Research Method & Methodology Revisited

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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Career Focus – eSports Industry

What do you think of when you hear eSports? If you’re not in the computing or gaming world, maybe not much. In this article, Marcus Clarke from Computer Planet shares some insight into the range of careers options available in the eSports industry? Enjoy!

Climbing the career ladder is no small feat. Luckily, the modern world has created a new industry for jobs within the eSports market. This multi-million dollar  industry revolves around competitive video games that are played online and streamed to thousands of fans internationally. The industry is becoming lucrative and is opening to not only professional gamers and tech-savvy roles, but also for typical career roles in finance, marketing and design.

Getting Into…Neurosurgery

An important part of our mission here in the APH is to demystify the world of work and careers. We often take for granted how difficult it can be to access information about what is required to succeed in a particular discipline.  This is why we routinely interview aspiring professionals and share their personal stories of the steps they took to excel in their careers.  Recently, Amara had the opportunity to interview Dr Andrew Alalade, a neurosurgeon with a subspeciality interest in skull base tumours and discuss his #MyCareerStory of building a successful career in Medicine in the UK as an international medical graduate. 

APH: Please can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

AA: My  school education started in the United Kingdom but I moved back to Nigeria and studied Medicine at the University of Ibadan. I returned to the UK to work on rotation as a Foundation Year 2 doctor.  My neurosurgical residency training was done in the London North Thames rotation and I had the privilege of training in some of the United Kingdom’s top neuroscience centres. I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England (FRCS SN) and a Fellow of the European Board of Neurosurgical Societies (FEBNS). On completion of my training, I obtained my Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) in July 2016. The CCT confers the title of specialist Neurosurgeon at Consultant level, which gives permission to practise as one in the United Kingdom.

#AcademicWriting – Aims & Objectives Revisited

 

You have a writing task where you have been asked to state the aims and objectives. Can both words be used interchangeably? When is it appropriate to use them? In this article, Nadia Anwar revisits the debate around aims and objectives and sheds more clarity as to their appropriate use.

‘Aim’ and ‘objective’, the two ever confused words, terms, lexical items, research markers, or whatever you may prefer to call them, are as ambiguous conceptually as their tagging is. Being a novice in research (which I believe I will always be because of my aversion to being called an ‘expert’), I happen to have a very inquisitive nature about how words become a norm and attain an established status, especially in the alleyways of the academic world. This, rather annoying, and somewhat debilitating curiosity, as it constantly diverts my attention to academically most ignored or termed as worthless pursuits, led me to make a distinction between the overused and overly done words frequently employed in research thesis, proposals, dissertations, and projects etc.

#UNIADVICE – Never too late or too old to learn something new

Widening access to higher education to non-traditional students has become quite an important target for Universities in the UK. It is known to improve the outcomes and opportunities for people who would not otherwise get such chances. On the aspiring professionals hub, we like to share inspiring stories about people from diverse backgrounds with interesting and inspiring stories about their experiences or career successes. In our latest ‘Reflections’ article, Anna shares her experience of higher education as a late-starter aka mature student and hopes her experience would serve to inspire others.

I am 46 years old and in my second year of an MSc degree in Social Work. I was one of 5 children raised by both parents who struggled financially due to unemployment. I left school at the age of 16 with two standard grades- Music and Art. I then went onto work in a shoe shop under the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). At the age of 17 in 1988 I started working in a electronics factory, this led me to working in international companies. However, as the electronic industry began to decline, with many people facing redundancies, I decided to take the step and go to college where I achieved a national certificate and higher national certificate (HNC) in social care in 2005.

#MyUniStory – The Dilemma of an African International Student

11669993-collection-of-african-flags-with-continent-stock-vectorRecently the APH met up with two vibrant individuals Brian and Belinda, recent graduates from a higher education institution in the UK. They are both passionate about supporting issues around global health and about Africa. In their two part opinion piece, they share their experiences as African students  as well as of interning in Africa (Part II). Enjoy reading and do share your opinions in the comments section.

Many Africans can only “dream” of the opportunity to pursue  quality training overseas at  Ivy league and Russel Group Universities of this world. Institutions to which the local education system that has nurtured our knowledge and skills through years of learning, contribute to the almost blind belief that there is no better source for top quality education and I dare say, developed intellect. It doesn’t help that our African education systems have hardly changed for decades, left behind by colonial masters whose teachings of everything from the alphabet to our understanding of African borders in geography and scientific discoveries of Alexander Fleming we still cling to. An archaic system that still equates learning with memory and teaches the partition of Africa, the prairies of Canada, and for some of us, a grid by grid map of New York City.

#UniAdvice – 10 great apps for University students!

It’s September and the beginning of a new academic year. Whether you’re just starting out or preparing for your final year at University, we can guess that your smart devices (phone or tablet) play an important role in your daily activities. Apps should not be left out of University life either and can be used as learning tools, to increase productivity as well as staying healthy. In this article, Amara shares a list of great apps* to kick start your studies this year. All  apps mentioned are available on both iOS and Android platforms with price plans from free!

*This is not a sponsored article. Neither the author nor APH has received any direct or indirect compensation for any products discussed.

Your University’s app – I would always recommend starting here first. As Higher Education continues to embrace technology in facilitating teaching and learning, almost every Higher Education Institution delivers their teaching using an online platform such as Blackboard™ which have associated apps. Apart from giving you access to all the teaching material, you can check your assessment deadlines, get feedback on your coursework, and communicate with other students in your class. Some University apps have more enhanced functionality providing students with information and services anytime, anywhere.

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Blackboard app

Evernote/Penultimate for Evernote – Have you ever written something important on a piece of paper just to lose it when it really mattered? With Evernote, you can have all your important information not only in one place but well organized for instant access. Every smartphone usually has an app for notetaking but with Evernote, you can attach images, embed voice files, scan documents, prepare to-do lists and set reminders. If you find typing your notes in class too difficult, Penultimate for Evernote is a great ‘type to text’ app that can convert your written notes to text and save into Evernote. The app also syncs your notes across devices so you can write a note on your iPhone and read it on your Samsung tablet. Another important advantage is that there is a website behind it so if you ever lose your device, your notes are still available.

Dropbox – My biggest fear at University was leaving my floppy disk in the library’s computer! Yes, there were storage devices before the advent of the memory stick! No more excuses of your dog eating your homework! With Dropbox, you have cloud storage of all your very important work which you can access from your phone/tablet. Ensure you always back up your files so the least you can lose is your latest draft and not all your work from 2010! It is also a good place to store and organize your holiday snaps and other memorable photos. We could all use some more gigabytes!

A flash card app for revision – We are so sure that if you are reading this, you are one of the conscientious students who prepares for revision early on in the semester by making their own notes. If you are, keep it up. If not, what are you waiting for? Flashcards are a great way of summarizing your taught material using your own words. You can note areas you need to conduct more research in or keywords that need to be more clearly defined. If you use flashcards already why not try an electronic version? These are less susceptible to loss and can be synced across your devices. Some allow you to embed pictures and audio into your flash card. What’s not to love about that? Examples include Evernote peek, StudyBlue, Quizlet and Chegg (available for iOS devices, please check for Android).

Read More – Sign up to get our essential checklist for succeeding in Higher Education

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Flashcards have been saving our lives for centuries : )
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Carry your revision everywhere you go!