Methodology (also called manner) is defined as
- "the analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline",
- "the systematic study of methods that are, can be, or have been applied within a discipline" or
- "a particular procedure or set of procedures" .
It should be noted that methodology is frequently used when method would be more accurate. (This is a classic example of word inflation.) For example, "Since students were not available to complete the survey about academic success, we changed our methodology and gathered data from instructors instead". In this instance the methodology (gathering data via surveys, and the assumption that this produces accurate results) did not change, but the method (asking teachers instead of students) did.
Methodology includes the following concepts as they relate to a particular discipline or field of inquiry:
- a collection of theories, concepts or ideas;
- comparative study of different approaches; and
- critique of the individual methods
Methodology refers to more than a simple set of methods; rather it refers to the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that underlie a particular study. This is why scholarly literature often includes a section on the methodology of the researchers. This section does more than outline the researchers’ methods (as in, “We conducted a survey of 50 people over a two-week period and subjected the results to statistical analysis”, etc.); it might explain what the researchers’ ontological or epistemological views are.
Another key (though arguably imprecise) usage for methodology does not refer to research or to the specific analysis techniques. This often refers to anything and everything that can be encapsulated for a discipline or a series of processes, activities and tasks. Examples of this are found in software development, project management and business process fields. This use of the term is typified by the outline who, what, where, when, and why. In the documentation of the processes that make up the discipline, that is being supported by "this" methodology, that is where we would find the "methods" or processes. The processes themselves are only part of the methodology along with the identification and usage of the standards, policies, rules, etc.
Hence, in properly conceived methodologies, researchers frequently acknowledge the need for rigour, logic and coherence which must withstand peer review as well as their fundamental approach to reality. For example:
- Do researchers believe in the paradigm of Positivism, which holds that truth is out there waiting to be discovered? In this view, facts exist independently of any theories or human observation. This perspective dominates Western philosophical tradition, which provides the foundation of Western science. Reality is assumed to be objective, that is, it exists outside our perception. In this paradigm, neither the search for truth nor truth itself is problematic: Truth is definite and ascertainable. Scientists conduct empirical experiments in laboratories and report what they have discovered as experts.
- Or is truth constructed (see Constructivism and Constructivist epistemology) within the minds of individuals and between people in a culture? In this view, facts become "facts" and are a construct of theories and points of view. This paradigm holds that both the nature of truth and the inquiry into that truth are problematic because truth is built (or constructed) from the ongoing processes of negotiation, revaluation and refinement of and between individuals. However, this is unrelated to perspectives outside the scientific community which attempt to equate research results with social and popular beliefs and belief systems.
Set of methods
Most sciences have their own specific scientific methods, which are supported by methodologies (i.e., rationale that support the method's validity).
The social sciences are methodologically diverse using qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches. Qualitative methods include the case study, phenomenology, grounded theory, and ethnography, among others. Quantitative methods include hypothesis testing, power analysis, metanalysis, observational studies, resampling, randomized controlled trials, regression analysis, multilevel modeling, and high-dimensional data analysis, among others.
- Creswell, J. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
- Creswell, J. (2003). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
- Guba, E. and Lincoln, Y. (1989). Fourth Generation Evaluation. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications.
- Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
- Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged, W.A. Neilson, T.A. Knott, P.W. Carhart (eds.), G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, MA, 1950.
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