How to Choose the Right Methodology for Your Doctoral Dissertation


Hi Dissertation Writer! If you have found your way to this article, you are probably feeling lost. Not only are you disoriented, but you are "lost" in the worst way: You are lost when it does not have to be this way! I'm Dr. Guy, author of "The Dissertation Warrior," and founder of the world's most comprehensive online dissertation writing training for doctoral students: The Dissertation Mentor® Accelerator Program.

I'm running my Dissertation Summer Camp very soon. You should definitely attend! Now, onto the article.

Purpose of this Article

Doctoral candidates often struggle with three notable competing forces when they are selecting a topic and trying to get their initial proposal or chapters completed. These competing forces (among many) are:

  1. Their own opinion on what they should study;
  2. Their chair's assessment of the suitability of the study they hope to pursue; and
  3. The mechanics of how one would go about such a study in the first place.

This article focuses mainly on that last challenge: How does one select the "right way" of collecting data and analyzing it? This task is quite an important thing to figure out! After all, without this, there is no hope of getting your chair to approve your study. Further, this article will help you develop a sense of "why" you are collecting and analyzing the data in a particular fashion. This ability to justify your choices is also something you'll need in your journey.

What methodology should I choose for my doctoral dissertation?

Where most doctoral students start on this question is in precisely the wrong place! Some will say that they are a numbers person and, therefore, will be selecting a quantitative approach. Others will identify themselves as "not numbers people" and will lean toward qualitative. Still, some say, "I want the best of both worlds" and lean toward a mixed methods approach.

Rather than beginning with your personal preference, you should know that your doctoral program, your chair, and your committee most likely already have a preference of which avenue you choose: quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods. Nearly every university has a dissertation repository of some kind, where you can examine doctoral studies of past graduates. Your first step in choosing your methodology is to see what the norms are!

First, download the last twenty-five or thirty dissertations from your program.

Second, download the last ten or twenty dissertations from your chair.

Third, if you have a committee already established, find the last five dissertations associated with each of the other two or so committee members.

Finally, with all these dissertations in hand, make a table that tracks the (1) purpose statement, (2) methodology, and (3) research questions of each. Ask yourself: "Are there any patterns regarding the selected methodologies for doctoral dissertations in my program?"

What is a methodology anyways?

Simply put, a research methodology is a term used by a researcher to mean the form and steps through which data collection and data analysis will occur in a study. Usually, a methodology will specify whether a study is quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods; the specific type of quantitative or qualitative study one is undertaking; and the precise steps to get the data and to analyze it.

How should I choose my dissertation's methodology?

Your chair and committee will be interested in how your selected methodology is "justified" and "appropriate."

Your choice should be justified in that other studies out there in the world are recommending your chosen researchable problem be studied using this methodology. That means that you need to have found other studies that make that recommendation. When you read other studies, you should most definitely note where recommendations for future research align in any way with what you plan on studying and how you plan on studying that. Make a list of recommendations for future research that, in any fashion, advocate for your study – especially these recommendations relate to your chosen methodology. Naturally, if no one ("after months of looking at a handful of articles each day, 'no one'") is advocating for your selected design, then it may be time to choose another.

Your methodology choice should be "appropriate" in that the form of data collection and analysis that you chose can help fulfill your study's aims. This means that you will have to become familiar with not only what qualitative and/or quantitative studies can accomplish, but also with what they can't do. Further, you'll have to learn about the specific form of qualitative or quantitative research you wish to undertake. If you plan on doing a qualitative case study, for example, you'll have to learn about what a case study does! If you plan on running a statistical test of some kind, you'll have to learn about how it works and the requirements to run it!

To help with this, I've put together an excellent list of qualitative and quantitative books here. Use this list to select a book that will guide you in conducting your study. However, don't buy anything until you have created that table that I mentioned above.

Where should I start in selecting my dissertation's methodology?

Summarizing the steps discussed in this article:

  1. Download the last twenty-five or thirty dissertations from your program;
  2. Download the last ten or twenty dissertations from your chair.;
  3. If you have a committee already established, find the previous five dissertations associated with each of the other two or so committee members;
  4. With all these dissertations in hand, make a table that tracks the (1) purpose statement, (2) methodology, and (3) research questions of each. Ask yourself: "Are there any patterns regarding the selected methodologies for doctoral dissertations in my program?"
  5. Continue to do an excellent literature search, reading articles and noting what methodologies other authors used and what methodologies they provide in their recommendations for future research; and
  6. After, and only after, you've built the table described above and found some juicy recommendations in the literature, buy a book that aligns with the methodology you'd like to undertake.

These steps will help bring massive clarity to your dissertation and your methodology choice.

Have I chosen the right methodology?

You most likely have the right methodology selected when you have met four criteria. First, other studies should be recommending that you use this methodology for this particular research problem (or something close to it). Second, your choice should fit the norms of your doctoral program. Third, you have obtained and read a detailed research manual about the particular methodology you selected. Finally, there is a clear sense, both within your heart and your writing, that this chosen methodology will fulfill the study's aims.

Parting Words

Your chair and committee will need to see that your methodology choice was well-reasoned – that you chose this particular methodology fully informed of the other possibilities. Your task is not just to become an expert in your own chosen methodology, but to be able to discuss, with confidence, what other forms of research could have offered. If you take the steps above, you will be struck with a great sense of clarity of what methodology you should choose and why you should choose it. Now, go out there and do some hard work!

If you found this article helpful and want to check out my other resources, you can find them below and always at my website at

If you want to pour jet fuel on your dissertation writing process, consider joining me in my flagship program.

Further Learning

Read: Chapters 41-44 of The Dissertation Warrior
Watch: How Do I Choose a Dissertation Methodology
Watch: Doctoral Dissertation Methodology and Research Design 
My Program: The Dissertation Mentor® Accelerator Program



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