Choosing the right research methodology

Duration: 3 minutes

Learn more about different research methodologies and methods. We’ll help you answer the question: Which method(ology) works best for my paper?

What’s most important?
  • Which research methodology is right for your paper depends on your question as well as your objectives.
  • Be aware of the most common approaches in your discipline.
  • Keep in mind the length of your paper and the resources at hand when choosing your methodological approach.

Empirical analysis

The systematic gathering of data is referred to as empirical research. It is usually applied within advanced academic work, like bachelor’s or master’s theses. Keep in mind that you still need to consider findings from other researchers!

One sub-category of empirical research is the quantitative approach, which is used to examine one particular aspect of the topic using standardized measurements and statistical verification. Simply put, the focus is on having a big group of people fill out a questionnaire, for example, that is made up of very specific questions. The results are then used to confirm or reject a hypothesis based on an already existing theory instead of one you have developed yourself.

On the other side of the spectrum is the qualitative approach to obtain an in-depth understanding of the topic at hand. The issue is thoroughly explored by conducting interviews, for example, or similar methods that prioritize the individual characteristics of a person or issue over the sheer number. In some cases, the results may be the basis for the construction of a new theory or approach.

The two procedures are not mutually exclusive. The mixed methods approach is a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, enabling you to look at your research question from different points of view that complement each other.

Literature review

A literature review is more common with shorter papers, as it’s not as time- and resource-consuming. It focuses on analyzing studies that have been conducted in the past to answer your research question. Those are called secondary sources. It’s also possible to focus on a specific group of sources, for example, articles published in journals within a certain period. The objective is to identify common or frequently discussed theories and trends as well as experts who are referred to in other papers. You can then develop a thesis and analyze the material in more detail and with a critical eye.

Which method(ology) works best for me?

When choosing a methodology and methods for your paper, it’s crucial not to lose sight of your objective and be realistic. For example, if you create a questionnaire as part of your empirical analysis, you need to be aware that your participants need time to complete it, and that certain statistical skills are needed to evaluate the results. It may be useful to identify the approaches most common in your discipline by means of preliminary research. You also need to be able to explain your choice and the reasoning behind it. Writing this part beforehand can help you make sure your plan makes sense.

Methodology vs. method – What’s the difference?

= overarching approach and rationale of your research
= specific tools and procedured for data collection
– includes studying the principles behind methods– examples: literature review, interview, close reading, SWOT-analysis
– examples: qualitative or quantitative research– method section is often included in shorter papers to ensure replicability and scientific rigor
– methodology section is often included in longer theses to justify the choice of methods
⚠ Don’ts
  • Don’t underestimate the effect the research methodology will have on the success of your paper.
  • Don’t choose an approach that you are not at all familiar with.
  • Don’t decide on the methodology before being absolutely sure what the objective of your research is.

test yourself

Are you familiar with the different kinds of research? Then the following questions shouldn’t be a problem!

Which method should be used to answer the question “Are there more poisonous spiders in Australia or South America?”?

  1. Quantitative research
  2. Qualitative research
  3. Neither

   A – The research question is asking for a numerical comparison between the two regions.

What is the main disadvantage of a literature review?

  1. It’s time-consuming and therefore frustrating
  2. There may be a lack of recent or high-quality sources
  3. Reading that much can cause severe eye-strain

   B – There’s a potential for bias or incomplete coverage of the literature.

Do you have to explain your method in your paper?

  1. No, readers can assume that you used an appropriate method to collect and analyze your data
  2. Yes, because it provides a clear and detailed explanation of how you came up with your results
  3. Only briefly, as most readers will not be interested in the technical details

   B – The research method or methodology provides the framework for the entire research process, including data collection, data analysis, and interpretation of results.

Which method should be applied when writing a short paper?

  1. Qualitative research
  2. Quantitative research
  3. Literature review

   C – A literature review can be an effective way to summarize the current state of knowledge on a particular topic within a shorter paper format.

What is an example of qualitative research?

  1. Interviews
  2. Yoga
  3. Counting all the e’s in this article

   A – Interviews are a data collection method that focuses on gaining a deep understanding of people’s perspectives, experiences, and behaviors.

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