Writing your dissertation – the Research Method

The rationale below is based on the circumstances of a particular research project but I hope it illustrates an approach that can be extended to other circumstances. It is in the form of guidance to an MSc student.

You might consider basing your Research Method chapter on ideas explained by Kumar (2010), Gray (2009) and Yin (2009).

Kumar (2010, p9) suggests a good way to begin describing your type of research. He says that research can be looked at from three perspectives: (1) application of the findings of the research study; (2) objectives of the study; and (3) mode of enquiry used in conducting the enquiry. Gray (2009, p35) says that “exploratory studies seek to explore what is happening and to ask questions about it“. He suggests that they can be conducted, amongst other things, by a search of the literature and by talking to experts in the field. After citing these references you might therefore say that your research was:

  1. Applied research in that “the research techniques, procedures and methods …. are applied to the collection of information about various aspects of a situation, issue, problem or phenomenon so that the information gathered can be used in other ways – such as for …. the enhancement of understanding of a phenomenon“.
  2. Exploratory in that it explores the proposition that ideas from lean thinking can enhance the organisation’s approach to programme and project management.
  3. Based on a qualitative mode of enquiry.

Gray (pp14,15) clarifies the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning. Your strategy of enquiry was based on inductive rather than deductive reasoning, that is you used the data to develop a theory rather than starting with a defined theory and seeking specific data to test it.

You might now take advice from Yin (2009, pp 5-10) who identifies five research methods: experiment, survey, archival analysis, history and case study. He suggests that three conditions determine which method is most appropriate:

  • the type of research question posed (how, why, who, what, where, how many, how much);
  • the extent of control an investigator has over actual behavioural events;
  • the degree of focus on contemporary as opposed to historical events.

In your research I believe it is fair to say that the form of research question is ‘how?’ or ‘why?’, you had no control of behavioural events and the focus was on contemporary events. In this set of conditions Yin suggests that a case study is appropriate. He goes on to define a case study (Yin, 2009, p18) as “an empirical enquiry that:

  • investigates a contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context, especially when
  • the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident.

This definition seems to fit your circumstances. You should therefore follow his advice (Yin, 2009, p27) that, for case studies, “five components of a research design are especially important:

  1. a study’s questions;
  2. its propositions, if any;
  3. its unit(s) of analysis;
  4. the logic linking the data to the propositions; and
  5. the criteria for interpreting the findings.

1. Your research question is “How can ideas from lean thinking …. international development programmes”.

2. Yin (2009, p28) says that an exploratory study does not need to have any propositions. But it should have a purpose, and this should be stated.

3. The unit of analysis for your case study appears to be the organisation’s programme and project management methodology.

4. Yin (2009, p35) identifies five analytic techniques as ways of linking data to propositions or purpose: pattern matching, explanation building, time-series analysis. logic models, and cross-case analysis. It seems to me that you have used explanation building.

5. Yin (2009, pp 160-161) proposes a number of prlnciples underlying good research, including that your analysis should:

  • show that you attended to all the evidence;
  • address all major rival interpretations;
  • address the most significant aspect of your case study.

You now need to explain your choice of case study design. Yin (2009, p46) explains the options. Did you adopt a single case design? If so, the case would be the organisation as a whole embracing its policy, process and practice for programme and project management and the evaluations at organisational level of their fitness for purpose.

Finally you should outline your data collection methods. I believe these were:

  • To use unobtrusive data from primary sources in the form of contemporaneous documents and the content of official websites and to supplement this with data from secondary sources. Many of the documents were in the public domain, some were obtained from the organisation’s intranet through the agency of your informant.
  • An in-depth interview. This was primarily to clarify and expand the scope of your understanding of the data and to a lesser extent to provide you with some primary data. I suggest the person you interviewed was an ‘informant’ rather than an ‘interviewee’. See this posting for an explanation of what this means.


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

KUMAR, R. 2010. Research methodology: A step-by-step guide for beginners, Sage Publications Ltd.

YIN, R. K. 2009. Case study research: Design and methods, Sage publications, INC.