Writing your dissertation methodology

What is a methodology, you ask?

The methodology section of your dissertation should appear right after the literature reviews and should flow naturally from them. Prior to writing your methodology you will have established your research questions and reviewed the literature on your topic. Additionally, you will have examined the methodology used by these scholars to reach their conclusions. These include the assumptions, theoretical frameworks, and methods they used for gathering, marshaling, and presenting their data. These observations, as well as discussions with your supervisor to plan how you will tackle your research question, will be what you have done. This could include planning how to gather data, which models you’ll be using to process it, and what philosophical positions will best support dissertationmethodology.com your work. Your dissertation methodology outlines how you plan to approach your dissertation.
What should my strategy look like?

Your methodology should clearly link your research question with the scholarship within your field that was surveyed as part your literature review. It also needs to outline the means you will use to arrive at your conclusions. The following will be included in your methodology section, regardless of the subject area.

An overview of the research questions you have asked.

The key to justifying your method is to demonstrate that it is suitable for the purpose you set out. The key questions you wish to answer should be briefly summarized in the introduction of your methodology. However, it doesn’t have the to be an exact repetition.
A description about your design or process

This is the heart of the method, but not a methodology. This section of your method explains your methods for gathering data and how to approach your research question. This section of your dissertation should be clear enough that someone else can understand and apply it. If your theoretical interpretation of a literary work or philosophical problem is new, the reader should be capable of applying your theory to other texts and problems. If you’re discussing a scientific experiment or a procedure, your reader must be able replicate the experiment in their lab. Your reader should be able, after having read your methodology section about how you introduced a new type statistic model, to apply it to their own data.
The background and the reason behind your design selection

Your methodology is not only about your method. It’s also about why you chose it. The methodology will include a part of the literature review. It will show that your choices are informed and grounded in sound scholarship. However, it should also demonstrate innovation and creativity. You must also make it clear that the reason for your choice is related to your research issue.
A written evaluation of the method chosen and its limitations.

Every research method is imperfect, so it is likely that you will have to make some compromises. Because you value the unique perspectives of each interviewee on the problem you are investigating, it might make sense to choose a smaller set of interviews than larger sets of data about their responses to the question. This does not mean that you have lost a quantitative approach for your problem that may have offered valuable insights. Be open with your problem and not be defensive.

While the format of your methodology chapter will look almost the same regardless if you are a researcher in a discipline, it may have different details depending on the topic area. Let’s have a look at some common types of dissertations, and what information you need in a methodology portion for each one.
Common types for dissertation methodology

A scientific investigation
The methodology section of a scientific research study must be based on rigour, reproducibility, and other important aspects. The methods you use must seem solid to the reader. There should not be obvious flaws or omissions in the design. The information you provide about your equipment and laboratory setup will allow you to share your methods with others. But, it is not enough to just include this information. It should also indicate that you have a plan and a way to handle any variables that could cause distortions (for example, false positives).

Your methodology should include information about – and justifications to – the statistical modeling you’ll use for analysing your data. You should remember that scholars might use any portion of your methodology as a starting point for other work. They may choose to analyze the results using a different model than you did, or vice versa.

A study in social or behavioural science
A social or behavioural science methodology, like a scientific one, must show both rigour (and reproducibility) so that another researcher can reproduce your study in its entirety or part. You need to think about additional questions due to the complex nature of working with human subjects. First, ask yourself some general questions about your analysis. Are you using quantitative or qualitative data? Or is it a mixed approach that uses both qualitative and quantitative data to provide background and context to quantitative data? Will you record interviews with your subjects or ask them to complete a questionnaire? Or, will you opt to not conduct your own research with humans and instead use pre-existing information or documentary evidence as your basis? How wide is the range of your data, and how do you draw conclusions? Is there any reason to believe your data and conclusions can be generalised to other settings, or are they highly specific to the cultural context or particular place where you did your research.

Your reader must also be satisfied that you have answered all questions. The ethics committees will sign off on your design. However there are aspects of your research that may not be acceptable to some readers. Address these concerns head-on. You can also justify your methods, by emphasizing their potential value.

