The methodology chapter should accomplish two basic objectives: it should provide a description of the methods used to conduct the research project and present a theoretical examination of those methods on which the study relies.
Therefore, it is crucial to distinguish between methods and methodology. The methods are the tools or techniques, including theories, concepts, interviews, observations, experiments, data collection, and procedures. The methodology—the broader category—is where the researcher formulates the philosophy underpinning those tools. This philosophy takes shape out of the justification and rationale for choosing one set of tools over another.
The key to a strong methodology chapter, then, is the critical treatment of the methods—why did you choose this specific set of methods? How do your methods differ from those used by other researchers? Do these methods adhere to basic principles established in the field? Did you use innovative methods to address issues in those methods typically used by other scholars? Are your methods a combination of procedures used by different scholars in the field? And if so, what do you hope to achieve by choosing this approach? In short, you want to use the above questions to address the validity, reliability, and trustworthiness of your methods.
The above list of questions is not exhaustive. It is meant to highlight the importance of viewing your methodology chapter not only as a description of your methods, but, more importantly, as a critical analysis of those methods.
- Consider the connections between the literature review and the methodology chapters. Doing so would help you demonstrate that your methods are informed by the research in the field, even when your methods divert from the ones typically used. Considering these connections would also allow you to position the methodology chapter as the bridge between the first part of your thesis/dissertation, which often includes the conceptual framing and the literature review, and the latter part, which includes the analysis chapters.
- Discuss what you sought to accomplish before you describe how you accomplished it. This pattern allows you to begin constructing the theoretical framework before discussing the procedures you followed or the techniques you employed. In other words, lead with the “ends” before proceeding with the “means.” You could begin by writing either part. However, when you are ready to put it all together, ensure the “ends” are presented before the “means.”
- Begin writing the description of the process you followed if you need more time to construct the theoretical framework. Because presenting the process is a descriptive exercise, it is often easier to address than the part that contains the “scaffolding” which needs an exposition of the philosophy informing the methods.
- State whether you used quantitative or qualitative methods, or a mixture of both. Explain what went into your decision-making process. You need to include a theoretical reasoning to back up all decisions made while undertaking the process, including this one. What options were available? Why did you choose the ones you did?
- Include enough information about your methods so that other researchers are able to replicate them if they wish to do so. Do not, however, include unnecessary details that researchers in the field are expected to know. Balance clarity with concision.
- Discuss the limitations of your methods as well as any unexpected events you encountered during the process. These are not “failures” you want to avoid mentioning. Rather, they are part of any rigorous inquiry. Present them as positive lessons/discoveries which are part and parcel of your overall study.
- Compare your methods and/or methodology with what other researchers have done in the past. Are your methods and/or methodology fundamentally different, similar, adapted, invented? As with everything else, discuss your reasons.
I. Describe the tools/procedures/techniques/processes. Remember to balance the need for a comprehensive description that allows replication with the need to exclude unnecessary details.
II. Create a comprehensive list of potential “why questions” (see above) about all aspects of your methods.
III. Provide answers to all the “why questions,” with the view of developing both a comprehensive rationale as well as explanations of specific decisions made throughout the process. If you are having difficulties providing the answers, this would be a good time to meet with your supervisor to discuss those difficulties.
IV. Describe the limitation or hurdles you encountered, how you responded to them, and why you responded to them the way you did.
V. Create an outline to structure the above based on the “ends” before the “means” approach mentioned above. As you compose the outline, remember to connect your methodology and literature review chapters. Discuss the outline with your supervisor before beginning to draft the methodology chapter.