Research Methodology

Not all research methods are equal or produce the same kind of knowledge. Learn about the philosophies, the epistemologies, thatĀ inform qualitative, quantitative, mixed, and textual research methods.

Research Methodology is

Key Words: Epistemology; Philosophy of Knowledge; Ways of Knowing


The topic of research methodologies is steeped in philosophy, epistemology, and ethics.

Here’s the rub: researchers may use the same methods to investigate a research question and yet disagree with one another about the kind of knowledge the method produces. For instance, researchers could interview the same subjects and even ask the same questions, maybe even get the same answers, and yet have entirely different ideas about what the results mean. For the researcher contributing to a methodological community that favors positivism, the researcher may assume the interview reveals universal insights about human behavior that transcend time and place. In contrast, a researcher with more of a post-positivistic, subjectivist position might suggest the results are not generalizable, that the results are nothing more than one person’s point of view.

Thus, a research methodology, like language or a knowledge claim, is a rhetorical construct. Research methods are produced in a context: political, economic, social, and historic interests shape what is and what is not considered to be an ethical, reliable, valid method. Even investigators within a methodological community may disagree with one another about how to use methods or what knowledge methods can produce.

Methodologists (i.e., people who theorize about research methodologies) debate epistemological assumptions about

  • what is knowledge?
  • what is a valid knowledge claim?
  • what constitutes a valid research method?
  • what epistemological assumptions are associated with particular research methods?
    • is quantitative research invariably positivistic?
    • is qualitative research invariably postpositivistic?
    • are mixed research methods given their contrasting epistemological assumptions about valid knowledge claims invariably contradictory and inconsistent?

Research Methods vs. Research Methodologies

Research Methods tools, statistical methods, techniques, protocols
Research Methodologyepistemological assumptions about what constitutes knowledge and the affordances and constraints of specific methods
Clarification: Research Methodology vs. Research Methods
Researchers distinguish between methodologies and methods:
(1) Research Methodologies are the justification a researcher provides for using particular methods. A researcher’s methodology is the rationale for using particular tools/methods. It is the philosophical framework, the epistemology that informs a research project.
(2) Research Methods are the tools and techniques (aka protocols, processes, strategies) that investigators and methodological communities use to gather and analyze information (aka data or evidence). Examples: Case Study | Ethnography
In other words, methods can be compared to screwdrivers, hammers, nails, etc. while methodologies can be compared to the architectural plans for a building.