Dissertation Methodology Help
What belongs in the "methods" section of a paper? This depends on the type of dissertation but here is the general content:
1. Information to allow the reader to assess the believability of your results. You need to explain HOW you are going to carry out your research and WHY you have chosen the method that you chose. WHY not other methods? WHY will this method produce the best results?
2. Information needed by another researcher to replicate your research, if applicable.
3. Description of your materials, procedure, theory. This is especially important for scientific papers. For other papers, you should be explaining things like, WHERE are you going to find materials to analyse? WHY are you going to look there? WHERE else COULD you find materials to analyse (perhaps you're not going to look there - why not?)
4. Calculations, technique, procedure, equipment, and calibration plots, where applicable.
5. Limitations, assumptions, and range of validity. What limitations are there on your research and your method? Is there simply too much material to look at? How and why did you choose the method of limiting your data or resources to certain information?
The methods section should answer the following questions:
1. Could one accurately replicate the study (for example, all of the optional and adjustable parameters on any sensors or instruments that were used to acquire the data)?
2. Could another researcher accurately find and reoccupy the sampling stations or track lines?
3. Is there enough information provided about any instruments used so that a functionally equivalent instrument could be used to repeat the experiment?
4. If the data is in the public domain, could another researcher lay his or her hands on the identical data set?
5. Could one replicate any laboratory analyses that were used?
6. Could one replicate any statistical analyses?
7. Could another researcher approximately replicate the key algorithms of any computer software?
Citations in this section should be limited to data sources and references of where to find more complete descriptions of procedures. Do not include descriptions of results.
What is a methodology?
A methodology is a system of organising principles underlying an area of study. Methodology is a form of standardisation or framework, that allows things to be compared on a like-for-like basis, and allows findings to be replicated so as to validate them. Methodology also ensures that findings are as true to reality as they can be within a given school of thought. People working within a given school of thought rely on methodology to interpret existing information, discuss ideas and concepts, and to discover new information. Methodology is the framework that allows the body of human knowledge to progress. Through using a standard approach to creating new information, all people working within a given field can continually review, refine and validate (or invalidate) previous findings, until knowledge that is as accurate as possible is found. Methodology includes all of the things that are crucial to a piece of research being carried out effectively. It includes philosophical approaches, theoretical models, rules for creating hypotheses and operationalising concepts, rules about designing and conducting meaningful experiments and how to collect and analyse data, and rules for writing up results. All of these things are encapsulated within a process, and make up an integrated system for studying or researching something within a specific field. A methodology includes sub-methodologies, or subordinate organising principles, which integrate into the hierarchy of the overall methodology.
This piece of writing will use two examples to illustrate the types of things that are included in a methodology, and how they integrate to form a system of organising principles. The first example is that of natural science, and the second is that of social science. Natural science methodology and social science methodology share some organising principles, but also differ within their respective methodologies as to how methodology is applied, so the hierarchy of organising principles differs between natural and social sciences. The reason for this is that methodology must not only align to philosophical and theoretical approaches of the school of though the methodology operates within, but it must also align to the nature of the subject matter being studied.
Within both the study of natural sciences, and the study of social sciences, the system of organising principles or methodology takes the form of a standard process that defines how research is carried out;
- Operationalise concepts
- Design experiment
- Collect data
- Analyse data
- Report findings (in terms of relevance to underlying theory)
Within this process there is a tension between theory approaches and operationalisation / design. Specific theoretical approaches, or philosophical schools of thought are often associated with specific approaches to methodology. Research findings can be weakened or even invalidated by an inappropriate approach to methodology in terms of the underlying theoretical / philosophical principles of the research. This is one of the reasons that following methodology is important. Other people working within a given school of thought can understand a piece of research and how it was carried out because of shared methodology. The methodology therefore allows research to be critically peer reviewed, and invalidated or validated through replication of the research following the same methodology. One of the components needed within the natural science methodology is closure. In order for something to be studied, the subject of study needs to be contained within a defined environment or situation, or a closed system. Closure can be achieved in several different ways, and natural science methodology tends to utilise different methods of closure to social science methodology. This illustrates how methodology comprises sub-methodologies, all of which integrate into an overall system of organising principles.
Natural science methodology utilises experimental closure, where the specific events and variables being studied are controlled so as to exclude interference from influences that are deemed to be not relevant to the experiment. This is a weakness of the natural science methodology. If the influences that are excluded are actually relevant, then the findings of the research are invalidated. Where this is the case, methodology allows the experiment to be understood, critically reviewed and where possible refined, and this is how knowledge is extended – by continually refining and replicating experiments to ensure that the findings are true to reality. Both social science methodology (e.g. economics) and natural science methodology can also utilise a system of theoretical closure, where reality is modelled or replicated, and the inputs and design of the model are controlled, thereby delivering a closed system by excluding extraneous influences. Again, the weakness here is the possibility of excluding something that is actually relevant, thereby invalidating the results.
Social science methodology with respect to for example, psychology and sociology, utilises statistical closure, where unwanted influences, and the potential for findings to come about merely by chance, are excluded through statistical methods. This allows for the subject of study to be more fluid and ill-defined than would normally be acceptable within natural science methodology. These different methods of closure are necessary because of the different subject matters of natural sciences and social sciences. Natural sciences tend to focus on empirical things, or things that can be physically perceived, whereas social sciences tend to focus on less concrete subjects of study, such as how people remember things, or how individuals relate to society. Because the social sciences study things that are not easily defined, the method of closure utilised is necessarily more flexible.
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The path to knowledge
Methodology then is a key element of conceptualising knowledge, carrying out meaningful experiments / research, and communicating the findings. Whilst methodology at a general level is the same across natural sciences and social sciences, we can see how methodology is applied differently across subject matters, according to the nature of the subject being studied. The reason social and natural sciences share at a general level, a common methodology, is that both have their roots in the empiricist movement that developed during the Enlightenment. As natural and social sciences developed their respective schools of thought, the methodology central to both differentiated. It is no coincidence that methodology originated in the Enlightenment – the thinkers behind the Enlightenment sought to bring prosperity to humankind through scientific knowledge. In line with their stance, scientific methodology today seeks to accomplish the same goal. Without methodology, there would be no scientific progress, as findings would not be comparable, even within the same school of thought. Methodology defines the framework within which human knowledge is understood, communicated, validated, and developed. Methodology is to knowledge as language is to communication.