As of yesterday evening, I have a mostly-complete draft methodology chapter (“mostly” because there are obviously things that I can’t write about yet, because I haven’t done them and I’m not, in some cases, sure how I’m going to do them). It currently stands at 11,590 words, so the final draft is likely to be about 15,000. Too many, but rather that than too few.
I started properly working on the Methodology chapter in February, which was about 16 months into the PhD. I spent a lot of time reading about methodology – some had already come up as part of my literature search, but I needed to convince myself of various points, including whether or not my research could or should be conducted within a grounded theory framework (yes it could be, no it shouldn’t, or at least won’t, be).
(I also needed to do a lot of reading about mixed methods research; although in many ways it does what it says on the tin, it is rather more complex than “collect one type of data, collect another type of data, and discuss the findings all together in one lump”. One thing which was quite exciting was the discovery that my planned research design was a real, acknowledged mixed methods research design – the sequential explanatory design (participant selection model), described by Creswell et al in 2003. I hadn’t known about this model when I first came up with my research design, but it exactly fits: collect quantitative data, analyse it and use it to select participants for qualitative data collection. And there are lots of graphical representations of the process – I love a good graphical representation (as long as I actually understand it – not true of all that I have come across over the years).)
In May I had a meeting with my supervisor, which was faintly embarrassing – my extensive reading had not yet translated into extensive writing. We had a good discussion about my methodology and resolved some issues, but neither of us was particularly pleased by the exchange of four sparsely populated pieces of paper professing to be a draft methodology chapter.
From May until yesterday I spent nearly every day (apart from a three week period during which I created and disseminated the quantitative questionnaire, and prepared a paper for the Research2 PhD conference) working on the chapter – reading, notewriting, structuring, synthesising, and finally – finally! – writing.
It took a lot longer, and was a lot more difficult, than I had expected, but it was worth it in the end. I feel confident in my choice of methodology, and I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know about research methods in general. If anyone asked me for my advice on doing a methodology chapter, it would be:
Don’t underestimate the time it may take.
And don’t be scared. It is intimidating – there’s a lot to read and to learn and to write, but it is also fascinating and engrossing (and tiring and frustrating and seemingly endless…).
You may become a complete methodology nerd, as well, but I’m assured that that wears off. Eventually.