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What is a PhD Methodology?

Part of every PhD, regardless of discipline, is the requirement to explain your methodological approach. This may be done in a dedicated chapter, included as part of your introductory chapter, or it may be handled more diffusely as part of specific sections. Whatever structural approach you adopt, you must provide at least some discussion of, and justification for, the methodology on which you rely. It is crucial, then, that you understand the concept of methodology.

It is important to distinguish methodology from methods. For Dr Shelly Kinash: ‘The methods are the techniques or processes we use to conduct our research. The methodology is the discipline, or body of knowledge, that utilizes these methods’. As Dr Deborah Gabriel explains, the method supplies the tools for carrying out the research, the methodology provides the justification. Although not everyone uses this distinction, it is helpful to appreciate the difference between the way in which you practically carry out your research and the epistemological basis for the way.

For example, if you are doing a law PhD and opt to do a comparative approach, this would be your methodology and you would need to explain both what the comparative approach involves and why it is the most appropriate methodology for your thesis. For a comparative legal analysis, your research is likely to involve largely a text-based method, which requires little by way of explanation. However, if you were using a socio-legal methodology, then you may be carrying out some non-text based research, perhaps involving research questionnaires. Here, the method becomes more important and must be explained as part of your thesis. Methods take on particular importance in science PhDs.

You should, of course, discuss with your supervisor how best to explain your methodology and methods. You may find it helpful to look at previous PhDs in your field and see how they have handled it. The PhD consultancy can also provide you with a complete service of support and advice for developing and explicating your research methodology and methods.

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