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Guide to Writing the Methodology Chapter for a Dissertation

Hints on Methodology Chapter Writing

Not every dissertation needs to have a chapter on methodology so you need to ask your course supervisor about this or refer to your program handbook to establish whether your department or faculty expects you to include one. A methodology section should make up around 10 - 15 percent of a dissertation. Usually, dissertations at undergraduate level in such subjects as history, law, and politics do not need a chapter on methodology (since these mostly require the student to examine existing material or data and reinterpret this). By contrast, some dissertations require new information/data to be collected (examples would be dissertations in the fields of business, chemistry, and risk management). In cases where methodology chapters are not needed, the overall word count can be distributed among the paper's other chapters.

Research usually falls into two types (the primary and the secondary varieties) while the analysis of research material falls into three primary types (qualitative, quantitative, and a combination of both (mixed analysis)).

  • The first of these types of research - the primary variety - means collecting new or primary data or using (in subjects such as history) sources published by experts during the time period the events being researched belong to. For example, any questionnaires you use for collecting research data could be classified as primary-type research so letters written by Abraham Lincoln or Queen Elizabeth I would be classed as primary sources.
  • The second type of research - the secondary variety - means referring to or re-examining information or data that is already published or making further use of this for the purpose of a new study. Reusing questionnaires and using results that already exist or were previously published is known as secondary research. So, for example, any books or articles that refer to the previously-mentioned letters written by Abraham Lincoln or Queen Elizabeth I would be classed as secondary sources.
  • In terms of the different types of research analysis, the qualitative variety is generally used to a greater extent in subjects such as the arts and social sciences. This type of analysis tends to address the "how" and "why" questions with a view to explaining the reasons for a particular trend or event, and it tends to rely on empirical data or mathematical models for the purpose of explanation. It is common to use smallish focus groups in situations that involve both primary-type research and the qualitative method of analysis. It is usual to use questionnaires that are open-ended since these enable the student to collect and assess an array of oral responses, which they would then analyze using various qualitative methods. The reason for this technique is that the responses provided cannot always (or easily) be processed in the same manner as information collected from the closed-type questionnaires that are often used in quantitative research.
  • In terms of the quantitative style of analysis, the results produced relate only to the specific question or issue under investigation. This method tends to use computational, mathematical, and statistical analysis programs. In situations where a researcher merely wants to compute results and give a commentary about the numbers (or percentages) of participants who provided specific responses, they would be most likely to use questionnaires of the closed-end variety and then analyze the quantitative information generated from these. A statistical analysis program called SPSS is commonly used to analyze quantitative-type data.
  • As the name probably suggests, the style of analysis that uses the mixed method is one that involves using all or some of the techniques mentioned above. If, for example, a dissertation writer were assessing the effects of a hurricane in some particular place, they would very likely use both the research types described above. For instance, the literature review chapter would likely be comprised of secondary research data, while data might be collected using closed-end style questionnaires and responses analyzed using, say, a statistical analysis panel. Additionally, the writer would likely comment on any opinions that had been provided by subject matter experts in the course of interviews - this would come into the category of reviewing existing or available literature. In this respect, therefore, the dissertation writer would use the two types of research - the primary and the secondary varieties - and they would also use both types of analysis - the quantitative and the qualitative methods.

The approach you take largely depends on the topic or subject matter you are dealing with and the manner in which you will collect primary research data. Obviously, if a dissertation is mainly based on data that already exists, then the chosen method would be secondary research. By contrast, if the dissertation writer decides to undertake street-style interviews about fashion for a BA in Retail Marketing, their primary focus would be on the collection of primary-type data using quantitative or qualitative methods or a combination of both methods. We recommend you learn more about the various research methods in order to thoroughly understand the different types.

The chapter dealing with methodology should explain your reasons for choosing the particular approach you have chosen. When you are doing this, it is also advisable that you briefly explain why other methods or approaches are not appropriate in this case and how you have dealt with any negative sides to your chosen approach. So, for example, if you have chosen to conduct interviews, you might want to specify that you included a few "closed-end" questions in order to minimize any personal prejudice or bias you (the interviewer) might have.

Regardless of which approach you settle on it is essential you offer justification for your choice and that you reference existing literature to underline this. As is the case with the section on background information, a methodology chapter should be based on expert or scholarly opinion. On's website, you will find a list of books available on the different research methodologies and these will also explain the strengths and the weaknesses of each approach. Additionally, these are the types of books a professor or lecturer might expect you to reference in this section, but a lot depends on the course you are taking.