A critical dissertation about the arts or humanities
It is equally important to have methodological rigour when working in the arts or humanities. This is because the method of communicating this rigour to your audience – or convincing them – can be a little different when you’re writing an Arts or Humanities dissertation. A methodology section in an Arts or Humanities dissertation is more closely connected to the literature reviews than a scientific or Social Sciences study. Even the most innovative dissertations, in the Arts or the Humanities, often involves applying X’s theories in a different context or combining X’s insights to generate a theoretical framework. It’s easy to forget about the methodology part of an arts and humanities dissertation. Instead, you can move from literature review to analysis more seamlessly. It’s important to justify your choices and explain how they relate in relation to your research question. Otherwise, critical readers may not be convinced that your analysis is appropriate.

It is crucial that your dissertation methodology includes an appreciation of the historical, cultural, and theoretical contexts of any frameworks you choose, especially where there is disagreement. If you are using the work of different or opposing schools, your methodology section must show that you understand how they differ and justify why you still use parts of each approach.

A creative arts dissertation
Many arts programmes allow students to choose to write a creative or critical dissertation. In most cases, however, your creative work must be accompanied, in all cases, by a significant critical essay (or introduction, commentary) that theorizes and critiques your creative process. It’s not an easy task to critique one’s own work. This is why it is so important to develop and adhere to a specific methodology. You have to show not only that you are capable of separating yourself from your creative work in order to see it objectively.

What should my methodology contain that is not required?

It is not necessary to seal off any section of your dissertation. However, you will find overlaps, such as between the literature review and your methodology. During edits, you may even find yourself moving material around between sections. You must resist the temptation to include any of the following in your dissertation process, even if it seems like they should be there:

A comprehensive review of the methodologies

It is likely that you will want to refer both to precedents for your dissertation method and to the theorists/practices upon which it is based when you are describing your own. You don’t need to be able to give an exhaustive overview of all the methods that you aren’t using.
Extensive, detailed equipment lists or procedural details.

Although your methodology section should enable readers to reproduce the research you have done, it should also provide a clear chapter that will keep your reader interested. If you have the ability to provide all the information that another scholar needs to reproduce your work within the body, please do so. If however, your methodology section appears to be a shopping list then you will need to move the most detailed content into an Appendix.
Raw data

You cannot reproduce data in the methodology sections, even if you are showing how a questionnaire is constructed or other data-gathering technique works. Such information can be included in an appendix, which you can then refer to.

Deciding on your methodology

You might have some initial ideas about how you want your dissertation to be conducted. These ideas will be discussed with your supervisor. You can also refine them as you study the other work in your field. The chances are that you have a general knowledge of the theories and schools of thought within your field. In fact, you might be able to identify the schools with which you identify best. You may not have experienced a broad range of literature before writing your undergraduate dissertation. This can make it seem overwhelming at first.

No matter what your level, your dissertation strategy will develop as your literature review and initial research questions are refined. The methodology and your literature review will both develop simultaneously. Your response to the literature will help guide you in deciding the approach you want to use to answer your research question. However your methodology will most likely be set by the moment you finish writing your literature analysis. This allows you to frame your methodology so it flows naturally from your field study. Of course, your methodology is not determined only by the methods of inquiry or schools that appeal to your interests, but it will also be determined by practical considerations. Unless you have access to an accelerator at your university, it is unlikely that your quantum Physics project will be based solely on theoretical projections.
What makes a great technique?

The answer depends partly on whether you’re writing a dissertation as an undergraduate or graduate student. The undergraduate dissertation is for most students their first chance at engaging in detailed scholarship in their fields. It also allows them to design and implement a rigorous research program. A successful undergraduate dissertation will require you to demonstrate a willingness to engage with diverse research areas, to synthesize opposing approaches to a question, and to translate this into a project design that will address your research problems at the appropriate scholarly level. For a successful undergraduate thesis, it is essential to be able synthesise the ideas of scholars from your field, and turn them into a method you can use to illuminate your research question. The best undergraduate dissertations will demonstrate originality of thought, and maybe even be able contribute to their field. But the focus will usually be on showing you have the fundamental research skills required to carry out investigative work.

A postgraduate thesis, in contrast, is expected to make a substantial contribution to high-quality, original research. The best postgraduate thesis will be published in scholarly monographs or leading journals. To enhance your academic standing and build your career as an early-career researcher, your dissertation’s impact on the field as measured by citations from other scholars will be critical. It is important that you remember that your dissertation’s impact on other scholars will not be limited to its findings or conclusions. The value of your research’s contribution to the field will only be measured by the number and quality of those who have engaged with it. Although some scholars may use your conclusions to support their work, others are likely to cite you more often if you create a framework that other scholars can reference. It is likely that your methodology will be the best part of your work, as it will be unique and well-supported by the research. Their own work might expand upon, modify or develop your methodology. They might also apply your methodology to another data set to challenge your findings or take it and use it in a totally new context.

