Methodology is "'a contextual framework' for research, a coherent and logical scheme based on views, beliefs, and values, that guides the choices researchers [or other users] make".
It comprises the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge such that the methodologies employed from differing disciplines vary depending on their historical development. This creates a continuum of methodologies that stretch across competing understandings of how knowledge and reality are best understood. This situates methodologies within overarching philosophies and approaches.
Methodology may be visualized as a spectrum from a predominantly quantitative approach towards a predominantly qualitative approach. Although a methodology may conventionally sit specifically within one of these approaches, researchers may blend approaches in answering their research objectives and so have methodologies that are multimethod and/or interdisciplinary.
Overall, a methodology does not set out to provide solutions - it is therefore, not the same as a method. Instead, a methodology offers a theoretical perspective for understanding which method, set of methods, or best practices can be applied to the research question(s) at hand.
Some definitions of methodology include:
- "the analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline";
- "the systematic study of methods that are, can be, or have been applied within a discipline";
- "the study or description of methods".
In natural sciences
The natural sciences (astronomy, biology, chemistry, geoscience, and physics) draw their study of methods through the scientific method. This is a quantitative approach influenced through the philosophy of empiricism that posits knowledge (see epistemology) can only be obtained through direct, verifiable observations. The scientific method offers a defined set of best practice to observe the world through established methods such as characterizations, hypotheses, predictions, and experimentation. A key distinguishing feature of this methodology is that it sets out not to prove knowledge, or facts, "right", but rather it primarily sets out to prove something "wrong" or false (see falsifiability). A cornerstone of this is the null hypothesis that states there is no connection (see causality) between whatever is being observed. That it is the researcher's position to do all they can to disprove their own hypothesis through relevant methods or techniques, documented in a clear and replicable process, to such an extent that they can disprove the null hypothesis and therefore accept the alternative hypothesis that there is a relationship between what they have observed.
The social sciences derive their study of methods from a broader continuum of methodologies (e.g. qualitative research) than the natural sciences do.
Methodology has several related concepts: paradigm, algorithm, and method.
The methodology is the general research strategy that outlines the way in which research is to be undertaken and, among other things, identifies the methods to be used in it. These methods, described in the methodology, define the means or modes of data collection or, sometimes, how a specific result is to be calculated. Methodology does not define specific methods, even though much attention is given to the nature and kinds of processes to be followed in a particular procedure or to attain an objective.
When proper to a study of methodology, such processes constitute a constructive generic framework, and may therefore be broken down into sub-processes, combined, or their sequence changed.
A paradigm is similar to a methodology in that it is also a constructive framework. In theoretical work, the development of paradigms satisfies most or all of the criteria for methodology.
An algorithm, like a paradigm, is also a type of constructive framework, meaning that the construction is a logical, rather than a physical, array of connected elements.
Any description of a means of calculation of a specific result is always a description of a method and never a description of a methodology. It is thus important to avoid using methodology as a synonym for method or body of methods. Doing this shifts it away from its true epistemological meaning and reduces it to being the procedure itself, or the set of tools, or the instruments that should have been its outcome. A methodology is the design process for carrying out research or the development of a procedure and is not in itself an instrument, or method, or procedure for doing things.
The economist George M. Frankfurter has argued that the word method is not interchangeable for methodology, and in contemporary scientific discourse is a "pretentious substitute for the word method". He argues that using methodology as a synonym for method or set of methods leads to confusion and misinterpretation and undermines the proper analysis that should go into designing research.
- Paradigm – Distinct concepts or thought patterns or archetypes
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- ^ See, for example, Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago, 1970, 2nd ed.)
- ^ a b George M. Frankfurter, Theory and Reality in Financial Economics: Essays Toward a New Political Finance.