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Research methods

This section is designed to build on the earlier Overview of the research process section by exploring the process in more detail. Distinctions are drawn between research methods, research strategy, data collection methods and interpretation. There is also useful material on sampling and specific data collection methods.

Core reading provided in the module pack

Chapter 5 entitled Research methods in Biggam (2008)
John Biggam argues that research methods should be used as an overall term to describe strategy, data collection and interpretation. It is therefore important not to confuse it with data collection or strategy.

  • Research strategy, it is argued, is concerned with how one intends responding to 1 or more research questions in overall terms (e.g. case study, survey, historical or ethnographic research). He outlines specific research strategies in introductory form including: case study, survey, ethnography, experimental research, historical research, action research and grounded theory.
  • Data collection methods are concerned with how the relevant specific data is collected (e.g. questionnaires, interviews, literature or observation). Biggam goes on to briefly describe a range of sampling techniques (e.g. random, simple, stratified, cluster, systematic, quota, and convenience) and a method for calculating sample size. You may find this useful if using this method of data collection.
  • The framework for data analysis refers to what one does with the data once it has been collected or assembled. This is concerned with justifying and detailing how the data is to be interpreted.

Next steps
'Research methods' is perhaps a useful heading to include in the research proposal for the reasons Biggam outlines. Although different terminology is used, a distinction between research strategy and data collection methods occurs regularly in the research skills literature (as we have seen with Crotty who uses the terms methodology for strategy and methods for data collection methods). There are suggestions made to help with this in the later Writing the research proposal section.

Biggam's emphasis on making the process of data analyis/interpretation explicit in the research proposal can be valuable as it helps avoid the naive assumption that data collection itself automatically answers research questions. This can also surface potential problems with data collection methods at an early, and therefore retrievable, stage. If the research proposal involves sampling a target population (and of course it may not) then it is useful to show how that sampling is to be accomplished in the proposal.

Having now explored the perspectives of Crotty and Biggam, it is possible to combine them into 3 nested elements: epistemology, theoretical perspective and research methods. The last element, research methods, can in turn be split into 3 sub-elements: strategy, data collection methods and framework for data analysis/interpretation. Note that the term 'data' is used widely here to include a wide range of texts including: chapters, books, articles, novels, plays, poems, policy papers, organisational documents, interactions, objects or other cultural artefacts, as well as survey data.

Once you have selected one or two likely research strategies, each one can be explored in more detail. You will find specific texts on case studies, surveys, interviews, textual analysis etc. in most libraries.
Optional extension activities
Part 2 in May (2001).