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Discuss your methodology

What you need to discuss

In a thesis you are setting out an argument based on evidence. This evidence may have many different forms and be gathered or selected by many different methods, according to the discipline and field of inquiry. However, every thesis needs to answer these questions:

"How did you do your research?"

"Why did you do it that way?"

This covers not only the methods used to collect and analyse data, but also the theoretical framework that informs both the choice of methods and the approach to interpreting the data, and relates all of these explicitly to the research question(s) addressed in the thesis.

You may need to summarise available methods and theoretical approaches for your research topic; you will certainly need to justify choice of method(s) (where a combination of methods is used, that needs to be justified too), and indicate any relevant limitations they may have.

All this will be set out in preliminary form in the research proposal you wrote for confirmation of candidature, but it is likely that you have refined and developed it since then. In addition, you now have to report the details of how, where and when the study was actually carried out.

The detail and emphasis of what is covered will be different in different disciplines.

Scientific and technical disciplines:

  • rationale for choosing materials, methods and procedures
  • details of materials, equipment and procedures that will allow others to
    • replicate experiments
    • understand and implement technical solutions

Social science disciplines:

  • demonstration of fit between methods chosen and research question(s)
  • how the data was
    • collected
    • recorded
    • analysed
  • rationale for sampling or choice of cases, representativity of sample or case

Humanities disciplines:

  • what sources were used
  • rationale for choice of sources (considering their fit with the research question, and how representative they are)
  • approach to interpretation - what approach was chosen and why

Where to present it in the thesis

In the classic "Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion" thesis structure common in the experimental and social sciences, the discussion of research methods occupies a separate chapter. However, where the research consists of a series of experiments or studies that are reported separately, it is usually more appropriate to devote a chapter with its own methods section to each study.

Theses that are arranged in thematic chapters may have a discussion of methodology and theoretical framworks in the introductory chapter, or the discussion may be integrated into individual chapters.

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