I appear to be having a few issues trying to identify a suitable methodology for the data I've already collected as part of my PhD. Not an ideal situation I know, trying to identify a suitable approach AFTER it's already been executed!
There does not appear to be any clear guidelines of what exactly constitutes a 'methodology' and the different variants that can sit beneath it. I believe that exploratory research (ER) is the methodology most suited to the research process I have followed to date. However, I have come across some writers who list it as a methodology, but others who label it as a 'type' of research and not a methodology!
I wanted to ask people's opinions on whether they have heard ER referred to as a methodology? Has anyone used ER as the methodology for their own PhD?
As you can imagine I am getting awfully confused and a little concerned, as my research approach does not appear to fit in with any of the other methodological approaches I have come across to date.
Any insight would be gratefully received :)
Might be helpful if you gave a brief overview of your PhD topic, or better yet, questions you hope to answer? Even the field you're working in would be helpful.
I sense you're trying to reverse engineer your research design because you've already got data. I think it might be better to put that aside for the time being and start the right way round
What research methods books have you looked at? There are loads of them, but I found starting with the ones which were plainly textbooks for beginners were the most helpful because they pretty much hold your hand and are really broad in approach. The "classics" can be a bit dense and not right for you (or me for that matter) at this point in time. Gotta learn to walk before you can run!.
In my view it is a type of research - I'm assuming it's exploratory because you are exploring a new research area without an existing clear evidence base or you are perhaps testing an existing theory or approach on a novel participant group ?.... it's not clear whether your research has a quantitative or qualitative focus ? But examples of qualitative exploratory work are ones such as grounded theory where the theory emerges and is 'grounded' in the data ..other ways of describing your work could use the terms pilot, feasibility study and so on...but that aside you still need to identify the methodology used and the approach used e.g. a pilot experiment and so on.... how have you analysed the data ? I think more detail is needed for us to help you further. Thanks, good luck !
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to submit a response and help me with my problem.
Ultimax, unfortunately starting again is not an option, as I no longer live in the country that my thesis is based on. And your comment about reverse engineering the research design is a perfect way to describe my situation.
It terms of some further information about my thesis so my issue can be better understood, constructivism is my chosen epistemological position, and interpretivism the theoretical perspective. The data is qualitative in nature, which is trying to ascertain the experiences associated with a particular type of employment for disabled people, in addition to the conditions that facilitate and prohibit these experiences. Data collection strategies used were focus groups and semi-structured interviews. There appears to be no research to date on the subject, hence the proposed exploratory framework.
Elements of GT appear to fit in with the design of my study, but I have not followed all of the processes required by the approach. For this reason I have decided to stay away from GT so as not to put myself in a vulnerable position.
In terms of research books, I have read Crotty (1998) (Foundations of Social Science Research) and Kumar (2005) (Research Methodology), to name a few, and various other sources on the Internet to try and just map what my options are. Yesterday my supervisor suggested going back to Bryman as a starting point?
Please let me know if you need any further info.
I know you're already some ways into your research but I suggest you have a look at a really basic methods textbook. The two I recommend are Punch's "Introduction to Social Research" and Henn's a "Short Introduction to Social Research." I think they're similar in intention as the book by Kumar you mention, though Kumar's book seems more prescriptive than exploratory?
The first reason for my recommendation is these books really give you the lay of the research methodology/methods land. It'll reinforce what you already know, and perhaps introduce new concepts/ideas that you weren't aware of, and can investigate further. The second reason is they suggest ways to conceptualise your entire research project (ie. how to fit all the parts together) around the all-important research question.
My supervisor always reminds me that the methodology/methods follows the research question, and not vice-versa, advice I've read elsewhere too. Although you've already collected data, I think it might still be useful to start the right way round as a conceptual exercise to help organise your thoughts and the logic of your study. You can reverse engineer your study (my wife sort of did that because she inherited an existing study which was poorly designed but data collection had already begun) but methodology isn't plug-and-play. It doens't stand alone. It has to make sense with your broader objectives.
