Which Research Method(s) Should I use?

Which research method(s) should I use? Read on to find out the definitive answer!

This is surely a common question for anybody starting out on a PhD, so when Emily invited me to contribute to this blog I thought it might be a useful topic to post on. I work for “Realities” which is part of the National Centre for Research Methods, based in Sociology here at Manchester,  and our focus is on qualitative and mixed methods approaches to researching everyday life.  We often use combinations of different methods to answer our research questions to build up a rich picture of the topic we are exploring.

The key to choosing your method(s) is to focus on your research question first, rather than jumping ahead and picking a method – this would be like picking up a tool before you decide what DIY task you are going to do. Brushes and paint are a sensible choice if you’ve decided that your project is painting your room, but much less successful if your aim is building a shed… Likewise, your decision when you are choosing a research method is not which is best, but which is best for your purpose.  So your aim is to 1. find your research questions, 2.  decide what data you will need to analyse to  allow you to answer them, and 3. only then decide which methods will produce this data. (When I wrote a dissertation earlier this year I found the chapters on research design from Qualitative Researching by Jennifer Mason a real help tackling this stage of the project.)

Armed with a good understanding of your research questions and the kind of data that will help you answer them, you can move on to choosing the most suitable research methods. Some of the things to take into consideration will be methodological (does this method fit with my methodological approach?) and some will be practical (eg will this method allow me to produce the data I need in the time I have available?).

Whatever methods you are considering, it can be helpful to speak to researchers who have experience of using them.  This isn’t always possible, so as part of our work in Realities, we produce some online resources which might stand in for an experienced colleague. You can find full lists of all our toolkits (www.manchester.ac.uk/realities/resources/toolkits) and working papers (www.manchester.ac.uk/realities/publications/workingpapers) on our website, but my picks for people choosing their methods ‘tools’ are:

  • Using blog analysis
  • Using email interviews
  • Using walking interviews
  • Participant-produced video
  • Participatory mapping
  • Using music elicitation

The answer…

If you’ve read the whole of this post, you’ll know that the answer to Which research method(s) should I use? is always “the one that best answers your research questions”!

Hazel Burke

Realities, part of the National Centre for Research Methods, based at the Morgan Centre, University of Manchester

For more about Realities, see our website [www.manchester.ac.uk/realities], join our email newslist [www.manchester.ac.uk/realities/aboutus/newslist] or follow us on Twitter (@morgancentre)



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