The difference between “method” and “methodology”
A method is simply the tool used to answer your research questions — how, in short, you will go about collecting your data. Examples of UX research methods include:
- Contextual inquiry
- Usability study
- Diary study
- Card sort
If you are choosing among these, you might say “what method should I use?” and settle on one or more methods to answer your research question.
A methodology is the rationale for the research approach, and the lens through which the analysis occurs. Said another way, a methodology describes the “general research strategy that outlines the way in which research is to be undertaken” (An Introduction to the Philosophy of Methodology, Howell 2013). The methodology should impact which method(s) for a research endeavor are selected in order to generate the compelling data.
Examples of methodologies, courtesy of Elin Bjorling, include:
- Phenomenology: describes the “lived experience” of a particular phenomenon
- Ethnography: explores the social world or culture, shared beliefs and behaviors
- Participatory: views the participants as active researchers
- Ethnomethodology: examines how people use dialogue and body language to construct a world view
- Grounding theory*: assumes a blank slate and uses an inductive approach to develop a new theory
*Despite the fact that grounding theory has theory in its name, don’t let that fool you — it is actually a methodology because it aims to generate theory from systematic application of research.
If you wanted to know about the lived experiences purchasing food in the United States, for instance, you would be using the phenomenology methodology— and from there you could choose from different methods to collect that data. For instance, you might perform a contextual inquiry and shop alongside participants; you might also interview a handful of participants and ask them to recount their most recent grocery shopping experience; you might equally choose to do a survey and ask the same questions to hundreds of participants. Because the contextual inquiry gets the researcher much closer to the actual setting, the results may be considered stronger and more transferable in the future.
Examples of when to use “method” and “methodology”
If you work in industry, it’s likely that you will mostly be talking about methods. Here are some ways you can use “methods” in context:
- I’m trying to decide between doing a contextual inquiry, or bringing in participants for interviews. Which method would you choose while balancing cost, research time, and usefulness of the data?
- We want to have hard data with a large number of participants to answer this question, so we should choose a quantitative method, such as a survey that collects data with Likert scales.
If you are working in academia and writing research papers, you want to consider including a description of your methodology. However, framing your approach in industry can have many benefits as well. Here are several examples for using “methodology”:
- The phenomenological methodologywas chosen for this study on the experience of people residing in low income housing in California because the holistic lived experience uncovered areas of opportunity for the state to implement for their next low income housing project.
- In order to create brand new party board game, we used the participatory methodological approach in our design research process. This allowed us to consider the social atmosphere and take input from our participants when developing game play and rules.