Methodology is a set of practices. This term may be used to refer to practices which are widely used across an industry or scientific discipline, the techniques used in a particular research study, or the techniques used to accomplish a particular project. People may also use the term “methodology” to refer to the study of such methods, rather than the methods themselves.
Having a clear methodology is often deemed important, especially in the sciences. Clearly outlined directions and procedures tend to increase consistency, and to create work which can be repeated elsewhere, which is an important characteristic of rigorous scientific research. This is why the methodology used in scientific research is always described, so that others can replicate the research themselves or identify errors in the methods used which may have created skewed results.
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In addition to being popular in the hard sciences such as chemistry, astronomy, and physics, methodology is also very important in the social sciences. Researchers who conduct studies on human populations attempt to use rigorous methods so that their results will be respected by other people in the field, and writeups of such research often include an extensive discussion of methodology along with errors and issues which the researchers themselves have identified.
When a project or study is proposed, the architects of the project usually spend a great deal of time on the development of the methodology which will be used, and they may submit their proposal to someone else in the field for independent review. This process is designed to clearly outline how the project will proceed, to identify potential problems and issues, and to discuss emergencies or variations which may arise, and how to deal with them. Methodologies are often informed by the techniques of other people in the field, with researchers learning from the mistakes of others.
Methodology can also be applied to situations beyond research. Industry-wide practices such a safety practices in chemical plants are another form of methodology. These practices are designed to create safe working environments and an established and well-known set of guidelines which allow people to work anywhere. For example, railroad personnel can easily move between employers because they are familiar with the standard industry methods for practices such as train signaling and track switching which are designed to ensure that trains operate safely and efficiently. Methodologies also increase quality control by ensuring that procedures are consistent, and they help industries comply with the law.