If you've collected your data all from one site, you might also want to consider a case-study approach which could make things considerably simpler by clearly staking boundaries of your study. Case-studies are also useful in highlighting a gap in the literature (which I think you're trying to do). If you're interested in this approach. Robert Yin and Gary Thomas have books on the method which are widely recommended.
I hope this make sense!
Thanks for the book recommendations, Ultimax. I will definitely go and have a look at those.
The two research questions I am attempting to answer have informed all stages of my study design to date, and will continue to do so. However, after finalising the questions, it appears that I moved on to the methods and did not consider the whole study in light of an overall research design. If the entire research process could be conceptualised using Crotty's approach - epistemology>theoretical perspective>methodology>methods (constructivism>interpretivism>???>focus groups and semi-structured interviews, in my instance), I appear to have missed a step!
I'm really interested in hearing more about your wife's approach to revising the study design after the data was collected. Are you able to provide any further info on the process she followed Ultimax?
And unfortunately the data was collected from various sites :(
Thanks in advance,
My wife's dissertation was part of a MSc course so it was a smaller project on quality improvement within an organisation. In her case, I think she managed to reverse engineer the project quite well because the data collected was still generally usable. It wasn't perfect and caused problems, but nothing too big. She also stated up front that she had joined that data collection project late, and it was untrained individuals from within the organisation who had done the data collection. In fact, she managed to make that work for her by making it (the poor data collection) part of her research. In essence, she was quite lucky the circumstances didn't work against her.
Did your supervisor offer you any other advice besides the book recommendation?
Also, I came across this blog post which you might find useful:
Thanks for the inside info on the approach taken by your wife. If only I could get away with saying that I had poorly designed my research study! I suppose the PhD is journey is all about this very issue; learning how to become a competent researcher. I, for sure, won't be missing out on this stage again in the future.
I found the blog and all the hyperlinks it contains to be really, really helpful. So thank you so much for that.
And no other advice from my supervisor unfortunately. I'm a little miffed to be honest that I have been able to get to this stage without such a crucial part of the research study being decided. Oh well, nothing can be done now apart from try to fix it!
No problem RLD!
Sorry to hear your supervisor has been quite passive. There are all types, you've just gotta figure out what's the best way of engaging them. Some don''t care because they just don't, but others do care but may not express it in a way you would if put in their shoes. So you've gotta figure out their style. I think the best way forward with such supervisors is to cobble together an overview of your approach and ask upfront "will this work? Does this make sense?" I think actually showing a draft (even though you may feel incredibly insecure about it) is the best way forward now so that everyone has something to react to and improve upon.
On methods specifically, my supervisor showed me the dissertation of a former student of his who just passed and whose thesis had "rave reviews." The methods section was as untechnical as they come, and incredibly short. She basically said she was just doing qualitative interviews, why, and how she actually did them. It wasn't fancy at all. But that approach worked for her topic because it was presented as an evolving story eventhough it was in the social sciences. So I'm convinced everyone's methods/methodology has to be fit for your thesis' purpose. But I am sure her approach was given the greenlight by all those who were involved in assessing it, so you'll need to run it by them, or your supervisor at the very least.
Things have been a bit crazy for us this end - we're trying to find a new home and move on top of everything else! Hence the lack of response.
After your last post I had a bit of a thought that had not come to me earlier for some reason. I'm essentially conducting an evaluation and will also be comparing responses across several sites. I believe (please correct me if I'm wrong), both of these approaches qualify as a methodology? Anyway, I've decided to take your good advice once again and put something together for my supervisor to either comment on or reject, as opposed to putting forward very loose ideas of an approach appropriate for my research design.
Also, I agree with your last paragraph and have noticed considerable differences in PhD methodology chapters to what I perceived as being key areas to include. It just adds further confusion to what exactly the chapter is supposed to contain. A typical outcome in academia!
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