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Doctoral research is the cornerstone of a PhD program.
In order to write the dissertation, you must complete extensive, detailed research, and there are different types of research for different types of studies—involving very different methodology.
“The method of research is informed by the research question,” says Garvey House, PhD, associate director of research and residencies for Capella University’s School of Business and Technology. “The problem that’s being addressed usually involves either a gap or a controversy in the literature.” Once the research problem has been identified, the student can employ the methodology best suited for its solution. There are two primary dissertation research methods: Qualitative and quantitative.
There are two primary dissertation research methods: Qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative research focuses on examining the topic via cultural phenomena, human behavior, or belief systems. This type of research uses interviews, open-ended questions, or focus groups to gain insight into people’s thoughts and beliefs around certain behaviors and systems.
Ayn O’Reilly, PhD, core research faculty in the School of Public Service and Education and co-chair of the school’s Scientific Merit Review Committee, notes there are several approaches to qualitative inquiry. The three most routinely used include:
House recommends working on your face-to-face and phone/Skype interview skills if you’re going to use qualitative methods. “You have to understand your own biases and not to ask leading questions. You’ll need to learn when and how to probe more deeply.”
Quantitative research involves the empirical investigation of observable and measurable variables. It is used for theory testing, prediction of outcomes, and determining relationships between and among variables using statistical analysis. Ellen Mink, PhD, core research faculty in the School of Public Service and Education and co-chair of the PSL Scientific Merit Review Committee, outlines two primary data sources for quantitative research.
The choice of whether to use a qualitative or quantitative methodology is based on the nature of the questions being asked, the state of the field, and the feasibility of the approach with the population of interest.
“There are so many variations and possibilities,” House says. “PhD students need to be resourceful and willing to shift their expectations as they learn new research techniques. Researching a doctoral dissertation is an ongoing learning process.”
Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s doctoral programs.