How do I Choose the Best Research Paper Methodology?

A.F. Heath

Research paper methodology typically involves qualitative research or quantitative research, or a mixture of both. A quantitative research paper methodology involves the analysis of data collected from a large number of surveys or interviews. On the other hand, methodologies for qualitative research often involve using surveys or interviews to collect information about people — their attitudes, experiences and behaviors. In general, determining whether to use quantitative versus qualitative methodology depends on the topic and area of study. One way to get an idea of the type of research paper methodologies in your area of study is to look at previous research papers on your topic to find a pattern. For example, most research in the field of psychology involves qualitative or mixed research methodologies, whereas most research in the area of computer science involves quantitative methodologies.

Examining research questions and topic of study are good ways to choose.
Examining research questions and topic of study are good ways to choose.

Another good way to choose the best research paper methodology is to look at your research questions and what you are studying. If your research questions are more exploratory and investigative — asking how or what — they are usually best answered with qualitative or mixed methods. If your research question makes a hypothesis or a statement that needs to be proven right or wrong, then you would generally use a quantitative methodology.

Searching online for information is a common research methodology.
Searching online for information is a common research methodology.

You can also narrow down your research paper methodology by considering the type of information needed to answer your research question. For example, if your paper asks how breast cancer patients search for health information on online health websites, your answer will typically require behavioral information; in this case, a qualitative method may be more appropriate to get at that information.

On the other hand, if your research question is more of a hypothesis, such as "adult college students who take online courses perform better than those who take courses in traditional classroom settings," you will need to prove this. To test this hypothesis, you may want to look at performance measures, such as test scores and course grades, of the online versus classroom group and compare them during a set time period, such as one semester. The data in this case — test scores and course grades — typically needs to be collected through quantitative methods. If you wanted to also study the opinions that the online students and classroom students had about the quality of the classes they had taken, you may need to use qualitative methods along with the quantitative methods. This would be an example of using a mixed methodology in that you would have both the quantitative research and the qualitative research in the same study.

Once you've chosen an appropriate research paper methodology, you would then normally determine what research study instruments will be used to collect the data needed. Typically, qualitative research makes use of surveys and interviews to collect data from a small group of participants. Quantitative research commonly uses large numbers of surveys or interviews to collect data to be analyzed. In some cases, the data may already exist and just needs to be analyzed.

The field research is being conducted in may dictate what methodology, qualitative or quantitative, should be used.
The field research is being conducted in may dictate what methodology, qualitative or quantitative, should be used.

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Discussion Comments


I would like to ask how do I build the methodology when I am analyzing the undisclosed documentation of World War II. Based on its content, I just prove my hypothesis. Is there anybody who could give me a hand? I have already read many websites about methodology, about how important it is, and what it usually contains, but I am still confused. I do know what research I should apply and all those things.


@vogueknit17, you bring up something important in your mention of primary and secondary sources, one which could even be valuable in more scientific research. Primary sources, or sources directly from an event or issue, could relate in science to people who have personally researched or experimented on a topic; secondary sources, or accounts of the primary sources, would be others' writings of a scientific experiment they themselves did not do.

While in a literary research paper, these differences are valuable in determining how closely connected, and therefore acccurate, sources are, they can do the same for a scientific topic in helping to understand the extent to which a thing has already been researched or experimented.


I notice this article focuses more on scientific research methodology than the methodology used in research papers on history, literature, or other humanities-related topics.

When researching a specific event, for example, such as the Battles of Hasting in 1066, you do still use things like qualitative and quantitative research, though in a different way. Rather than proving a hypothesis, you might find yourself seeing what sources support a certain reason for the Norman army winning; qualitatively dealing with primary versus secondary sources, and quantitatively seeing what reasons show up the most in past accounts and research.

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