Tuesday 11 July 2017

Research Proposal Methodology Section Guidelines


Your study’s methodology is usually one large section, which I usually label as Section 4 of my proposal (see the template for an example of what this looks like). Under this section there are various subheadings which we’ll explore in detail in this chapter.

Your methodology section has to map out the exact steps you’ll take to perform your research, analyze the data your study generates, and write up the information into a coherent thesis. You’ll have to provide as much detail as possible for your reader in this section. It shows that you know exactly what you plan on doing, and also assures the reader that there are no unforeseen ethical concerns.

The four sections of your methodology include:
4.1  Theoretical Framework
4.2  Research Method/ Data Collection
4.3  Ethical Considerations
4.4  Sample Collection/ Participant Gathering

You’ll have to provide as much detail as possible under each of the relevant headings for your proposal. Don’t leave any lingering questions for your supervisor, the department panel or the ethics committee. Anything that might be relevant should be included. The entire methodology section should be about three to five pages in length, out of your total proposal length of 10 to 20 pages.

Theoretical Framework

Your theoretical framework tells the reader which theories you will rely on to inform your research approach. You always need to rely on particular theories or ways of thinking in order to guide your research; a theoretical background is like the perspective you will take when you observe and analyze your data, and the type of thinking you will do when you consider the answers to your research questions.

There are countless theories out there that could be used as background for your research. Ever field has many different perspectives which could be taken. For example, in psychology, there are humanist approaches, behaviorism, systems theory, psychoanalysis, and many, many, many more. The type of theoretical framework you choose will result in very different studies. If you choose psychoanalysis, for example, you’ll end up looking at gender dynamics, subconscious thought, repression, trauma, and other elements that are important in that field. Your thesis will look very different than if you’d chosen behaviorism, with its focus on trained or learned behaviors rather than necessarily the thoughts behind those behaviors.

A good place to start if you don’t know which theories or thinkers to use in your theoretical framework is to read the methodology sections of other theses that are similar to your field. Which theorists do they use? Which frameworks do they rely on? If you’ve read about ten or fifteen theoretical frameworks in articles and theses, which shouldn’t take you more than a few hours, you should start to have a pretty good idea of which researchers have a lot of clout in your field, and which theories are the most significant or useful for academics who work in your discipline. Now, go and read those theories yourself and try and see which ones could work for the type of research you are doing.

You don’t just have to use one theory, but it’s important to try and stay as simple as possible. If you choose two different perspectives, you’ll probably run into trouble when it comes time to analyze your data. Do you analyze it from behaviorism or psychoanalysis, since they’ll give two very different answers to the same information? Try and stick to one theory as far as possible, the one that’s the most useful for your aims.

Don’t just choose the theory that seems easiest to understand, but choose one that genuinely seems to fit with your study design. If you are studying the way that birds learn to solve complex puzzles, Keynesian economic theory is probably not the way to go.

Research Methods/ Data Collection

This section explains how you’ll perform your study, and how you’ll collect the data that you’ll later analyze within your theoretical framework. You need to explain exactly the steps that you’ll follow, in as much detail as possible, in order to carry out your research.

If your thesis is purely a literature review or literature analysis in fields like English Studies, History, Political Science or even the physical or health sciences, then explain to the reader how you will find relevant literature and what types of literature you will consider. Also, tell the reader why you will only consider the literature you’ve chosen and not other literature which might seem relevant. How does your study benefit from only looking at a certain portion of literature? Why would looking at other types of literature be detrimental to your study?

If the reason you are looking at only one thing or one set of data is because of time and space, you are free to say that in your research outline. Perhaps it will take a decade to gather all of the data in your field; that will be completely out of the boundaries of what’s expected for a master’s thesis. As long as you’re providing good reasons for the type of research you are doing, you should be fine with your research methods section.

If your research involves clinical trials, surveys, interviews or any other type of participation studies, you’ll need to also include a section on ethical considerations. This could form section 4.3 of your proposal. However, under research methods you should list the type of participation study that you are completing, how many participants you will have, whether you will ask structured or unstructured questions, where you will interview them, where you will find participants, and any other possible question that might arise. Your supervisor and your departmental committee want to see that you’ve considered everything, so give them as much detail as possible. You can always change it later, but at the start you should be as detailed and thorough as you can until your supervisor can help you to refine your methodology.

If your research involves personal observations or narrative research, you need to explain exactly how you’ll be doing your observations, and why you think that this form of data will be most beneficial to support your research aims and to advance knowledge in your field.

Ethical Considerations (for certain types of research only)

If you deal with participants, or if your research could impact plant or animal life or the environment in any way imaginable, you need to list these as ethical considerations. Even if something seems like an ethical grey area, you need to list it here.

Once you’ve listed all of the ethical issues, provide as much detail as you can about how you will prevent or avoid harm, discomfort or long-term negative impacts for participants or research subjects. Also, make sure that you state clearly that participants are free to leave the study at any point for any reason. Also state the precautions you take to ensure safety and preservation of plant and animal life and the environment. The more detail you provide here, and the more precautions you take, the easier it will be to get ethical clearance for your research.

Sample collection/ Participant Gathering

This is the section where you explain how you’ll find samples, participants or literature for your research. Give clear methods that you’ll use, like either snowball sampling, where one participant recommends someone else who might suit the purposes of your research, or convenience sampling, which is about which types of participants are most convenient for you to find. Clarify this in a lot of detail, but make sure you protect the anonymity of your participants.

Your entire methodology section, including all subheadings, shouldn’t be longer than five pages for a doctoral dissertation. Try and give your points in a clear, concise form.

Once you’ve completed your methodology section, you come to the centerpiece of your proposal, your literature review.

Review Your Learning:
·         Your methodology maps out the steps of your research
·         The theoretical framework is the perspective you will take when undertaking research and analyzing your data. It is grounded by an established theory that is respected in your field. It’s advisable to stick to one theory or only a few main theories to ground your thesis
·         The data collection section explains all of the steps you’ll take to gather data from literature, experiments or participation studies
·         Ethical considerations and participant gathering are important in certain fields where you need ethical clearance