How to do your research project

Research methods

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Research methods cover collection and analysis of data. At an early stage in the research process you're going to have to decide how you are going to find out the answer to your research question - what research method(s) will you use?.

Research methods can be broadly categorised under two headings: qualitative and quantitative methods. If you've ever used statistics you'll be familiar with some quantitative research methods. This type of research deals with things that can be measured - quantities, and it takes an objective, 'scientific' approach (but is not restricted to scientific research). You can use quantitative research methods to do the following:

Qualitative research, on the other hand, involves observing behaviour, and tends to be subjective and not generalisable to a whole population. You can use qualitative research methods to do the following:

You might use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods; for example, you might conduct interviews (qualitative research), and the statistically analyse the results (quantitative research).

Your choice of research method will be heavily influenced by your subject area and your university guidelines: natural scientists may be expected to do laboratory experiments, but social scientists may conduct a survey. As an undergraduate researcher, you'll also be constrained by time, costs, access to materials or subjects for your research - and ability.

Finally, remember research is a serious business. Even at undergraduate level, researchers have responsibilities to their research subjects and the wider research community. Whatever research method you choose, you must always be ethical, accurate, honest and objective.

Activity: choosing research methods - 20 minutes

Your choice of research method may be decided for you, but if you are able to choose your method, the activity below will help you decide which is the best method for you.

Use the questions below to help you to decide on the research method(s) you'll use to answer your research question. It's a good idea to discuss the questions with your supervisor too.

1. Make notes in answer to the following questions. You might need to research the answers to some of the questions.

  • What research methods are commonly used in your subject area?
  • What research methods have been used previously to answer similar research questions?
  • What kind of information will you need to answer your question?
  • How could you collect this information?
  • How much information will you need in order to answer your question convincingly?

2. You can use your notes as a basis for a discussion with your supervisor about appropriate research methods.

Recommended Further Reading

You now know how you will collect your raw data; next we will look at the basics of using statistics to make sense of it.

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