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Methodology vs. Methods

Methodology refers to systems of techniques for how one should or could carry out research. Methods are the specific tools or techniques used to carry out research. These terms are often used synonymously, but they are slightly distinct. Methodology is a broader concept within which many methods fall.

An example of the difference might be to say that I employ quantitative methodologies which might include methods such as descriptive statistics, linear or logistic regression, or structural equation modeling. Alternatively, qualitative methodologies include such methods as discourse analysis, one-on-one interviewing, or ethnography.

Methodology and methods are both guided by epistemology, too. Epistemology is the theoretical exploration of how one can best understand the world. The epistemology known as positivism suggests that there can be universal truths unveiled through scientific research, whereas standpoint theory is a more relative epistemological approach where truth is said to depend on one’s particular social position. Differences in epistemology lead to differences in methodologies and methods. Those who believe in objective truths tend to employ quantitative methods and those who stress relativism are more likely to use qualitative methods; although these are not rigid rules.

Written by Phyllis L. F. Rippey, Ph.D.