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What are research methods?
Typically in the research process, a research topic is first chosen. After which, a literature review will be conducted to identify knowledge gaps within the topic. The researcher then decides on the research questions or hypotheses the study will investigate and this is where research methods come in. Research methods are the techniques, processes and procedures to sample, collect and analyse data with which the researcher employs to answer research questions or test hypotheses set out.
The three major approaches to research are quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods.
collects numerical data which is then measured, ranked and categorised using statistical analysis to reveal relationships and patterns, and make generalisations about the research subject. This type of research is useful for investigating questions like how many/much, how often, to what extent.Examples of quantitative research include: laboratory experiments, surveys or questionnaires, and mathematical modelling. SPSS and SAS are two commonly used tools for analysing quantitative data.
collects non-numerical data to infer the meanings, characteristics, behaviours of research subjects. This type of research is useful for exploring the hows and whys of a particular phenomenon. Examples of qualitative research include: interviews, focus groups, observations, and case studies. Nvivo is a commonly used tool for analysing qualitative data.
collects both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study. A common example of mixed methods research is a survey (quantitative) and a focus group interview (qualitative).
Which research method should I use?
The research method undertaken and how it is used often depend on the discipline and research topic. Here are some tips to help you:
1. Getting started on finding research method resources for your discipline
Searching keywords such as "research design”, “research methods” “qualitative methods” “quantitative methods” plus your subject/discipline in OneSearch, e.g. “qualitative methods nursing”, and limit results to books and reference materials. This helps you locate books and handbooks on research methods in your discipline.
See some examples of books/handbooks below.
2. Seeing what methods are used by researchers
During the literature review stage you will find journal articles on your research topic on OneSearch or library-subscribed databases.
Within each journal article, there is a methods or methodology section in which the authors will describe in detail the research method, data collection tools, data analysis conducted employed. Refer to this guide Anatomy of a scholarly article which helps you understand the components of a research article.
By doing this, you can have an idea about which research methods are commonly used to address a particular type of research question.
3. Finding more articles that employ a particular research method or data collection technique
Many subject databases allow you to limit your search results by research methods or data collection approach, such as "focus group", "spatial autocorrelation analysis", "case study", "lived experience", etc. so that you can find more articles that are adopting the same research method or data collection technique.
Quick tip: Remember to use basic search techniques
Breakdown your research topic into keywords.
Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to help narrow or widen search results
Use parentheses on keywords (e.g. "focus group") to search the terms as a phrase
Find your subject guide here for more information on subject databases and search tips.