Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2017

Page updated 13 January, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2017, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

1. Basics

1.3 Method and methodology

The aim is to provide a practical guide as well as an academic analysis of research methodology. Although showing you how to do research, Researching the Real World not only explores methods of data collection but also sees your project as a whole, linking theory to data.

Method, in social science, refers to the tools used to collect data or evidence. The collection of data or evidence is necessary if an explanation, interpretation or understanding of the social world is to be based on more than theoretical speculation.

The key to social research is to obtain a balance between ‘data’ and ‘theory’. Knowledge that is based entirely on observation or experiment is known as empirical knowledge. Similarly, knowledge based solely on theoretical analysis is theoretical knowledge. The goal of social research is to merge theoretical and empirical knowledge so that we can account for social phenomena in a way that connects our theories about the social world to observable experience of it.

In that sense, this is a methodology Guide, not just a ‘methods’ text. Researching the Real World shows you, through examples, how to relate theory to practice. It also goes further and examines the philosophy underlying different approaches to sociological research.

In essence, this Guide takes the position that method, methodology and epistemology are intrinsically fused in any research endeavour. That is, one’s view of what constitutes knowledge, the purpose of the enquiry, the approach taken to the issue being researched and the method used to collect data are all interlinked. This is explained further in this section.

1.3.1 Methodology
It is important to distinguish methodology from method. Participant observation, in-depth interviewing, using postal questionnaires, re-analysing official statistics, are all examples of methods used in sociology.

Methodology, however, involves specifying not just how you intend to collect evidence but why. Methodology involves asking what is the purpose of the research and why is the approach you have selected the appropriate one?

Methodology also involves asking what is the relationship between the methods used to collect evidence and the explanation, interpretation or understanding that you are seeking? Methodology is about your whole approach to an area of research. It starts with the research question, the purpose of the investigation, identifies possible alternative methods (of data collection) and selects those that are most suited to addressing the theory given your underlying assumptions about the nature of sociological knowledge (epistemology).

In short, there is a direct link between theory and method. The kind of issue you are interested in exploring and the sorts of things you are trying to find out will affect the methods you use. Conversely, the evidence that results from the methods you employ, and the way you interpret the evidence will impact on the theory that you develop.

So the way you do social research involves more than just adopting a method and applying it to a theory. You need also to take into account the purpose of the research, the way you think about the world, what you regard as appropriate evidence, and the way that you define what constitutes knowledge.


Next 1.4 Data, information and evidence