Insights into ‘Research Onion’: An Effective Approach for Developing Methodology Section

Research methodology, the body of a thesis, provides an overview of methods, tools used to collect the data, sampling techniques and mode of data analysis used in the study. Since this section provides validity & reliability of the study, it should be made comprehensible to readers. Research methodology can be crafted either by following the general layout or by leveraging research onion model. 

The research onion model, developed by Saunders et al, describes the stages that must be covered when developing a methodology section. When viewed from the external layer, each layer of the model describes the stages of the study process in detail. The onion model can be used for any type of research and in any context.

Research onion is based on three popular philosophies. They are:

  • Philosophy of ontology – Ontology describes the difference between the reality and how reality is perceived. It further includes three philosophical positions.
  1. Objectivism – This position is derived from the concept that human value and knowledge are objective and can be determined by the nature of reality. 
  2. Constructivism – It focuses on how the knowledge bodies were developed and how the ideas were created by human decisions and interactions. 
  3. Pragmatism – This philosophical position focuses on linking practice and theory. It states that objectivism & constructivism are valid ways to approach a study and both can be used to obtain solutions for problems. 
  • Philosophy of epistemology – This philosophy determines acceptable knowledge of the study and addresses the issues accordingly. Epistemology is commonly used in scientific research as it lets you find the precise required information. The philosophical positions included here are:
  1. Positivism This philosophical position is based on the concept that scientific knowledge is the acceptable knowledge and is characterised by assessing the hypothesis derived from existing theory. 
  2. Interpretivism It highlights the use of qualitative method over quantitative method to acquire the desired results. This type of position incorporates human interest into a study.  
  3. Critical realism – It questions the reliability of scientific knowledge and describes that the theories can be revised using new methods to obtain reliable results. 
  • Philosophy of axiology – This type of philosophy helps gives an understanding about the opinions and valuables the affect the data collection and analysis. 

Layers of research onion

  • Research philosophy  

This is the outermost layer of the onion model and is studied in the context of epistemology and ontology. This layer refers to the principles concerning the characteristics of the reality under investigation. The assumptions developed by the research philosophy provide justification on how the study was conducted. 

  • Research approach 

Research approach is the second layer of the onion model and represents the methods used to perform the study. The research approach can be deductive & inductive, and it is selected on the basis of research aims, previous choice, personal opinions and limitations. The deductive approach flows from generic to specific. It begins with a theory and gradually moves to hypothesis that is to be tested during data analysis. On the other hand, inductive approach begins with observations and then a theory is created.

  • Research strategy 

This layer is concerned with the strategies used to collect the data. The strategies include survey, experimental method, action research, case study, grounded theory, and ethnography. The choice of strategy depends on the purpose of the study and data required to perform the study. 

  • Research choice of methods

The fourth layer is concerned with the methods used for performing the study. The types of methods included here are momo-method, multi-method and mixed method. As the name suggests, the mono-method includes only one study method, multi-method uses a wide range of methods and mixed method uses two or more methods (commonly qualitative and quantitative method).  

  • Time horizon

The fifth layer deals with the timeframe of the study. Typically, observations are of two types: cross-sectional and longitudinal.cross-sectional time horizon provides a glimpse of a certain condition at a single point in time and confines the time duration of data collection and study process to a short period. Longitudinal study on the other hand studies behaviours and events for a longer period using concentrated samples. 

  • Data collection & analysis 

The final layer of the research onion model includes techniques and procedures used to collect the data and perform analysis. This layer consists of decisions pertaining to questionnaire content, sample groups, interview questions, etc. The decisions must align with the aspects mentioned in the previous layers to obtain valid results. Also, the research designs are made clear by providing justification for each stage. This layer provides a framework including the considerations that led to the choice of research method and selection of respondents. 

Now that you know the layers of research onion, make the best use of the model and pen down an exceptional methodology chapter. 

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