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Thesis writing in the humanities and social sciences: Writing about method and methodology
Aim The aim of method/methodology writing is to introduce, justify, defend and make explicit the assumptions underpinning the research design in order to enable the reader to evaluate the conclusions of your study. Placement and content of method/methodology writing in the thesis Discussion of the methodology and data analysis can be presented in a chapter of its own, or it can be integrated into the body of the thesis. Some typical options include:  incorporates key information in the introduction;  has a separate chapter following the literature review that describes the study design and key underlying assumptions;  has a long, dense chapter following the literature review that explores the theoretical ideas that underpin the research design or mode of analysis;  includes information about method/methodology in a number of chapters of the thesis, particularly the middle chapters that report directly on the findings. Whichever way you approach it, the methodology section should:  explain why you opted for the approach;  provide clear definitions of terms, groups, contexts, texts, institutions that form the focus of the research;  explain how and why you selected this context, group of informants or texts;  explain how you analysed your data;  refer to the research literature that underpins your research design;  refer to the research literature that underpins your method of data analysis;  canvass any ethical issues raised by the research methodology and reporting;  refer the reader to appendices containing information, letters, consent forms, letters of consent. The data analysis chapters should:  relate the data to the questions and issues raised by your research topic;  attempt to provide answers to the questions asked, or generate theories or insights. Questions for qualitative methodology writing:  What did I do? What was my method?  How long were the interviews? Were they structured, semi-structured, open ended? Why? How many interviews were there? Where did they take place?  Who did I sample/interview/survey/observe?  Why did I choose these people/organizations/contexts?  How did I access these people/organisations?  Who did I exclude? Why did I exclude them?  What important considerations influence the results, or the interpretation of the results? ________________________________________________
Learning Connection, Research Education, Wendy Bastalich 2005


Common mistakes in method/methodology writing
Poor introduction of chapter themes A poor introduction tells you what method/methodology chapters in general cover, rather than what your method/methodology chapter will cover and why. Example of poor introduction of method/methodology section/chapter:
In this chapter I describe my reasons for choosing the methodology and the methods for this study. It provides:  The overview of the study;  The rationale for the choice of research approach and methodology;  The rationale for data collection processes including the research sites, informants, and strategies for collection of data;  The rationale for data analysis processes;  The measures taken to ensure the credibility and trustworthiness of the data; and  The ethical considerations regarding research participants.

Example of good introduction of method/methodology section/chapter:
This chapter will examine the phenomenological approach used in this study to illuminate its central questions about the way people understand, interpret and use the storied content of art in their lives. This approach enabled exploration of perceptions of creativity in samples of different ages, genders and urban/regional groups to shed light on the perception that men, younger people and rural people are less interested in the arts that women, older people and urbanites.

The good example links the method and methodology to the central questions and aims of the research. Inappropriate use of jargon This error consists of using theoretical jargon incorrectly, without substantiation, or without linking it to a specific idea in the thesis. Example of poor use of theoretical jargon:
This project is informed by a theoretical approach grounded in feminist theory using concepts from both the critical and poststructuralist paradigms. … This will be a qualitative research project, with an interpretive focus, drawing on two major theoretical orientations: critical theory and poststructural feminism. I will attempt to build on the best of existing theories in order to explore new ways of theorising and researching that challenge the boundaries of conventional research, and attempt to connect theory with the everyday materiality on which it lays claim to knowledge.

Good example of theoretical justification of research design:
Qualitative approaches using interview and/or focus group discussions have been shown to provide the sort of „experiential understanding‟ that the study aims to achieve. The point „is not necessarily to map and conquer the world but to sophisticate the beholding of it. “Thick description”, “experiential understanding” and “multiple realities” are expected‟ (Stake, 1995:43). Because the research proceeds from the conviction that the issues involved in workplaces are inevitably complex phenomena, and because this study aims to discover what can be learnt about the conditions inherent in them, it is important to adopt Eisner‟s injunction to search out „the presence of voice‟ in the views of the participants. In his words the task is also to „account for‟ what I had been given an „account of‟ (Eisner, 1991:33-35). In this case the „account of‟ had been supplied by the quantitative survey data. Until the ways in which the respondents „account for‟ or understand their experience, an appropriately flexible and nuanced basis for instigating cultural change will not eventuate.

The good example focuses on explaining the underlying rationale for the study design, and avoids unnecessary use of jargon. ________________________________________________
Learning Connection, Research Education, Wendy Bastalich 2005


Common mistakes cont …
Giving the reader a theory lecture Naïve writing describes the theory behind the research without explicating the links to the study design, effectively telling the reader what they probably already know. Example of poor explication of theoretical rationale for study design:
Ontology relates to the nature of reality and the particular view of reality each of us holds. There are two main ontological positions. The first is that there is one fixed reality observable by an inquirer who has little if any impact on the object being observed. The second is that reality consists of an individual‟s mental constructions of the objects with which they engage, and that the engagement impacts on the observer and the situation being observed.

Good example of theoretical rationale for study design:
The research is informed by a constructionist ontology which assumes that it is impossible to separate the inquirer from the inquired-into (Guba and Lincoln, 1989) and that the inquirer and inquired-into are interlocked in an interactive process in which each influences the other (Mertens, 1998). Based on this understanding, the qualitative research design aimed to elicit rich experiential data about the phenomenon within the everyday context within which it is negotiated and made meaningful.

See also good example of theoretical justification for study design above. Provision of irrelevant detail Irrelevant detail is any information that does not work to support the central idea of the thesis, to elucidate the assumptions underpinning the research design, or to substantiate the terms within which the validity and reliability of the findings is to be understood. If it doesn‟t work in one of these ways, it does not belong in the thesis. Example of provision of unnecessary information
All interviews were recorded on two tape recorders in case of breakdown. This proved to be a savior on several occasions, as one tape recorder developed a faulty warning light, and sometimes I didn‟t realize that the batteries were low and the recording fading away. Transcription took between two and two and a half hours for a one hour tape, depending on the audibility of the tape. When people were talking about intimate personal details they tended to speak more quietly, and interviews out in the open tended to have a lot of distortion caused by wind and road noise, and were difficult to transcribe.

Activity: Writing about methodology Skim read the methodology thesis chapter provided paying particular attention to the underlined text. In your small group: 1. Write the purpose of each section of boxed text in the margins of the chapter. 2. Make a list of the good qualities of this thesis chapter. Provide examples. 3. Make a note of your comments and share them with the larger group.

Learning Connection, Research Education, Wendy Bastalich 2005

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