Structure in Research Methods
Department of Information Studies
Methodology and method
- ‘methodology’ is not just method
- methodology is the philosophical basis for method
- interpretative approaches
- qualitative and quantitative
Qualitative vs quantitative
- Distinction is based on philosophical grounds - quantitative methods are associated with empirical, positivist research - often said to be inappropriate in relation to social research; qualitative research is associated with ‘anti-positive’ philosophies, such as interpretivism, ethnography, phenomenology, etc.
Quantity and quality
- Quantitative methods are so called because they generally result in numbers, analysed statistically, describing samples taken from populations.
- It is not so clear why qualitative methods should be called this - but they do, usually, give rise to textual records which are not amenable to statistical analysis.
The role of structure
- An alternative approach is to use the concept of structure - since the different methods in social research can be classified in terms of how much structure is employed in the research instruments.
The fundamental method
- All research of any kind depends upon observation.
- Astronomy - observation by many means
- Physics - observation by instruments
- Botany - direct observation of plants
- Sociology - direct and indirect observation of social groups, etc.
- History - using the records of observations
Direct and indirect observation
- Observation may be direct, i.e., the researcher is the observer, recording what he or she is watching, or
- Observation may be indirect, i.e., the researcher must rely on the reported observations (including self-observations) of others.
Structure - imposed or emergent
- All research methods involve structure to some extent - even anthropological field notes have some initial struture, based on the research objectives.
- Key point - whether the structure is imposed in its totality by the researcher, or whether the structure emerges from the research process.
The methods assigned
- The classification of methods by
direct/indirect observation and then by imposed/emergent structure leads in a straightforward manner to the allocation of the different methods to the approp-riate category. Thus, questionnaires are an example of imposed structure within indirect observation
Choice of method - I
- This typology of methods does not enable an automatic choice of method in a research study. The researcher must still choose a philosophical approach within which to work, and must then determine which method, or set of methods, will be most appropriate for the kind of data to be collected.
Choice of method - II
- However, we can give some general advice:
- imposed structure is appropriate when the nature of the research problem is well understood
- emergent structure is appropriate when the field of interest is not well understood, and when, consequently, exploratory research is necessary to gain an understanding
Conclusion - method and mode of analysis
- Imposed structure methods produce mainly quantitative data which can be analysed statistically using standard statistical packages such as SPSS
- Emergent structure methods produce mainly text, which is more problematical to analyse and requires different methods to determine validity, etc.