The methodology chapter of a dissertation
If dissertation is a piece of art, the methodology chapter forms the mould on which the entire research is conducted.
Simply put, the dissertation methodology chapter explains the method of research, tools employed in investigation and the reasons for selecting a particular method. In other words, methodology chapter contains the procedural framework within which the study is conducted.
Even though the methodology chapter is one of the most important aspects of a dissertation, it is not mandatory for all dissertations. Relevance of a separate methodology chapter in dissertation depends on the subject, level of education, scope and intensity of the research problem etc. Hence, it is advisable to contact the research supervisor or refer the university handbook before writing a separate chapter on methodology.
Some Universities and departments clearly instruct students to incorporate methodology chapter while others follow flexible norms. For example, undergraduate level dissertations in some subjects like Law, Politics and History tend to use reinterpretation and analysis of the existing data. Therefore, a separate chapter on methodology is not mandatory. At the same time, in subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Finance, Management, Medical Science etc research process involves novel methods of data collection, experiments and interpretation. Thus, a detailed methodology chapter is extremely important in dissertation.
Normally, methodology chapter enjoys ten to fifteen per cent of the content of the dissertation. In the dissertations without a separate methodology chapter, the word count is adjusted among other chapters.
Research methods vary in accordance with the subject and nature of the topic under study. Nevertheless, research methods can be broadly categorised into primary and secondary research. Primary research implies collecting new data or information that is not previously published.
Interviews, Surveys, Opinion polls, original copy of letters etc are considered as primary source.
Secondary research involves using the data and information that are already published and used by others. When we reinterpret the findings of a research paper published in journal or use the survey results published in a book or website, it is considered as secondary source.
When the researcher himself conducts the interview or survey and interprets the findings in the dissertation, it is called primary research.
When he interprets the findings of a survey already published in a book or journal, it is called secondary method. Literature review is a classic example of secondary research method.
Primary research is further divided into Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed research methods.
Quantitative research is more technical, objective and less flexible than other methods. Quantitative method consists of a group of well structured procedures based on the application of mathematical formula, statistics and computer programs. The results will be more precise and measurable and chances of researcher’s bias are very rare. Quantitative methods mainly use close end questionnaires, scales, measurable indicators etc. Software programs like SPSS are used to analyze the quantified data. Quantitative methods are mostly used in Economics, Business Management, Population Studies etc.
Qualitative method on the other hand is more flexible and deals with behavioral and social sciences like Sociology, Anthropology and Politics. Non- mathematical methods such as observations, focus group discussions and interview are the common methods used in qualitative research studies. Qualitative methods are more focused on feelings, behavior patterns and a broader analysis of the phenomenon rather than providing accurate results with precision.
As the name itself indicates, mixed methodology, involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative as well as secondary research methods.
In mixed method, a researcher depends on secondary sources and conduct extensive review of the existing literature to identify the gap in research.
On the basis of the review on literature, he/she may use close end questionnaire, conduct survey and analyze the data using statistical tools. He/she may also use participant observation method or focus group discussion to understand the opinion of the community as a whole. Thus in most cases, mixed methods are used with a view to achieve more realistic findings of the problem under study.
Selection of appropriate method largely depends on the theme of research and subject. If the research topic is related to the critical evaluation of newspaper columns, it is advisable to use secondary research methods. However, if you are conducting research on the impact of urban planning on street vendors, it is important to conduct a survey among street vendors to measure the actual intensity of the problem like the total number of vendors evicted, number of vendors who lost livelihood etc.
The researcher may also organize focus group discussion to analyse the community perspective.
The main function of the dissertation methodology chapter is to narrate, explain and justify the research method used in the study.
The chapter should substantiate the reasons for selecting a particular method or methods and its relevance in specific research problem. Your arguments in favor of a particular method must be based on facts, existing scholarship and practical aspects. Personal bias cannot form the basis of selecting a methodology.
In your research proposal and method chapter of the dissertation, I strongly recommend that you justify the data collection method by using the advantages, but making it clear in each why the advantage is specifically relevant in your case. Then look at possible disadvantages and, in each case, say why the problem is not very relevant in your specific case or how you will or did minimize it by using a good research design.
To help with your dissertation methodology, there are many books that provide a broader understanding of different methodologies and their positive and negative aspects. Some of them will be useful in your research. These are:
- Bell, J. (1993). Doing your research project. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
- Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Denscombe, M. (2007). The good research guide (3rd edn). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
- Flick, U. (2011). Introducing research methodology. London: SAGE.
- Grinyer, A. (2002). ‘The anonymity of research participants: Assumptions, ethics and practicalities’. Social Research Update, Vol. 36, University of Surrey.
- Morgan, G. and Smircich, L. (1980). ‘The case for qualitative research’, The Academy of Management Review. Vol. 5 (4), pp. 491-500.
- Ritchie, J. and Lewis, L. (2003). Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. London: SAGE.
- Robson, C. (2002). Real world research (2nd edn). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
- Silverman, D. (2010). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook (3rd edn). London: SAGE.
Depending on the availability of these books in your library and your potential area of research you must read some of these basic reference books before selecting a research problem. An undergraduate student must read at least five of the above books.
If you follow the steps mentioned above and understand the art and science of conducting research, you can certainly make dissertation writing more simple, interesting and authentic.