The Dictatorship of the problem: choosing research methods

It is relatively easy to investigate how to employ a particular research method in the social sciences. It is considerably more difficult to decide which to use. Which method to use is arguably a more important question than how to use that method. ‘Which method?’ is, at least, the necessarily prior question. One cannot look up how to do something until one has decided what that something is. Methodological innovation depends directly on methodological choice. Researchers continuing a tradition, or working within a paradigm can often avoid making difficult methodological choices. Researchers seeking to innovate cannot. The question ‘which method?’ is particularly important for selecting research designs, because design choice importantly shapes most of the other choices researchers make. Designs are most effective and have the greatest potential for innovation when they are dictated by the nature of the research problem.

Paper originally presented at the Social Research Methodology Centre, City University, London, 18 April 2007, and published in “Methodological Innovations Online“ V. 3 (2008), n.1. Reprinted with permission.

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