Research methodology the cliffhanger
So you just submitted your final research manuscript, the dissertation or thesis. Are you going to pass, particularly considering that in many cases (not all over the world though) a PhD is like pregnancy. You cannot be half pregnant. You have either succeeded or not. That is a cliffhanger, because you do not know until you receive a report. Or can you…know, whether you will pass.
It comes back to methodology. You know that methodology and methods are not the same, right? Let us put methodology in the middle. Methods to the right. What goes left? That would be your epistemology (views on knowledge and how it is created) and ontology (views on the world and the nature of things). Together you can put your ideas about the concepts forward as a statement, or your position, on certain important matters (usually in chapter 1). In this article I am not going to talk about what is left or to the right more than I have to. Simply put, the matters on the left is what matters on a really, really deep level. In all honesty as an evaluator of your research I cannot fail you on that provided you have situated yourself thoroughly in a community of practice and knowledge. The things, the methods, on the right can in many approaches be seen as tools that you employ as part of your methodology.
The first thing to realise about methodology is that there are a great many. If you make the research lens a bit wider we would be talking about research design but it is also relevant to methodology. Will the methodology be part of a case study design, and exploratory design, an experimental design, and so on (Your research design would not only convey your methodology). In this article I am only trying to bring across the message and am not focusing on any particular methodology. You will find methodologies that are highly structured and ones that you will almost have to build for the first time like a work of art. If it is more like a work of art then your art should be based on your understanding of your position on things, epistemology and ontology. The link to the left is very important. Why? Because your methodology is all but a wild west, lone ranger, approach.
Let us say that you want to climb a certain mountain. Where you are at, your position, that is your epistemology and ontology. The destination involves all the things that you would in the end say your research found, or produced, the results, the knowledge created, or the work of art. What happens in between your position and the end is the methodology and the methods employed. You should realise that there are in all likelihood many ways of climbing this mountain, many routes, or processes, or designs that can be followed. How you are going to do that should be planned before you actually do the climbing.
The thinking around the planning should be part of your thesis. Are you going to face that cliff? Will you first travel west across the lake and then tackle the steep climb? Perhaps you could take horses first and travel a bit further up the mountain before you have to travel slowly west over the rocky terrain. Why you choose this or that route and how it fits with your current position is what you will have to explain. You would agree, I trust, that whichever route you take it will require a different set of tools. Where it involves the horses, some saddles would be nice but it would be irrelevant if you take the climbing-the-boulders route. Choose your methods accordingly and discuss how it makes sense to use these methods as part of your methodology.
If you have executed your methodology well and you are confident that it adequately expresses your position on the things that matter, and you have drawn my attention to it (almost as if telling me the story of your research)… then get off the cliff and go enjoy a nice glass of wine. You might have less to worry about than what you thought.