Research Not only they are helpful in understanding

Research Design and Methodology


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       Writing a
dissertation can be a difficult process. Not only the researcher has to master
the methodology but also he needs to be ready to encounter some hardships along
the way.  In general, researchers have limited
time and funding (Burnham 2008, p.43) meaning they are obliged to meet
deadlines and carefully allocate the material resources. In addition to these
challenges, there are also barriers in each phase of the research process. Those
challenges are natural but with the careful consideration and planning prior
the start of the research project the researcher can prevent or prepare the
means to meet the anticipated problems. This paper will discuss research design
and methodology in relation to a dissertation named “Social and Political
Circumstances of Terrorism in Western Europe”. Firstly, it will describe
the qualities of three research methods such as surveys, elite interviewing and
focus groups. Secondly, it will address the obstacles that researchers confront
when planning research projects. Finally, the paper will consider
epistemological and ontological assumptions of the three methods that had been
discussed previously.         First of all, it is important to define
what the research design means. According to Kerlinger “it is the plan,
the structure, the strategy of the investigation in order to obtain answers
to research questions” (Burnham 2008, p.39). Burnham and others
also state that the goal of the researcher is to generate new knowledge about a
particular puzzling, interesting or neglected phenomenon and apply and test
existing theories to explain the occurrence of that case (Burnham 2008, p.40).
In order to obtain the final knowledge researchers had to go through data
gathering whether primary or secondary, quantitative or qualitative to have a
material on the basis of which scholars can make their analyses. There are many
ways of data collection: case studies, surveys, interviews, focus groups,
document analysis etc. I will concentrate on three that may be relevant when
working on the my dissertation.


became a popular and widely used tool of data collection for social scientists
(Hakim 2000, p.76). Not only they are helpful in understanding opinions and
perspectives of respondents in particular but also they produce statistics that
can be used to represent a view of a bigger group of people such as a town, a region
or even a state at a much lower cost. In other words, surveys help to attain
the information that serve as a representative sample of a bigger population.
Using those samples researchers can make generalizations about the public  behavior (Burnham 2008, p.97; Hakim
2000, p.76) and make their analyses and conclusions based on those
generalizations. Surveys usually can be carried out through questionnaires –
“critical methodological tool that has to be understandable,
unambiguous, unbiased and relevant” (Burnham 2008, p.111) for the
result to be objective and research to be successful. The researcher needs to
take time and carefully design the questions keeping in mind that they need to
be as short and precise as possible with a good use of wording. Another
advantage of surveys is an ability of a reader to actually see the numbers,
graphs and tables and consider whether the analysis was well founded or not,
was there anything overlooked in contrast, for example, from case studies or
depth interviews where readers are left only with the final analysis (Hakim
2000, p.77-78). In contrast to interviews, for instance, surveys are tend to be
anonymous which in turn gives a more honest and clear picture of the views and
feelings of respondents.

that arise with using the survey method is that the accuracy of data can be
distorted because of the possibility of “first option selection”. If,
for example, a person has no time or willingness to answer s/he might just
choose the first choice which will not be necessarily truthful and thus the
result of the survey will be perverted (Dudovskyi 2011). Another challenge of
using questionnaires is related to shortness of responses meaning that in
comparison to interviews the information has a “lesser depth” (Hakim
2000, p.78). Nonetheless, the final data considered to be rewarding.  

Elite interviewing

       A second part
of the research topic about political circumstances had driven me to consider
elite interviewing as a method that can be very useful in answering research
questions. According to Burnham and others, if political elite interviewing is
carried out properly it can have a massive benefit to the understanding of a
particular political tendency (Burnham 2008, p.231). Elite interviewing
is a great tool when a researcher wants to find out attitudes, perceptions and
behaviors of people who, for instance, have a legitimate authority to make
policies (Richards 1996, p.199-200). Interviews give a chance not only to
receive the answers to given questions but also to steer the conversation which
can bring a richer depth of information (Hakim 2000, p.35). For instance, since
political parties play a major role in the politics in Western Europe
interviewing the leaders of leftist as well as rightist parties would provide
insights on how they would use the phenomenon of terrorism during election

despite this technique being useful there are many difficulties as well. Firstly,
the process regarded to be highly time-consuming. Scheduling a meeting itself
is challenging  because of a time shortage
of elites. Not only they are extremely busy but also they are often being
bombarded by different requests for an interview, thus the researcher has to
have quite a convincing argument for them to undertake one (Burnham
2008, p.235).  Secondly, it is challenging
to schedule an interview because of so-called “gatekeepers” as their
role is to filter information and people before contacting the interviewee
directly (Burnham 2008, p.236; Herod 1999, p.315; Rice 2010, p.71).
Thirdly, when it comes to the actual data elite interviewing is a challenging
method simply because the researcher needs to communicate with officials that
are representing the formal stance of the area they are working at. For this
reason, they may be reluctant to be open and honest during the interview or
even be subjective. Moreover, sometimes respondents may refuse of being
recorded thus leaving a researcher to take notes by hand (Richards 1996, p.200-202).
 Fourthly, interviews can be cancelled at
the last moment ruining all the hard work that had been done to set up the
meeting  (Burnham 2008, p.233). Despite
all those challenges, if a researcher works hard and flexibly the outcomes can
be promising.   


       Using focus
groups method when a researcher moderates the discussion and observes the
interaction between the members of the cohort can be advantageous to receive
additional information how people view a specific case, how they develop a
perspective on the subject as a unity and why an issue is noteworthy for them (Hakim
2000, p.35; Gibbs 1997,p. 1; Bryman 2016, p.346). This method also provides an
ability to gain a large amount of data in a shorter period of time. Apart from
observational methods, for instance, in focus groups the researcher does not
have to wait for things to happen rather can guide the discussion
himself/herself (Gibbs 1997, p.2). However, there are some challenges as well. A
potential difficulty for a researcher would be an inability to receive truthful
responses because a focus group is speaking in a specific setting, without
anonymity and confidentiality. Thus some people may play “good”
especially when it comes to sensitive topics people tend to appear tolerant and
compassionate. Moreover, since focus groups are relevantly small it is hard to
make generalizations about a bigger public (Gibbs 1997, p.3). Although it may
seem that the time can be saved by setting a group discussion, in fact, it may
require more time to actually gather people according to their personal schedules.
Notwithstanding, according to Gibbs focus groups provide necessary material
about multiple feelings, experiences and reactions and emotions of people  in a group environment in contrast to methods
such as one-to-one interviews, questionnaires and observations (1997, p.2).

and epistemological assumptions

The research will be using social constructionist
approach within relativist ontology, in other words, it is interested in
different people’s ideas of the truth with the focus on feelings. The
assumption thus would be to expect to receive the answers that reflect the
words of feelings such as happy, angry, indifferent, scared, worried, anxious
etc. (skills you need)


My dissertation topic requires the understanding of social
and political circumstances of terrorism in Western European countries. Since
this theme is sensitive by itself it is challenging to obtain precise and
honest data about the feelings, attitudes and behavior of people who reside in
Western Europe. Three research methods highlighted above are believed to help
to retrieve information because firstly, using surveys can guarantee anonymity;
secondly, elite interviewing can reflect the official position of political
parties regarding the ways how they might use the phenomena of terrorism in
favor of election campaigns and thirdly, how people discuss this topic when
they are a part of a group, what words they use. All three methods are useful
and serve as a window to lives of respondents taking into account the
challenges the researcher still can make a good use of these techniques and develop
the research paper in a relatively objective way.