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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship & Benjamin Mays Library Research Guide

What is methodology?

Methodology and methods are terms often used interchangeably, but each actually has a distinct meaning in research design. Professor Daphne Watkins of the University of Michigan provides the following explanation of the difference:

Methodology is a lens through which research is examined... Methods are the techniques that are used to confirm the methodological underpinning in a study. In other words, if methodology is the theory behind the research, then methods are the tools used to collect the information needed to understand (either confirm or refute) the research. 

Another way to think about it is that methodology is the justification for the methods employed in your research.


Source: Watkins, D. C. & Gioia, D. (2015). Mixed methods research. Pocket guides to social work research methods series. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Inductive & Deductive Approaches

Research methodologies typically utilize either deductive or inductive reasoning.

Deductive reasoning starts with a theory or hypothesis and then seeks to test that theory or hypothesis on a sample. This can also be thought of as "top-down" reasoning. Quantitative research methods are based on deductive reasoning. 

Inductive reasoning starts with a specific observation, phenomenon, or experience and seeks to develop an overarching theory to explain what was observed. This can also be thought of as "bottom-up" reasoning. Qualitative methods are usually based on inductive reasoning. For examples of qualitative methods, see our Qualitative Research Methods guide

Researchers who want to capitalize on the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative approaches can employ mixed methods research designs. To learn about the various types of mixed methods designs see The Oxford Handbook of Multimethod and Mixed Methods Research Inquiry (ebook).

Books about Research Methods

There are numerous research techniques employed in the humanities and social sciences. Below are links to ebooks which provide detailed descriptions of the types of methods that may be used for a research design.