Do you mean “methods”, or “methodology”?

I’m writing a short piece on research methods for a proposal and it reminds me that I think we need to draw a distinction between two terms that are frequently conflated: methodology and methods (6, Perri and Christine Bellamy. (2011). Principles of Methodology: Research Design in Social Science. London: Sage.).

Whereas methodology properly refers to the branch of logic dealing with the general principles of knowledge, the theoretical analysis of methods proper and principles particular to specific branches of knowledge, the term methodology has increasingly come to be used as a grandiose substitute for the correct term – method – frequently inflated to the even grander methodological.

This concern is not simply pedantic (I hope), as the misuse of the term methodology confuses the important difference between the tools and techniques – i.e., the methods – and the principles and philosophical assumptions for considering how and where to use those methods.

Behind important choices in conducting research – what data to collect and what procedures to use – lie important philosophical and foundational questions: is there a single, absolute truth or multiple realities? What is more reliable: our senses or our reasoning? Is knowledge waiting to be discovered, or is it constructed through our thinking? These questions are evaluated within a framework of this researcher’s ontological and epistemological position. (More on these last points later).

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