, say) would deny that “right” means “what most people believe”. Such theories woulod not cohere with the use of survey research to discover “what the right thing to do is”.

So, the “methodology” of your project is the very challenging study you undertake in the areas of: research design; available theories; relevant concepts that exist in the literature; what other people have done and on what grounds; what is involved in using particular techniques and methods and instruments, what they can do and what they can’t; what sorts of things go with this “paradigm” and which don’t; and so on and so on. This study (that is, the methodology) is always guided by and accountable to our question.

Maybe in the course of doing this methodological study you will refine our question somewhat, since the question is also part of the conversation, and even though it wears the pants in the final instance, it is not absolute. It is not a tyrant. We may have to refine it a bit in order to be able to research it with the resources you have available. You may have to narrow it down a bit, or give it a slightly different inflection in the light of our study of methodology. That is fine, so long as we don’t end up compromising your original problem beyond limits you can live with.

So, your methodology will be taking you through areas of literature that are circumscribed by your question. You can rule out from the start all those bodies of research that simply do not fall within your question’s ambit – although it will take some work to sort out just what the ambit of your question is. This will be take you into matters of design options, and at the other extreme it will take you into reading about various approaches and techniques for data collection, data analysis and so on. It will involve you in getting a sense, even, of what data is.

In the end, when you write up your methodology you are writing up a position that shows what you have chosen as methods, techniques, etc., how these fit with your theory and guiding concepts, how they are consistent with your design, and how they are ultimately legitimate tools to use in “getting at” your question.

As a component of the research “system”, methodology is the process for deciding what you will use to do the research. The methods are what and how you will do it. Then it’s down to the actual doing of it. Well, of course, in the actual doing of it you may need to make some refinements and modifications to your methods, or you may even find you need to revise your theoretical and/or conceptual base a little.

Often, the best way to test how well the various components fit is to do a small version of the research, a pilot. More often than not, how you imagine all the pieces fitting together often don't quite. Hence the importance of allowing the dolls to "talk" to on another.

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