Friday, 21 May 2021

A hierarchy for methodological choices

There is a hierarchy for putting together our research recipe of methodology and methods when we are proposing a new research project. 

First we start with methodology, which contains epistemology (a subjective or objective paradigm or philosophy), then inquiry strategy (inductive, deductive, abductive or mixed), then research design (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed).

Secondly we move onto methods, which starts with the main data collection method (interviews) followed by the type of interviews (semi-structured), then the sampling method (or selection method for qualitative research), then the participant details, then data sorting, then analysis, then ethical issues, then limitations.

Each of these need to explain the general theory, then explain why this has been chosen for your topic, then apply your topic to the theory.

I have found that I keep explaining to students "create steps: state your paradigm (cite); define your paradigm (cite); connect it strongly to your project using key project parameters or characteristics. The same format can be followed for all methodological and methods choices, clearly showing your mastery of methodology/method. You can rewrite later, but first work through each step."

One example of how we might navigate through all these choices for methodology which fit together is as follows:

  • Epistemology (aka paradigm or philosophy): The research paradigm is constructivism, where the experiences and perspectives of the participants will co-create new knowledge (Kivunja & Kuyini, 2017). The [details of project characteristics] fits with this due to [specific project constructivist connections].
  • Inquiry strategy: Taking an inductive approach allows knowledge to emerge from the data through in-depth analysis and for new knowledge to be developed (Queirós et al., 2017; Thomas, 2006). The [details of project characteristics] fits with an inductive approach due to [specific project inductive connections].
  • Research design: Qualitative research supports a constructivist approach with an inductivist strategy, focusing on the understanding and explanation of the research problem. The qualitative approach allows for context and flexibility, and aligns with interviews as a data collection method (Leavy, 2014; Queirós et al., 2017). The [details of project characteristics] fits this design due to [specific project qualitative connections].
And for methods:

  • Data collection method: Interviews, when the focus lies in the thoughts and perceptions of the participants, enable the gathering of rich, in-depth information (Fontana & Frey, 2005). The interactive nature of interviews develops a mutual understanding between the interviewer and interviewee, leading to more accurate data via rephrasing (Alshenqeeti, 2014). Recorded interviews may be repeatedly reviewed, allowing a detailed and rich data analysis (Alshenqeeti, 2014).  The [details of project characteristics] fits this data collection method due to [specific project method connections].
  • Detail of data collection: Semi-structured interviews are those where question order and phrasing may be modified by the interviewer to best suit the participant's narrative style and context (DeJonckheere & Vaughn, 2019). The collection of open-ended data in a semi-structured way allows the deeper exploration of participant thoughts, feelings and beliefs about a particular topic (DeJonckheere & Vaughn, 2019). The [details of project characteristics] fits this data collection method due to [specific project method connections].
  • Sampling/Selection: Qualitative research uses non-probability participant sampling - or selection (Jones, 2015) - deliberately choosing participants. A criterion-based selection approach is where a list of desired characteristics or experience are pre-determined, and participants must match those factors to be included in the study, while ensuring diversity and symbolic representation (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). [Detail how participant numbers were determined]. The [details of project characteristics] fits this data collection method due to [specific project selection connections].
  • Participants: [detail previous similar studies and the participants they selected]. The [details of project characteristics] fits this study's participants due to [specific project method connections].
  • Data organisation: [detail how you will record, transcribe, and filter data; the tools that will be used, and why; how long it is all likely to take; how you will ensure quality data is generated or used]. The [details of project characteristics] fits the organisation methods due to [specific project method connections].
  • Analysis: Responses will be clustered using thematic analysis; where data will be reviewed multiple times to find patterns of "wholes and holes" (Suter, 2011, pp. 348-349). Themes may be sought through literature (a priori) and through the research data (emergent codes) to make sense of data (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Saldana, 2009). The [details of project characteristics] fits this data collection method due to [specific project method connections].
  • Quality: Research quality in qualitative studies is determined via trustworthiness criteria of credibility, dependability, transferability, and confirmability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Credibility may be established via the triangulation of data sources (Shenton, 2004). Transferability arises from rich, thick data descriptions, clear context, and method replicability (Shenton, 2004).  Dependability arises through clear processes for data collection and analysis (Holloway & Wheeler, 2009; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Confirmability arises from clear sense-making in the findings and conclusions (Holloway & Wheeler, 2009). The [details of project characteristics] fits this data collection method due to [specific project method connections].
  • Ethics: [Explain any ethical issues which may need to be considered, and why they are important in this context]. The [details of project characteristics] fits this research due to [specific project method connections].
  • Limitations: Interview-based data collection has a number of limitations, despite its utility as a constructivist method. An “interview cannot be a neutral tool” (Fontana & Frey, 2005, p. 659), as information exchange involves two people interacting with “unavoidable conscious and unconscious motives” (p. 696). Participants may also be reticent in sharing certain information or perceptions, which may cause structural data biases, reducing dependability (Alshenqeeti, 2014). The [details of project characteristics] fits this data collection method due to [specific project method connections].

I hope this example provides some ideas for potential approaches to how to tackle a project proposal methods chapter.



  • Alshenqeeti, H. (2014). Interviewing as a Data Collection Method: A Critical Review. English Linguistics Research, 3(1), 39-45.
  • Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.
  • DeJonckheere, M., & Vaughn, L. M. (2019). Semistructured interviewing in primary care research: A balance of relationship and rigour. Family Medicine and Community Health, 7(2), e000057.
  • Fontana, A., & Frey, J. (2005). Chapter 27: The Interview - From Neutral Stance to Political Involvement. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.) (pp. 695–728). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Holloway, I., & Wheeler, S. (2009). Qualitative Research in Nursing and Healthcare. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 
  • Jones, I. (2015). Research Methods for Sports Studies (3rd ed.). Routledge.
  • Kivunja, C., & Kuyini, A. B. (2017). Understanding and Applying Research Paradigms in Educational Contexts. International Journal of Higher Education, 6(5), 26-41.
  • Leavy, P. (Ed.). (2014). The Oxford handbook of qualitative research. Oxford University Press.
  • Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. SAGE Publications, Inc. 
  • Queirós, A., Faria, D., & Almeida, F. (2017). Strengths and Limitations Of Qualitative And Quantitative Research Methods. European Journal of Education Studies, 3(9), 369–387. 
  • Ritchie, J., & Lewis, J. (2003). Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers. SAGE Publications Ltd. 
  • Saldaña, J. (2009). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Shenton, A. K. (2004). Strategies for ensuring trustworthiness in qualitative research projects. Education for Information, 22(2), 63–75.
  • Suter, W. N. (2011). Introduction to Educational Research: A Critical Thinking Approach. SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Thomas, D. R. (2006). A General Inductive Approach for Analyzing Qualitative Evaluation Data. American Journal of Evaluation, 27(2), 237–246.

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