Research Methods: Developing your research design

Eira Patterson | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Starting on the research journey: Ways of thinking about research

In order to help you to consider key ideas that will enable you to make informed decisions about your research design, here are some questions to think about as you start your own research journey:

  1. Your ontological perspective: What are your beliefs about the nature of social reality?  Engaging with your beliefs about your ontological position, i.e. what you consider to be valid and useful knowledge, is initially a difficult process, because these beliefs are deeply embedded and have grown and developed in response to your experiences of life in a way that is often not a conscious process. The beliefs that you hold about what is significant with regard to reality will ultimately influence your approach to research.

  2. Epistemology: What do you regard as credible evidence that provide insights into this social reality? Mason (2002: 16) gives a definition of how you can view your own epistemology: it can be regarded as ‘the principles and rules by which you decide whether and how social phenomena can be known, and how knowledge can be demonstrated.’ The practical implication of gaining insight into your own epistemological beliefs is that it helps you to decide on your methodology e.g. qualitative or quantitative in an informed way. Epistemology therefore suggests that ‘distinctive dimensions of the social world (for example, attitudes, actions, discourses) are knowable – that it is possible to generate knowledge about and evidence for them’ (p.17).

  3. What is your research focus and does this relate to your ontological and epistemological beliefs?The way you view reality will impact on the types of things you want to find out about. A useful way to understand this is through some examples: If your research focus is ‘the attitudes of pupils to different forms of grouping in class’ – this indicates that your ontological perspective is that people hold attitudes and that these are significant and meaningful components within the social world. An alternative research focus is ‘school level decision making regarding pupil grouping in class’ – this ontological perspective places emphasis on institutions and processes as meaningful, rather than on individuals and their views. These two ontological perspectives would have different implications with regard to epistemology and the resultant methodologies and methods selected. The significance of engaging with your own beliefs at this level is that it will enable you to make more informed decisions with regard to the planning of your research question and the decision making will be more coherent in relation to methodological design.

  4. What type of questions do you want to research?It is important to understand that research questions can be classified based on the way they lead you to look at a particular issue or process. This will then impact on the methods that you will use.

  5. What is the purpose of your research questions? With regard to the purpose of your research, it is important to be aware of what you want to achieve through the research process e.g. research which aims to gather evidence to direct change. This will have a significant impact on the development of your research questions and the way you subsequently choose to investigate these.

(Adapted from Mason, 2002)