What is the Methodology for your coursework?

If you are studying in the UK on an undergraduate or a Masters’ degree course, you will be required to write coursework, projects and/or dissertations for most of the modules in your Programme of study. All of those assessments require you to describe the methodology of your work. In one of my own modules, Managing Finance, students have to write a business report which requires them to explain the methodology used to write that report. I have noticed that international students, who have no prior experience of studying in the UK, usually have no idea what methodology is? Last semester when I was marking my students’ work, I was disappointed to see that many students were writing methodologies which were used by their subject company to carry out their business instead of writing the methodology used to research and write the report.

Therefore, I felt the need to write an article on this matter just for those international students who have no prior knowledge of how to write a methodology. My aim is to tell the basics which should be sufficient for students to pass this part and not to go into theoretical aspects of the methodology as the complicated wordings used in there usually put students off and they give up.

In a nutshell… Your methodology is the method which you have used to carry out your research and to write your report.

There are two parts of the methodology section. The first one is the theoretical aspects of methodology which means explaining what methodology is and the related theories. This part is carried out by doing a literature review of the published work i.e., articles from academic journals and books.

The first part of the methodology section

Usually this includes the “Research Paradigms.” These paradigms are known as “Ontological” and “Epistemological” paradigms of research. The third area of the research paradigm is methodological inquiry of the research which means what methods and procedures will be used to carry out your research. In this area, you will see two major methods/techniques;

1.Qualitative technique

2.Quantitative techniques

If you are writing a bigger piece of work, at least 5000 words, then you can, or maybe you should, depending on the assessment brief which you should follow closely, you can talk about the theoretical aspects of these paradigms (definitions etc), explain these concepts and then justify why you have chosen a certain paradigm and why you went for a certain methodological inquiry i.e., quantitative or qualitative methods of research. This will be like a literature review on the research paradigms.

For Managing Finance coursework, we should be looking at quantitative methods of research because our coursework is primarily numerical. However, there is no need for a literature review on quantitative methods.

You should also clarify if you are using primary data or secondary data. Primary data is the data which is collected by the researcher using techniques like observations, interviews, surveys etc (again not relevant to Managing Finance). Secondary data is the data which is collected and extracted from the existing published sources, for example, using published financial statements given in the annual reports of a limited company.

If you are writing a short piece of work which is only 2000-3000 words long, as in Managing Finance, then do not include the literature review on the research paradigms. Just go straight into describing how you carried out your research.

Second part of your methodology is your own experience of carrying out research.

This could include, for example, if you’re doing a primary research, interview, observations and surveys etc. How you conducted these activities and what was your learning from those? But if you’re using secondary data, then you will need to describe that you are using, for example in Managing Finance CW (Business Report on financial analysis for company), Annual reports for your company and you have collected those from their website or whatever method you used to collect your data. You should also include other documents which you have used in your research.

You also need to describe the sources which you have used to collect your data. For example, if you have used London Stock Exchange’s website or Financial Times’s website, Yahoo Finance, Google Finance and if you used some books, articles and journals from the library. You should also explain how you collected industry data or competitors’ data e.g., you went to a data source, for example, Bloomberg and which sources you relied upon the most and why you had to use certain resources, even if they were not that credible. This means your describing the limitations of your research which is a good thing to do in a research work. For example, Yahoo finance and Google Finance, which are okay to use but you should rather go to a better source like London Stock Exchange or company’s own website. All research has limitations and this does not have a negative impact on your score for the assessment.

You should also describe how you have processed your data. For example, if you’re using a ratio analysis, vertical analysis, horizontal analysis and/or Thornton’ Z-score. You should also describe why you use those methods and techniques. Obviously, if assessment brief tells you to use a certain technique, then that is a sufficient justification. But if the assessment brief gives you an option to choose from a variety of methods or leaves it to students completely, then you should justify the reasoning for using the methods which you have used. For example, you can say that these methods are commonly used in a research like this or you understood them well and/or these methods and techniques were taught in the class etc.

The third part would be to explain how you wrote your report, basically, the skills and tools which you used to write the Report. For example, you used Microsoft Word, you learn how to use Microsoft Excel and creating tables and charts, and any other software which you used to write your report.

To summarize, there are two major parts of the methodology section;

•The first one is more of a literature review on the research paradigms which should be ignored if your work is a short one (2000-3000 words)

•The second one is the description of your own experience of carrying out the research. This section has three areas;

  • (i) how you collected your information or data,
  • (ii) how you process that data and
  • (iii) how you completed and finalized your report.

I hope methodology now makes sense and nobody is going to make a mistake in the methodology section.

This article is written by Raja Mizan who is a senior lecturer in accounting & finance in a UK university. He is an ACCA member and also runs his own accountancy practice RMR Accountants & Business Advisors.

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