The best postgraduate thesis are those that can convince at every stage. These dissertations must be based on a deep engagement with the field and provide convincing results. The methodology is where the dissertation’s potential impact on the field and the entire project revolves. The methodology of your dissertation should not only be able to answer your specific question, but it must also be transferable. It can be used by other scholars for similar questions. You should also emphasize the usefulness of your methodology framework when you present your dissertation. If your research is reduced to its conclusions only, you are underselling it. But the way it uses your data and source materials to reach those conclusions can be just as valuable as its conclusions.

Present your methodology

As we’ve already discussed in great detail, your dissertation method is the engine behind your dissertation. This means that it must be grounded, theoretically robust, and sufficiently adaptable to be used within other contexts. Focusing on all of this can make it easy to forget the fundamental purpose of all dissertations. All dissertations, regardless of their scientific merit, are pieces persuasive writing. Rhetoric is an important component of this persuasive function. However, it is often forgotten. Rhetoric is often criticized in mainstream discourse. Phrases such “pure rhetoric” (or “empty syntax”) can signify dishonesty and/or superficiality – but nothing good! However, rhetorical is an important component in all types of academic writing. It’s especially valuable when your goal is to convince the reader of the validity and value of a particular choice, like your choice for methodology.

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein talk about metacommentary. They describe it as “a way to comment on your claims, and tell others how – or how not – you think about them”. This type of commentary allows you the ability to dictate the content of the discussion of your work and to avoid any objections. You can’t just present your methodology in good rhetorical form, it’s not just decoration. It’s an integral part to the structural soundness of your work. Here are some ways metacommentary could be used to influence how your audience responds to your methodology.

The roads not travelled
It’s likely that your approach to answering your research questions is not the only one you considered. This is because you likely engaged with and read about many approaches, which you then decided against. You don’t need to get into the details of these methodologies in your methodology chapter (hopefully this is covered in your literature review), but it is important to remind your reader you did consider other methods before making your final decision. Even if the methodology you selected was chosen early in your research, it should still be presented as the result of careful consideration of all the factors.

A little bit more reassurance can go quite a distance.
Metacommentary can be used in judicious ways to fill in any gaps in your methodology section. Or to simply balance scholarly groundedness with innovation if you feel your methodology has veered a bit too far. Some may find your method too bold or innovative. You can acknowledge this, but make sure you also highlight its relation to the established work in that field. For example, it might be a good idea to frequently refer to your literature review. This could include phrases such as, “This approach is a significant departure form established approaches to this topic, but it combines the data-gathering and statistical analysis models of X and Y, along the following innovations”. In contrast, if your method is primarily derived or a synergy of previous work, this is an opportunity to show why you think that this synthesis is different.

Signposting
Each section of a dissertation’s argument should be identified. But the methodology section is where it is most crucial. By referring to your literature reviews and reminding your readers of your conclusions, you can strengthen the justification for your dissertation method. Or, if you feel very confident, you might gently hint to them that you agree with you using a formula like, “As We Have Seen, Method X is very useful to approach questions related to Y but less applicable for problem Z”. You need to be careful about this approach. Claiming that you have proven something doesn’t work is not going the right way. However, if your argumentation seems strong, rhetorical techniques can help emphasize the structural coherence.

You define your terms
If you don’t establish your own metrics for success or failure your readers can draw from the overall structure your argument the terms under which it was trying. And judge it accordingly. However, you can help your readers to assess your work by defining your own success criteria. These criteria can be found in your dissertation methodology. However, you may be able adapt the method to examine similar phenomena within contexts Y or Z. It is also possible to prevent your readers from drawing unintended implications from your work.
Let us sum it all…

Your methodology section makes up a significant part of your dissertation. The section demonstrates that you are able to synthesize all of the information in your field as well as your ability draw from the traditions and precedents within your discipline to answer any research question(s).

Your findings and conclusions are not the only things that could prove useful to other scholars in your field. Other scholars might decide to apply your methodology in another context. Your dissertation methodology should offer value for itself and be reproducible.

The methodology section allows you justify and justify the approach you used to address your research questions. You also have the opportunity to create your own criteria to ensure the success of your project. Make sure your dissertation methodology is presented in a clear and compelling way. Many students think about applying an academic edit on their completed methodology section, to ensure that it contains every step necessary for a high quality submission.

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