thirteen reasons researchers get asked to write their methods chapter again

Dissertation examiners always check the methods chapter or methodological writings carefully. And the more the doctorate is seen as research training, the more important it will be for examiners to make sure that the relevant writings in the thesis really do indicate that the researcher can do the technical stuff properly. So here’s my list of what I look for in methods chapters and/or methodological writings, and what I’ve seen other examiners look for. To know the worst is to be better prepared. Well, that’s the goal.

1. The researcher does not know the difference between methodology and methods.

2. The researcher has written a long essay about epistemology and ontology. They have named their own stance but have failed to develop what it means for their subsequent choices of methodology and research design.

3. The methodology does not fit with the theoretical framework and/or the research tradition of the proposed study.

4. The researcher has failed to discuss debates within the research tradition in which they are working.

5. There is very little or no explanation of why this methodology has been chosen. The fit with the research questions is not made clear. Or…

6. The methodological approach and the research design do not fit at all.

7. The methodology is inadequately justified through reference to the relevant literatures.

8. The blank and blind spots, that, is the limits of the methodology, and/or the research design, are not considered.

9. The researcher has not considered their own positioning and the way that it might influence both the conduct and the results of the research.

10. The researcher has not adequately discussed the research design – the sample, the choice of methods, and the analytic approach – the relevant literatures have barely been canvassed.

11. There is no fit between the data that will be produced through the use of these methods and the data that is needed to answer the research questions.

12. There is a cursory treatment of ethics. This is especially difficult if the epistemological and methodological choices suggest this is a crucial issue.

13. There is no audit trail. There is a lack of information about what was actually done, with whom, when, where and the corpus of data that was produced.

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About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in dissertation, doctoral research, epistemology, methods chapter, research methods, research project, theory, thesis and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to thirteen reasons researchers get asked to write their methods chapter again

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  3. Edward says:

    Excellent advice for me both as someone who supervises dissertations and who is completing my PhD this year…well that’s the plan :-)

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to de-mystify the doctoral process. I am in the process of re-writing my methodology chapter in preparation to submit my full draft of PhD – so timely and clear!

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  7. Amanda (@AmandaWilson169) says:

    Very timely indeed I’m in the process of re-writing my methodology chapter too. Thanks :)

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  9. Very very interesting. Like a check box, in order for us to not forget anything. I will starte writing this chapter….too!

  10. Stephen Morgan says:

    I really like point 11 “There is no fit between the data that will be produced through the use of these methods and the data that is needed to answer the research questions”. Countless times I have seen this in research applications. Unfortunately I have also seen colleagues ask me to join them in working on a dataset, only to discover a complete disconnect between the hypotheses and the items in the research instrument that produced the data. You cannot retrofit a survey! So the article is a non-starter.

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  12. I agree with “1. The researcher does not know the difference between methodology and method.” I believe a symptom here is that both of these terms are used interchangeably. How would you describe the differences. Your comment will be most helpful.

    • Mariana Malta says:

      Methodology: the study of methods. The critical path developed by the researcher to develop a method. Used in some areas in the same sense as method.
      See here: http://users.jyu.fi/~jpt/doc/thesis/ime.html (in the footnote)
      Method is easy, and I can give your two references in my Information Systems area:
      see “Hevner, A.; March, S.; Park, J. & Ram, S. Design science in information systems research MIS quarterly, Society for Information Management and The Management Information Systems Research Center, 2004, 28, 75-105 ” (on page 79)
      and
      “March, S. & Smith, G. Design and natural science research on information technology Decision support systems, Elsevier, 1995, 15, 251-266″ (page 257)

      HOpe I helped!

    • Jan van Bracht says:

      That’s a good point, how should students clearly differentiate between both if even famous handbooks use the terms interchangeable??
      Hence, I decided to follow one of the literature guidelines, accepting that multiple definitions might exist (I think that fits to my constructivism world-view ;-) ). For my research project this means the following “hierarchy”:

      Research paradigm = Constructivism
      Research Methodology = Grounded Theory
      Research Method* = Case Study Approach
      Research Technique = Face-to-face Interviews

      I am not sure if this is correct, you finde for example literature that names the case study approach to belong to “methodoloy” and face-to-face interviews to be “research method”. Happy to receive comments. Jan

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  19. Jen says:

    Thank you Pat, this is really helpful (3rd year PhD)

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