Research Methodology

Your methodology chapter should be one of the easiest chapters to write up. What follows are a few guidelines for how to structure this chapter.  

In this chapter you have to describe EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO do, and do it so well that other researchers can read it and replicate your study!   That is a tall order, but here are a few suggestions.  

By this time you would have introduced your research questions, objectives and hypotheses (if relevant).    This, to a great extent, dictates your methodological choices. 

There are so many concepts, often given different names by different institutions, but you cannot go wrong with following a well-established systematic approach.  One such approach is a very well-known concept of the research onion developed by Saunders (2007).  If you do not have guidance from your supervisor on how to approach your methodology chapter, this is almost certain to give you at least a satisfactory start.  The “onion” differs from quite complex diagrams, with many options, to more simple ones, with the most important options included.  Below is such a simple example

Research Onion

Saunders Research Onion

Now you start writing up hour methodology. moving from the outer layer of the onion inwards

Which research paradigm are your going to follow?

A paradigm refers to set of beliefs your research is based on.  The most common two paradigms are Positivism and Interpretivism.

In positivism one believes that everything worth studying, can be observed.  It generates hypotheses that can be tested and allows explanations that are measured against accepted knowledge of the world we live in. This approach creates a body of research that can be replicated by other researchers to generate the same results. The emphasis is on quantifiable results that lend themselves to statistical analysis.

Interpretivism refers to approaches emphasizing the meaningful nature of people’s participation in social and cultural life.  Researchers working within this tradition analyse the meanings people give to their own and others’ actions.  It proposes that the world as we know it can be understood by studying what people think about, their ideas, and the meanings that are important to them.

There are many other options under research paradigms, such as  Critical theory, Objectivism, Constructivism Realism and  Pragmatism. We only discussed the most common ones here.

 Motivate your choice for your study

Which research approach are your going to follow?

Quantitative research involves numbers. Variables are measured and quantified, and statistical methods are used to analyse the data. 

Qualitative research , on the other hand,  seeks to understand things from the subject’s point of view and is concerned with personal accounts, opinions, etc.   Data is usually in the form of text, from which themes are extracted. 

Mixed-methods research is when the you use both quantitative and qualitative research methods in the process of their study, data collection and analysis. Some say that, by combining both types of research, the limitations of each individual method can be offset and gaps of data can be filled or predicted.

 Motivate your choice for your study

Which research strategy are your going to follow?

This can include, amongst others, surveys, experimental research, a case study, or action research. There are also other options.  Surveys offer the researcher a highly economical way of collecting large amounts of data from respondents. While the data collected are usually numeric and quantitative in nature, but qualitative data can also be collected via open questions. 

In the social sciences, experimental studies are rarely used, although it is common when an intervention of some sort is planned.   This is the most rigorous form of research.

 A case study often follows a more qualitative approach, where the aim is to understand a particular case (this could be a person, a team, a company, or any other coherent unit) in depth. 

Motivate your choice for your study

What are the time horizons of your study?

This refers to the number of points in time at which your data will be collected – usually it is either cross-sectional (collected at one point in time) or longitudinal (collected at more than one point in time).   Cross-sectional data collection is more common, especially in the social sciences.  When you collect data over time, it becomes a repeated measures design, and when the data is collected quite a long period of time, time series analyses may be needed.  

Motivate your choice for your study

Which research techniques and procedures are you going to use?

Here you need to get down to the nitty-gritty!  This is where you as the researcher need to decide from all the previous decisions you have made what data collection methods will work best and what type of analysis you employ to create the results to answer your research questions.

All of the decisions and tools employed at this final stage must fit in with the philosophies, philosophical stances, strategies, choices and time-horizons already fixed upon if valid results are to be created and withstand criticism.

This includes as aspects such as sampling, data collection methods and tools, data analysis, etc.  This should be as specific as possible! 


Identify and motivate the type of sampling strategy you are going to use. Explain procedures for how the sample will be drawn. Describe the sampling frame (inclusion and exclusion criteria).  Demonstrate how you used a power analysis to determine sample size and include (a) justification for the effect size, alpha level, and power level chosen; and (b) cite the source for calculating or the tool used to calculate the sample size.


Set out the procedures for Recruitment, Participation, and Data Collection.  Describe recruiting procedures and particular demographic information that will be collected. Describe how participants will be provided informed consent. Describe how data will be collected. Explain how participants exit the study (for example, debriefing procedures, etc.). Describe any follow-up procedures (such as requirements to return for follow-up interviews, treatments, etc.)

Indicate whether there will be a pilot study and how this will work.

If conducting an intervention,  describe the nature of the treatment, intervention, or experimental manipulation, how it will be designed and administered. 


With regard to instruments, for published instruments, provide all the necessary detail:

  • Name of developer(s) and year of publication
  • Appropriateness to the current study
  • Permission from developer to use the instrument (permission letter should be included in an appendix).
  • Published reliability and validity values relevant to their use in the study.
  • Where and / or with what populations the instrument was previously used and how validity / reliability values were established in the study sample.

If you developed an instrument yourself , provide:

  • Basis for development (literature sources or other bases for development such as a pilot study). Describe how the questionnaire / interview schedule was developed.
  • Plan to provide evidence for reliability (for example, internal consistency and test / retest).
  • Plan to provide evidence for validity (for example, predictive and construct validity).

Operationalization. For each variable describe:

  • Its operational definition.
  • How it will be measured or manipulated.
  • How the variable / scale score is calculated, and what the scores represent

Data Analysis Plan

Identify the software you will use for analyses and provide an explanation of data cleaning and screening procedures.   Then describe the analysis plan with regard to the statistical tests that will be used to test the research question(s)/hypothesis (es).  Be as specific as you can and addres each research question individually.

Validity and reliability

Distinguish clearly between the validity and reliability of the STUDY and that of the INSTRUMENT.  Describe threats to internal and external validity where relevant – this is usually more applicable to experimental research.  With regard to the measuring instruments,  issues of reliability are usually ones of internal consistency (where Cronbach’s Alpha is done), although test-retest reliability may be relevant in some studies.   In terms of validity, discuss content and face validity and how it was established, as well as construct validity.   


Lastly, ethical issues need to be addressed, such as agreements to gain access to participants or data.  Then describe the treatment of human participants, including aspects such as informed consent, right to withdraw,  debriefing, etc.  This section should also refer to the handling of data, ensuring both anonymity and confidentiality.

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