February 10, 2016

Conflicting Issues In Literature: Design And Methodology

Another issue that new researchers and Ph.D. candidates shall have to deal with is the conflicting terminology within literature. Terminology is conflicting because writers use different terms interchangeably to mean the same thing but the meanings behind the terms differ significantly. In the case of this blog post, the terms “design” and “methodology” have been and continue to be used in literature to mean the blueprint of a research project but they are terms that carry different meanings and I shall use this blog post to present my own definitions (and add to the already confused mess of terminological definitions), which are probably likely to change in the future!

A research design is the blueprint of a research project: a logically designed or constructed document that defines the layout of the research project, illustrating through narrative and diagrams (usually the case for the thesis) the methods used to collect and analyse the data in a way that provides answers for a hypothesis or research questions. A research design illustrates the relationship between the defined research problem, the defined research question, the methodologies and methods, the underlying Philosophical assumptions of these methodologies and methods, and the way in which data shall be collected and used to answer the research questions. Research design should be considered and developed following the identification of a research problem and the construction of the research questions. The different research designs within Educational Research include Experiment based, Observation based, Longitudinal based, Case Study, Ethnography, Grounded Theory, and Phenomenology, among others, all of which define that previously mentioned relationship and characteristics of that relationship in different ways.

Methodology is part of a research design that provides a framework for the data collection and data analysis. A methodology defines the methods that are to be used, the approach or model used to implement the methods, the timing of implementing these methods, the importance of these methods, and therefore the way in which assigned questions shall be addressed and the data that is to be expected. The key difference between methodology and design therefore is that methodology does not explain the overall research problem or research questions, but is associated with a particular research question or questions to address a particular aspect of the research problem. A design does illustrate the overall research problem and questions and the relationship between the research problem, the research questions, the methodology, methods, and expected data in answering aspects of the problems and the questions. A research methodology can be quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.

I mentioned that Grounded Theory can be an overall design but it can also be a methodology within a design and, in the case of my research, a method within a methodology. Constructivist Grounded Theory was originally going to be a methodology within an explanatory research design, but this was dropped because Constructivist Grounded Theory as a methodology works exclusively with qualitative data. There was no way I could use quantitative data with the Constructivist Grounded Theory methodology therefore switched the methodology to Mixed Methods, and repurposed Constructivist Grounded Theory as a method within a Mixed Methods methodology. As I began to elaborate on my methodology in the Upgrade Paper I did come across a stumbling block: the literature and its conflicting approach to defining methodology and design, and authors were referring to Mixed Methods as both a design and a methodology.

What did I do to overcome this barrier? I thought carefully about the different types of Mixed Method methodologies and their suitability for the context of my research. The type of Mixed Methods that has been selected as suitable is convergent parallel and this has been referred to in the literature as a convergent parallel design although some authors have called it a convergent parallel model, but that’s just going beyond the point of driving a person insane.

I think therefore considering that the methodology defines the way that research questions are addressed, and that the design acts as the blueprint or illustration of the way in which the research shall proceed, it’s safe to say that the methodology is definitely Mixed Methods whilst the design of the research can be defined as a Convergent Parallel design.

This post is attempting to highlight the difficulty that some researchers might come across when dealing with terminology use in the research literature, and that it is so easy to be thrown off course initially as you try to develop a more substantial understanding of these terminologies. Developing that substantial understanding and a detailed, careful consideration of the terms “design” and “methodology” is the only way you are going to be able to properly define them.

Till next time: don’t accept a definition in the first resource you come across! Question and explore!

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