Designing Research Methods for a Thesis or Dissertation
The methods used to conduct advanced research may not be as various as research topics are, but they are undoubtedly numerous. In addition, research methods are always multiplying, with established methods undergoing alterations as scholars adjust and combine them in unique ways, and new methods being developed to enable research that might not have been imagined only a few decades ago. There are, then, many possibilities to consider as you work at designing the methodology you will use to conduct the research for your thesis or dissertation, and the advice I offer here may prove helpful.
A primary consideration as you reflect on your research methods may seem too obvious to mention, but it is sometimes forgotten or left on the back burner. This is the need to ensure that whatever research methods you might be considering for your thesis or dissertation will in fact prove effective in practice. They must enable and enhance your investigation of the topic, problem or phenomenon on which your research focuses; they must have significant potential to answer any research questions you have posed and test any hypotheses you might have formulated; they must, in short, be not only valid, but also the best available means of meeting your aims and objectives. As a general rule, then, your research methodology should arise from the topic or problem you are investigating, not the other way around, unless perhaps the topic you are exploring is methodology. The methods you choose may affect the precise nature and wording of your topic as well as what you can ask and discover about it, so to some degree topic and methods will develop together. It is therefore important to give a great deal of thought to the different methods you might use and to adopt a somewhat flexible attitude about your methodology as you begin working on your thesis or dissertation.
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Your primary mentor and other members of your supervisory committee will no doubt prove particularly helpful when you are refining your methodology. As more experienced researchers, they have already conducted studies of the magnitude you are just beginning and will very likely have practical knowledge of at least some of the methods and instruments you are planning to use. Take advantage of their expertise and experience by opening a discussion and raising questions about possible research methods. You might want to consider quantitative methods focussing on prediction, explanation and statistical analysis, or you may be hoping to approach your research topic qualitatively, focussing on description and exploration via textual analysis. In some cases it may be appropriate to combine these two approaches, supplementing the results of each with those of the other. You may intend to use tests, trials or experiments, or perhaps interviews, questionnaires and case studies. On the other hand, you may be planning to adopt a certain theoretical perspective or hoping to rely on observation (in person and/or via audiovisual equipment and recordings) or intending to exercise your ability to transcribe, translate and interpret ancient languages and scripts.
The possibilities and variations are virtually endless and there will almost certainly be further adjustments as you draft your methodology chapter, begin to implement your methods and receive feedback from your committee members. A positive approach to alterations and refinements that help you iron out potential problems, clarify procedures and determine an effective working design is essential if you are to conduct productive research and move forward with your thesis or dissertation without wasting valuable time. You also want to be sure that your methodology does not raise any ethical issues that may hinder your progress or render your research unusable. Your thesis committee should be able to help you avoid or resolve problems of this kind as well, and it is always wise to check university regulations and guidelines to be sure that any approval your methods may require will be forthcoming.
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