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Research Process Guide

Step 6: Determining Research Methodology

Determining what methodology to use really boils down to what are you trying to know and how are you going to know it? Essentially, it is an articulation of how the researcher will systematically design a study and a justification of the design choices.


What are philosophical assumptions in research?

Before choosing the methods through which you will explore your research topic, there are a few terms that are essential to understanding your methodological assumptions before you choose which methodology is right for your study- Ontology, Epistemology, and Axiology. Understanding these terms and thereby the philosophical “underpinnings” of your study, you will be in a better position to justify your research process and defend  the outcomes by “making use various philosophical tools to help clarify the process of inquiry and provide insights into the assumptions on which it conceptually rests” (Kincheloe & Berry, 2004, p.8).

Ontology is, in essence, the “nature of reality” or “nature of being”.  Really, a researcher’s ontological assumptions are very important in the choosing of a topic, formation of research and how one would conduct research (Lukenchuk, 2017; Jackson, 2013; Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2011).  Particularly, the core questions you need to ask yourself as a researcher when examining your ontological assumptions are (Lukenchuk, 2017):

  1. Who am I as a researcher?
  2. What is the nature of my worldview?
  3. How do I make meaning of the events that happened in my world and the world at large?
  4. How do my study participants make sense of the identities in their world?

These questions can help you as a researcher determine the course and boundaries of your study, while raising meaningful questions about your world view.

Epistemology is defined as the origins, structure, validity and methods of knowledge (Lukenchuk, 2017; Jackson, 2013; Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2011). Epistemological assumptions are core to your study as they are important in determining what knowledge is most worth pursuing and why- specifically, what counts as knowledge and how it is obtained. For qualitative and quantitative researchers, epistemological assumptions are often very different, and therefore inform their choice of methodology (Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2011). Epistemology involves inductive and deductive reasoning, in how we come to know things. Your epistemological assumptions will inform your methodological assumptions and vice versa. As a researcher, your ontological stance is linked to your epistemological perspective- the reality of the world and the knowledge within that world.

Axiology, simply put, is “The study of what things are good and how good they are…” (Schwandt, 2015, p.15). Essentially, it is the study of values and value theory. You as the researcher will examine your axiological assumptions in particular, ethics and concepts that are foundational to an ethical world view (freedom, determinism, emotivism, naturalism, utilitarianism, and so forth) (Lukenchuk, 2017). By asking yourself questions like, does moral duty and obligation exist? If so, do these things bind us? Are values absolute or are they relative to time and place?  Values shape how we relate to the world. As a researcher, it would be important to examine your axiological beliefs in order to determine what knowledge is most worth pursuing. Also, your axiological assumptions inform how you conduct your research with human subjects, calling into focus a strict code of ethics (see IRB section) (Lukenchuk, 2017; Jackson, 2013).


Philosophical Underpinnings of your Research (Worldview)

Once you have determined where your research falls ontologically, ideologically, and epistemologically,  it is important that you understand the larger philosophical ideas your research proposal encompasses. Ultimately, you want to define your “worldview” or research “paradigm”, or “ontologies” i.e. a basic set of beliefs that guide action (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). It is important to address the following:

  1. The philosophical worldview proposed by the study.
  2. A definition of the basic ideas of that worldview.
  3. How the worldview shaped your approach to the study.

Creswell and Creswell (2018) identify four worldviews that can help ground your research approach: Postpositivism, Constructivism, Transformative, and Pragmatism. Further discussion of these interpretive lenses in the world of research and how they apply to inquiry are below.

Postpostivism is based on the scientific method, holding onto the beliefs that through this “lense” using careful observation and measurement, the objective truth is out there to be discovered (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). Determinism, reductionism, empirical observation and measurement, as well as theory verification are all elements of a Postpositivist worldview. This would be a salient worldview for a quantitative study.

Constructivism is based on the understanding that individuals seek to understand the world in which they live and in doing so , they develop subjective meanings of their experiences. These meanings are varied and multiple, and in essence, they lead the researcher to look at the complexities of these views, rather than reducing them down. These meanings are believed to be co-constructed through interactions with others. Here, the researchers intent is to make sense of the multiple meanings of people experiencing their worlds (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Bouma et al., 2012). Understanding, multiple participant meanings, social and historical construction and theory generation are concepts within the Constructivists worldview. This particular paradigm is well-positioned for a qualitative study.

Transformative worldview really refers to researchers who are critical theorists, participatory action researchers who believe that postpositivism places structural laws and theories that do not fit marginalized peoples in our society or issues of social justice (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Bouma et al., 2012). Marxists, feminists, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples; members of the LGBTQ+ are all historically marginalized groups and any research completed involving these groups would benefit from using the transformative worldview. This worldview has suggested that inquiry needs to be intertwined with social and political change of the existing structural and systemic issues within our society that lead to alienation, subjugation, disenfranchisement, oppression, and/ or inequality (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). Ultimately, transformative worldview informs inquiry the purpose of changing the status quo.

The Pragmatic worldview essential is a departure from other worldviews in that it uses whatever methods to understand the research problem. As opposed to postpositivism, which focuses on the scientific method, pragmatic worldview allows for the freedom of choice for the researcher in the methods, techniques, procedures that best meet the needs of their research objectives. Pragmatism is problem-centered, pluralistic and real-world practice oriented (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Bouma et al., 2012).

By choosing one of these four worldviews that most fit your perspective, you will begin to understand the purpose of your research. We call these worldviews “lenses” through which we look at our research problem. These lenses will help direct you to your methodology and the theoretical/ conceptual frameworks that guide your research.

Research Design

Ultimately, you will have an idea of the methods you want to use in your research as you begin this process. However, once you start narrowing your topic, completing your literature review and then determining your research paradigm or worldview, you will be largely guided to a particular kind of methodology to meet your research objectives and to answer your research questions. There are four kinds of research designs to choose from.

  1. Quantitative Methods - aim to control, predict, explain or describe a hypothesis or theory (i.e. surveys/questionnaires, statistical data analysis).
  2. Qualitative Methods - aim to understand and narrate experiences (i.e. participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, inductive grounded theory).
  3. Mixed Methods - combine qualitative and quantitative methods using both qualitative and quantitative methods (i.e. both surveys and interviews).
  4. Action Research - research around a question that researcher is actively involved (i.e. often used in education research and social science research for practitioners).

References

Bouma, G. D., Ling, R., & Wilkinson, L. (2012). The research process (2nd Canadian ed.). Oxford University Press.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage.

Hesse-Biber, S. N., & Leavy, P. (2011). The practice of social research. Sage.

Jackson, E. (2013). Choosing a methodology: Philosophical underpinning. Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 7(1), 49-62.

Kincheloe, J. L., & Berry, K. S. (2004). Rigour and complexity in educational research. Conducting educational research. Open University Press.

Lukenchuk, A. (2017). CHAPTER FIVE: Methodology: Choosing among paradigms and research designs. Counterpoints, 428, 57-85.

Schwandt, T. (2015). Variability in evaluation practice. In Evaluation foundations revisited (pp. 15-30). Stanford University Press.