Monday, 15 March 2021

A simple view of method

There is some research that, when you read it, sounds incredibly well-planned. But am also wondering if we get into the habit of making our methods sound good at the end; as opposed to actually being good from the outset.

I suspect that we tend to make methodology and methods too complicated - arcane, even - in academia. All the esoteric categories and sub-categories sound so deliberate. However, the more I read, the less sure of the 'deliberateness' I become. 

Recently I ran across these powerful words:

"I begin to see that the whole idea of a method for discovering things is ex post facto. You succeed in doing something, or you do something so well that you yourself want to know how you did it. So you go back, trying to re-create the steps that led you, not quite by accident, not quite by design, to where you wanted to be. You call that recreation your ‘method’. (Koller, 1983: 88 [...])" (Thorne, 2016, p. 19).

Wow. Well, it looks like other people also think we 'make it up' as we go along in research. Even when we write our methodology up when we go to publish our work, we tend to follow a "drunkard's walk" (Heinlein, 1980, p. 164) approach. A drunkard's walk can be defined as:

"a mathematicians' term for a two-dimensional random search. The name comes from the colorful image of a drunk standing in the dark between two lamp posts. The drunk wants to get to a lamppost — he doesn't care which — but he's so intoxicated that he can't control which direction he's stepping in; all he can control is that he is walking toward a light. Every step he takes is a 50/50 split between going one way and the other. Eventually he will reach a light, but how long it'll take him is the big question" (Schroeck, 2012).

The more expert we become and the more experience we accumulate, the fewer our elements of drunkard's walk will be. But is that because we have learned more about our 'chosen' method, or is it that we have learned what category our natural method inclination is most aligned with? 

Or some of both? And does it matter? 



  • Heinlein, R. A. H. (1980). The Number of the Beast. New English Library. 
  • Koller, A. (1983). An unknown woman: A journey to self-discovery. Bantam.
  • Schroeck, R. (2012). Latest Update: 29 November 2012
  • Thorne, S. (2016). Interpretive Description: Qualitative Research for Applied Practice (2nd ed.). Routledge.


  1. Actually, your third reference should cite "Schroeck, R.", as that's my site and text.

    1. Thanks so much, Bob: updated to "R", now!


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