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An overview of the research process

There are many introductions to the research process available. The reading below has been selected because it is a deliberate attempt to scaffold learning about research by offering a provisional framework for understanding.

Core reading provided in the module pack: chapter 1 entitled Introduction: the research process in Crotty (1998)
Michael Crotty identifies 4 interlinked elements in the research process. Although the 4 elements are related, it is useful to identify them distinctly in the research proposal as this can help with clarity and structure.
1/ Epistemology: the theory of knowledge that is embedded in the theoretical perspective.
2/ Theoretical perspective: the philosophical stance that informs the methodology.
3/ Methodology: the strategy or plan of action that lies behind the choice and use of data collection methods.
4/ Methods: the methods, techniques or procedures used to collect and analyse data related to the research question(s).

Epistemology
Simply put, Crotty states that epistemology relates to how we know what we know and how subject relates to object. For example, he defines an objectivist epistemology as the view that reality exists separately from consciousness. He defines a constructionist epistemology as the view that reality is not discovered but constructed. To the objectivist, subject and object are separate; whereas, to the constructionist, subject and object are combined. It is worth considering whether you see yourself (the subject) as separate from the topic (object) that you wish to research.

Theoretical perspective
He states that the theoretical perspective indicates a philosophy or belief about the purpose of the research. For example, he identifies a positivist theoretical perspective as the belief that careful research can attain objective truth. He suggests that an interpretivist theoretical perspective is the belief that research explores and constructs culturally derived and historically situated interpretations of the social world. It is worth considering whether you want to test a particular hypothesis (positivism) or explore a particular question more deeply (interpretivism).

Methodology
This is the overall plan of action or strategy for the research e.g. ethnography (understanding a culture through engagement or immersion), survey (understanding a large number of instances) or case study (understanding a particular instance). You could ask yourself what kind of methodology would help answer your research questions.

Methods
The methods, techniques or procedures used to collect and analyse data related to the research question(s) e.g. participant observation, questionnaire or document analysis. The focus here is on specific types of data collection and analysis. You could consider the kinds of data that would follow from your methodology and help answer your research questions.


Two examples
1/ A constructionist epistemological stance could be linked with an interpretivist theoretical perspective. This might lead to an overall ethnographic methodology, and participant observation and thematic analysis as methods of data collection and analysis.

constructionist epistemology ⇒ interpretivist theoretical perspective ⇒ ethnographic methodology ⇒ participant observation


2/ An objectivist epistemological stance could be linked with a positivist theoretical perspective. This might lead to an overall survey research methodology, and use of questionnaires and statistical analysis as methods of data collection and analysis.

objectivist epistemology ⇒ positivist theoretical perspective ⇒ survey research methodology ⇒ questionnaire completion


Next steps
1/ It is worth considering in detail Crotty's 4 interlinked and nested elements (epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology and methods). This can be reflected in the language used in the initial literature review. Put simply, in the literature review, if you state that Smith (2009) proved X or Jones (2008) established Y then this might suggest a more positivist approach. If you write that Smith (2009) claimed X or Jones (2008) argued Y then this can indicate a more interpretivist approach. With research aims and research questions, words like prove or test can indicate positivism. Words like explore or describe can indicate interpretivism.

2/ Crotty draws a distinction between methodology and methods e.g. a case study methodology could involve a range of data collection methods including interviews and documents. It is worth considering these points in relation to the research proposal. Also see the section on Research methods later.

3/ Consider your initial thoughts and feelings on:

Epistemological position: e.g. objectivist or constructionist?

Theoretical perspective: e.g. positivist or interpretivist?

Methodology e.g. ethnography, survey or case study?

Methods e.g. participant observation, questionnaire or document analysis?

There are more options to consider in relation to each of these in the core reading.


Optional extension activities
Chapter 2 in Blaikie (2007) for another take.