Developing a Research Method

In order to decide on a research method appropriate to your project, you must study the literature on research methodology as well as that on your topic. You need to understand the various types of research and their suitability for different circumstances. In your dissertation you will need to explain the method you have used and justify the choices you have made. The thought processes involved in developing this rationale will make the way ahead for your project much clearer.

One of the books recommended for purchase on WMG’s Research Methods book list is by David Gray (2009). In Chapter 2, Gray explains some important fundamentals including:

  • inductive and deductive reasoning;
  • research paradigms such as positivism (“the world is external and objective“) and interpretivism (“the world is socially constructed and subjective“);
  • research methodologies such as experimental research, phenomenological research, analytical surveys, action research or heuristic enquiry;
  • how to put these together within a coherent framework that also contains a timeframe and data collection methods.

In Chapter 7, Gray addresses research design based on qualitative methods. He argues that the choice of which strategy or strategies of enquiry to adopt in this approach will depend partly on the research paradigm adopted. He examines the main strategies of enquiry. He discusses various approaches to qualitative design.

An idea put forward by Gray that I find of special value is the use of a conceptual framework. Gray ascribes this idea to Miles and Hyberman (1994). He says that a conceptual framework describes in pictorial and written form “the key factors, constructs and variables being studied – and the presumed relationships amongst them“. The models that my students constructed on the whiteboard in our December tutorial [link1 and link2] were the beginnings of such a conceptual framework. Its power and usefulness lie in helping to establish a boundary for the research, to clarify what is inside and outside that boundary and the relationships which exist, and to enable unambiguous statements about the focus of the research.

Other important points made by Gray concern:

  • the unit of analysis – for example individuals, groups, organisations or communities;
  • types of qualitative data, their characteristics and how they are collected;
  • choice of sampling strategy;
  • when the data analysis processes should be planned.

These ideas merit serious thought. Time devoted to such thought delivers a big pay-back.


GRAY, D. E. 2009. Doing research in the real world, Sage Publications Ltd.

MILES, M. B. & HUBERMAN, A. M. 1994. Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook, SAGE publications, Inc.