Method or methodology, what's the difference?

I want to talk briefly here about the difference between methodology and method as these two terms are often, and inaccurately, assumed to mean the same thing.

Methods

Research methods are the tools, techniques or processes that we use in our research. These might be, for example, surveys, interviews, Photovoice, or participant observation. Methods and how they are used are shaped by methodology.

Methodology

Methodology is the study of how research is done, how we find out about things, and how knowledge is gained. In other words, methodology is about the principles that guide our research practices. Methodology therefore explains why we’re using certain methods or tools in our research.

McGregor and Murname (2010, p. 2) write,

“The word methodology comprises two nouns: method and ology, which means a branch of knowledge; hence, methodology is a branch of knowledge that deals with the general principles or axioms of the generation of new knowledge. It refers to the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that underlie any natural, social or human science study, whether articulated or not. Simply put, methodology refers to how each of logic, reality, values and what counts as knowledge inform research.”

For example, in her 1999 (and 2012 second edition) book titled ‘Decolonizing Methodologies’ Linda Smith describes the colonising role of Western research methodologies. The principles of these methodologies have often been about Indigenous peoples being less than human and needing to be ‘civilised’. Decolonising methodologies is about the insertion of Indigenous principles into research methodology so that research practices can play a role in the assertion of Indigenous people’s rights and sovereignty.

The abstract from the fifth of my writer’stoolkit posts mentions terms practitioners used to describe their journey with Māori patients. These terms were whakapiri (engage), whakamana (enable) and mana motuhake (independence). Such terms might also be the principles that underpin our research methodology. Other principles that inform our methodology can come from Kaupapa Māori:

  • Tino Rangatiratanga – the self-determination principle
  • Taonga tuku iho – the cultural aspirations principle
  • Ako – the culturally preferred pedagogy principle
  • Kia piki ake i ngā raruraru o te kāinga – the socio-economic mediation principle
  • Whānau – the extending family principle
  • Kaupapa – the collective philosophy principle

When you’re planning to undertake research it’s important that you consider and make explicit your methodology, including the principles that drive your selection and use of research methods. Then when you’re writing your research report you should write about both methodology and method so that readers will understand both the ‘why’ and the ‘way’ you did your research.

References

McGregor, S. L., & Murname, J. A. (2010). Paradigm, methodology and method: Intellectual integrity in consumer scholarship. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 34 (4), 419-427.

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies - Research and Indigenous peoples (2nd Edition ed.). London & New York: Zed Books.

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