(Last updated on: 15/02/2022)
A lot of students get put off at this point. They want to do the fun stuff – writing about the topic that they’re passionate about, collecting the data, analysing the results… But research is not credible unless it has a strong methodological underpinning, and that starts with your research philosophy.
Why do I need a research philosophy?
Believe it or not, there is more to research than whether you choose qualitative or quantitative, an interview or a survey. In fact, what you should do is dig down to the roots of your chosen methodological path to enable you to provide a thorough explanation of why your chosen research method is suitable for your research project.
Not sure what I mean? Think of it as a tree. The leaves are the final product and would not grow without the branches, the trunk, and the roots. The growth of all of these elements relies on the right conditions- sunlight, healthy soil, the right temperature etc. Research philosophy is essentially the roots of the tree. Once they are established all the rest will follow, given the right conditions.
What’s more is that different research philosophies follow quite clear, distinct paths. If the root is that of an apple tree, it doesn’t produce the leaves of a maple tree. Instead, it follows a predictable evolution of growth. This is the same for research philosophy. Once you’ve decided on a method of data collection (the leaves), it is very simple to work your way back through to the roots to establish the methodology, epistemology and ontology which underpin it.
To further explain this, many researchers will refer to the research onion. I don’t want to over-complicate things in this post, but you can read more about the onion and how you can use it in your research take a look at this post- ‘research onion for beginners’. I also recommend that you use some of the excellent research methods books available to you- I recommend Social Research Methods by Bryman and Research Methodology: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners by Kumar.
Research philosophy pathways
To properly explain your chosen research methodology you will need to discuss each level, starting with the broad research philosophy through to the details of the method(s) of data collection. Most research methods textbooks make this sound very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be!
Your methods chapters should flow logically through your chosen pathway. You might find it easiest to determine the pathway if you work backward. Do you know how you want to collect your data (i.e. interview, survey?) If so, start there. This will likely determine whether your research will be qualitative or quantitative. This will then tell you if you are taking an interpretative or positivist approach, which will, in turn, dictate whether you are using a nominalist or realist philosophy.
Now, of, course there are other, more complicated avenues of research. This is just a basic outline to introduce you to the subject of research philosophy. I recommend that you visit my posts ‘what is ontology and epistemology?’ and ‘what is positivism and interpretevism?’ for more information. Project Guru also have some useful citations on this subject.