Editor’s note – An important aspect of learning in Higher Education is undertaking research. Research methods and methodology are terms students often come across, many HE institutions run ‘Research Methods’ modules but what do these terms mean? In this article, Dr Nadia Anwar discusses both terms and tackles their use when preparing students for research. Enjoy – AA.
Most of the books on research prefer the titles ending or highlighting the words ‘method’ or ‘methodology’ such as, ‘Introduction to research methods’ or ‘Research methodology’, ‘A primer to research methods’, ‘A handbook of research methodology’, ‘An overview of research methods’, ‘Research methods in social sciences’, ‘Current methodologies in life sciences’, ‘A guide to methodology’ to name a few. Please note this is a general list of prevalent and popular book titles gleaned from hundreds of available books and in no way targets any specific writer or book. These are indeed very helpful resources, carefully designed to assist the readers initiate their research journey with a solid footing and base. Some even taking the responsibility to prepare the researchers in advanced level research.
However, through experience I have observed that because of the variety of uses and meanings given to research methods and methodologies, they also generate a very disturbing problem for the researchers (especially from social sciences and humanities disciplines) whose acquaintance to research jargon is still at its primary stage. This article, specifically, is going to look into the chaotic nature of labels given to research procedures which in turn, create multiplicity of interpretations and confuse students and researchers. Moreover, it will also try to challenge the mismatch between the titles of the books and their contents. In other words, the targeted question is whether research method and research methodology can work both for the specific role they play in the overall research and used to encompass the whole research procedure at the same time?
Let us start with the etymological understanding of the problem words. From Latin ‘methodus’ and Greek ‘méthodos’, the lexeme ‘method’ refers to the ‘systematic course’, equivalent to Greek ‘hodós’ meaning road or journey. Naturally, the meaning evolved to reflect the procedural dynamics of conducting a research. In academia, method, which is sometimes replaced with mode, takes into account the way something comes about or happens. For many critics and analysts such as Griffin (2013), Dawson (2002), and Kothari (1990) to name a few, methods are the tools or techniques used to collect data or conduct a research. In other words it is the operationalizing of research. For a researcher, it turns out to be the most appropriate and logical procedure that suits his/her research.
As analytical tools research methods can be used to collect data (observations, interviews, questionnaires, opinionnaires, surveys, case studies etc.), establishing relationships between variables through statistical tools (standard Deviation, Correlation, T-Test etc.) or checking the accuracy of the results. They may, at the level of structure, guide the researcher step by step to walk on the tightrope of analysis. For example, methods such as content analysis, discourse analysis, thematic analysis, textual analysis, visual analysis, narrative inquiry, close reading, ethnographic etc. prove very useful for the researchers from social sciences and humanities.
Conflation of ‘method’ and ‘ology’ (field of study), the word ‘methodology’ comes from modern Latin ‘methodologia’. It takes the concept of method to another level by systematizing the set of methods by referring to the underlying principles governing a given discipline. These are the rules of organization that provide a framework to a given research. In humanities, for example, these are the critical / theoretical or philosophical frameworks which define the rules under which a given research is conceived. It is that particular stance, attitude, or perspective that lends originality to the research.
Through comparative insight into the problem words Griffin (2013) gives a comprehensive and succinct definition of methodology. He asserts: “Whilst research methods are concerned with how you conduct a given piece of research, methodologies are concerned with the perspectives you bring to bear on your work such as a feminist or a postcolonial one, for example”. The perspectives about which Griffin talks about are termed as the ‘philosophy’, ‘general principle’ or ‘overall approach’ by Dawson (2002). A very interesting observation about these two entities is that sometimes they can work both as method and methodology – for example, the research done from the perspective of deconstruction and hermeneutics – since they both allow a systematic method as well as a philosophical framework to the researcher to carry out a research.
From the above discussion, one can see that the methodology is like a mould which works as a container of the research material. It shapes it up to limit its philosophical outreach, while the method is that ladle with which the research material is stirred and mixed in the mould. The assimilation of research argument or thesis into the content or data takes place through method; however, what keeps the boundaries of the research in check is the methodology. This discussion also answers the question raised in the beginning about the loose practice of titling the books on research by referring to the individual aspects of the whole research procedure. A rather less confusing and better choice, I think, is to let the ‘method’ and ‘methodology’ rest in the body of such books as two crucial and inevitable parts of research, instead of standing as ultimate titles.
With all that said, an important issue still prevails. Can these methods and methodologies, which are rooted strongly into their definitive domains can also be adapted and appropriated for research in other disciplines? I believe, they certainly can and such a practice should be encouraged as well. Such an undertaking may solve many research related problems faced by less scientific fields such as encountered by researchers in humanities. Although fields of knowledge are in no way deficient in methodological frameworks, there is still a need to devise, design and create methods according to the specific needs and requirements of a discipline. It may save many a good research becoming a victim of someone’s deficient knowledge or field specific approach and face neglect to die an untimely death. However, it is equally important that the appropriations are done under strict guidance of the instructors and supervisors to avoid incongruous alliance between subject area and method. In any case one wouldn’t like to serve drink in a pan and egg in a jug.
About the author – Dr Nadia Anwar has a PhD in Nigerian drama from the University of Northampton, UK. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore. Her primary research interests are African literature in general, specifically focused on Nigerian theatre and drama.
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