A research method is the specific procedure used to answer a set of research questions. Popular methods vary by field, but include qualitative as well as quantitative approaches. Qualitative approaches rely more on observation and interpretation, while quantitative methods focus on data collection and analysis. Research methods should not be confused with research methodology, which is the study of research methods.
Identifying and Critiquing a Research Method
Find the research method in a research paper by looking for a section by this title, which will typically be toward the beginning of the paper, after the abstract and introduction. The description of the research method should include a rationale for why it was chosen.
Ask yourself whether the method used makes sense in answering the research questions. Most basically, research questions which seek to understand a phenomenon may be best answered with qualitative methods such as case studies or narrative approaches. Research questions which seek to describe a phenomenon may be better suited to quantitative methods, such as experiments or surveys.
Match the research questions with the author’s conclusions. Make sure the research questions were answered specifically. Incomplete answers often indicate improper choice of research method.
Be aware of the most common methodological errors. First, even when a specific method answers specific research questions, data disparities and questions that arise during research often cause scientists to redesign their studies. Thus, a completed study should proceed logically from question to method to discussion and conclusions. If there are obvious questions left unanswered, a methodological error may be the cause.
Examine the researcher’s conclusions from a broad perspective. Ask yourself if they make significant contributions to existing knowledge about the topic. For example, if a study of apples reveals that they have seeds, this would not be a significant finding. Studies that merely support existing knowledge can be helpful, but an overly basic study can be the result of an improper method.