Methodologies

This post will not be about all the types of methodologies you can use in your PhD work. That really is for you to research and uncover. It is a main part of the PhD work, particularly if you are in the sciences. Methodology is also very particular to a project, and no two PhD theses will have the same exact methodology, unless you are purposely trying to recreate a project previously done.

What this blog post will be about is how to talk about your chosen methodology(ies). It is often a separate chapter in the thesis (definitely if you are STEM). It is also, usually, the second easiest part of your PhD to write, next to the literature review. The Lit Review is about reviewing other people’s research. The Methodology chapter is about talking about what methods someone else has already created that you have chosen to use for your thesis. Once again, it’s mainly other people’s research and how it can work for you.

Some people start with the methods chapter. That’s fine. Really, whatever works best for you, as we’ve <a href=”https://phdingfordummies.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/the-order-of-the-thing/”>previously</a&gt; covered.

Having said that, perhaps where we really need to begin is with a definition or two.

Method: a form of procedure for accomplishing something.

Methodology: a system of methods used in a particular study.

In other words, you use a method in your work, and those methods make up your methodology.

Some people only use one method for their research study, which is fine. That still makes up your methodology.

Some people use several.

I used four. Never* ever do that.

*No, you can, just realise it’s going to be a headache and a half.

I had two methods for collecting data, one for analysing it, and a method I used to structure my thesis. But I’ve never chosen to do things easily.

I also did not have a methodology chapter. This is more common in the humanities. I had a chapter where I talked about method, but as it was a method taken from a theory, the chapter was more about the theory and why I was using it, and what the method was. More Lit Review than Method in the end.

My Methodology therefore formed a part of my Intro chapter (nearly half of it, in fact). That’s okay too. Whatever works for your thesis is what you should do. Always discuss things with your advisor/supervisor, who can give you direction as to weighting and wordage.

Methodology in the thesis itself is all about what methods you employed for your work, why you chose those methods, and how those methods lead you to your conclusions/results. It’s pretty straight forward, and writing the chapter in that order is best. Usually, the last part of that chapter ‘how those methods lead to results’ is what leads you into the rest of your thesis where you talk about the data you collected and the results of that data. Think of the methodology chapter here as sort of a ‘this is what’s coming’. Your thesis is not about dramatic reveals. You give away your results in your introduction. Usually within the first couple of pages, but at least by the end of the chapter. By the time your reader gets to your methods chapter (generally, but not always, after your Lit Review), they already know what your thesis is about and what your conclusion is. At least, they have if you wrote it correctly!

Don’t stress about this chapter. It should not take that much time. In STEM, methodology is more important and will be a big focus for your examiners, because method is so particular to research. In Humanities, it’s going to be less important than your results are. So focus on your analysis and results chapters (and your intro and conclusion chapters, because those are often what get read first). That’s not to say you shouldn’t spend time on the methodology chapter, but don’t let it run away with you. It should not be overtly long (again, unless you are STEM and even then, most of your thesis will be graphs, charts and other results/findings) or overly complicated.

Straightforwardly tell the reader why you picked these methods and why they worked for your research. Use theory, talk about how other researchers have used these methods, etc., but don’t go off topic into your results or your analysis. That’s what later chapters are for.

 

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