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Dissertation / Project Support: Research Methods

A guide for undergraduate and postgraduate dissertation students

Research Methods

Research methods are the approaches, strategies or tools you use to undertake your research for your dissertation; from finding and collecting the information or data you need to analysing and interpreting your results in order to answer your research question. There are a variety of different methods for undertaking your research and the type of research you do depends on your subject and research question. 

Research for your Dissertation

Most dissertations will require a literature review where you identify what information and research already exists in your field of study that is then used to provide a context for your own research. See the Literature Reviews and Literature Searching sections of this guide for more details and guidance on undertaking a Literature review. 

In addition to your literature review, you many need to conduct your own research (primary research) or use other people's research (secondary research) to answer your research question.

Primary research

Primary research is where you use research methods to find, collate and analyse your own data to answer your research question. Tools you might use to conduct primary research include:

  • Questionnaires or surveys
  • Interviews
  • Lab experiments
  • Oral histories
  • Observation
  • Focus groups

Primary research can be further broken down into Qualitative or Quantitative research.

Qualitative research

This is where the research is looking at 'non-numerical' data such as open ended survey responses, interview answers, focus groups or oral histories. This type of research can provide more in depth insight into a topic but usually on a smaller scale than quantitative data.

Quantitative research

This is data that is usually numeral (or can be converted into numbers) and is often found in closed questionnaire or survey responses, observation counting, or experiment results. This type of research can provide large scale results which can be measured through statistical analysis.

Your primary research may involve either qualitative or quantitative data, or both.

Conducting primary research

Your department and supervisor should be able to help and advise you on designing your primary research. The Library has resources on conducting primary research including Books, eBooks and journal articles as well as resources such as Sage Research Methods  - see details in the Resources section below.

Secondary research

With secondary research (sometimes known as desk research), your are finding, collating and analysing other people's primary research findings to answer your own research question. Secondary research can be less time consuming than primary research because someone else has already done the research but the disadvantage is that this research may not answer your research question completely. Gaps in the secondary research you analyse may mean you decide to conduct your own primary research. Secondary data may come from researchers in your field of research through academic journals, theses and conference proceedings, or through government organisations, other national or international institutions, or trade, business or commercial organisations. Like primary research, the secondary research you use may be qualitative, quantitative or both. 

Conducting secondary research

The Library has a huge range of resources that may help with your secondary research. Search SUPrimo or look at our Subject Specific LibGuides for resources in your research area. There are also LibGuides on finding Official publications, Statistics and more under the How To section. There is also a LibGuide on finding Research data which while aimed at higher level researchers may also be of use in finding relevant research data.

Research Methods Resources

Sage Research Methods

This huge resource calls itself 'the ultimate methods library with more than 1000 books, reference works, journal articles, and instructional videos by world-leading academics.' It also includes case studies and datasets with content suitable for those just starting out on their research journey to more experienced researchers. The resources provides content on conducting and writing literature reviews, comparing different research methods, understanding research ethics, research design, data collection and analysis and writing up your findings.

There is a helpful guide to the product here and a useful introductory video here.

Access Sage Research Methods here or go to the A-Z database list for more details 

Sage Research Methods Map

For those unfamiliar with research methods, the Sage Research Method Map is a particularly useful tool, providing details of the terms used in this area with useful definitions and links to relevant content including videos and case studies as well as reference works and articles. This tool can be found under the Research Tools section on the main page

Sage Research Methods Map


Learner Development Services resources

The Learner Development Services team at Strathclyde has some fantastic resources on Research skills and methodologies in their Research Toolkits section on Myplace. 

Popular books and eBooks on Research Methods

Books and eBooks available via the Library collections

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