ARTICLE 55: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Modernism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Here we have a paradigm with an identity crisis.

It is called modernism, but it is bureaucratic.

It supports scientific research methods but tries to predict the future.

It tries to predict the future but ignores environmental change.

It is based on a realist ontology but is optimistic about the future.

It focuses on research about social events and phenomena but rejects interpretivist paradigms.

I will try to explain how these anomalies in modernism are possible.

Modernism evolved over a period of approximately 400 years from a philosophy based on the interpretation of the mythical to a paradigm based on logic.

It is a movement towards articulating traditional beliefs and practices with modern ideas and needs.

Initially modernism was associated with the church and art. However, the concept developed into a full-fledged paradigm through a process of logical growth. Currently science and reason are critical considerations for achieving accuracy, objectivity, and reliability in the process of knowledge creation. Reason transcends and exists independently of our existential, historical and cultural environments.

Some researchers regard modernism as the paradigm of all true knowledge.

Modernism favours structure, hierarchy, order and centralised control. Planning leads to order, authority is vested in a superior, centralised control is an effective management approach and planning should be done vertically from top to bottom. Consequently, modernist management is largely bureaucratic, prescriptive, procedural and structured.

In terms of research, modernism would imply investigating stages of development. Modernism belongs to the group of technicist paradigms, which favour quantitative research approaches. Important values, therefore, include the scientific method; the authority of the expert; the singularity of meaning; truth and objectivity.

Modernism is used for prediction by analysing reasoning about information that is independent of the environment. The modernist view of time is linear, with events happening one after the other, with no other purpose than to keep progressing in a particular direction. Consequently, statistical analysis and graphical representation of trends are regarded as valuable tools for analysing data.

Modernism follows a realist ontology by accepting facts independent of the human mind. To achieve this the information that is collected and analysed needs to be objective, accurate, valid and authentic in terms of academic meaning, value, and content. Knowledge increases over time and supports certainty, order, organisation, prediction, rationality, linearity and progress. Even though a realist ontology, modernism is mostly optimistic about the future.

Research making use of modernism always has as an objective proving facts by making use of accurate statistics, homogeneous epistemological and moral principles and unyielding norms.


Existing theory is considered in the search for truth and coming to valid conclusions based on the available information about a phenomenon or event. Acquired knowledge is regarded as universal and true. Reason is used to overcome conflict and challenges.

Modernism mostly relates to research on human beings.

Therefore, social research methods are often used even if in combination with a quantitative research approach. Modernism can also be associated with modern societies and developed states (as opposed to pre-modern societies). It often includes campaigns to promote human emancipation, equality, redress and social progress. The family is seen as the central unit of social order and is therefore also often the focus of research using a modernistic philosophy.

During the past approximately seventy years a series of epistemological developments followed from modernism, starting with empiricism, which claims that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. Empiricism further evolved into scientific empiricism or modern science with the development of modernist methodology.

Feminism, like most other paradigms, can be approached in a modernistic manner. It is believed that women who are oppressed by patriarchy can achieve independence and regain their “authentic selves” through reason.

Ethnography, critical theory and critical race theory can also be associated with modernism if quantitative research methods are used or a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.

In modernistic terms language is transparent, meaning that a one-to-one relationship exists between what is written or said, and the concept that is investigated. This is in opposition with the post-modern ontology that meaning in language cannot transport meaning from one person to another without being interpreted first.

Modernism is also in opposition with the interpretivist paradigms. As you probably know by now, they are constructivism, relativism, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics, symbolic interactionism, interpretivism and phenomenology.

Interpretivist paradigms are regarded as anti-realist, meaning that they use subjective data and research methods.

A belief of modernism that clashes with critical race theory and colonialism is that all cultures will embrace the truth because it is universal. Mass culture, mass consumption and mass marketing form part of the modernistic system. Homogeneity is regarded as a strength.


Modernism is the paradigm of all true knowledge.

It is based on logic.

Master-narratives and meta-narratives are accepted for research purposes.

Modernism favours structure, hierarchy, order and centralised control.

Modernism fits in well with a quantitative research approach.

Authority is vested in a superior, who would also be an expert in the field of study.

Scientific research methods, including statistical analysis, are preferred.

Knowledge, truth, reason, validity and objectivity are important criteria for research.

Efforts are made to predict future trends by analysing data independent of the environment.

Modernism can be used in combination with critical theory, critical race theory, scientism and empiricism.

It opposes the interpretivist paradigms.

Criticism that is sometimes raised against modernism is that the process is too bureaucratic, prescriptive, procedural and structured.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 51: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Hermeneutics

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Must research be agony and pain to be good quality?

Can research be fun?

Most of you will probably agree that academic research can be interesting, but do you enjoy doing it?

Do you feel guilty when you enjoy collecting and analyzing data?

Why would you do research about a topic in which you have no interest and that is of no consequence to anybody?

Hermeneutics is the perfect paradigm for a topic that can take you on an emotional roller coaster ride.

I discuss hermeneutics in this post.

What is Hermeneutics?

Hermeneutics is the aspect of a study that involves interpreting the event or events being studied.

Originally, Hermeneutics referred to the study and interpretation of written biblical text.

Now it includes the interpretation of any form of communication,

Including verbal, artistic, geopolitical, physiological, sociological, etc.

It strives towards deeper understanding of the political, historical, sociocultural, and other real-world contexts within which they occur.

Language and history play an important role in the interpretation of events and phenomena.

Hermeneutics represents a specific perspective on data analysis.

In terms of communication, hermeneutics views inquiry as conversation and conversation as a source of data that can and should be used for research.

Hermeneutics is not based on theoretical knowledge only, but also includes the analysis of practical actions or omissions.

Hermeneutics is now applied in all the human sciences to clarify or interpret conditions that need to be understood for whatever reason.

Hermeneutics focuses on interaction and language.

It involves recapturing the meanings of interaction with other people.

Hermeneutics involves the analysis of meaning in a social context.

The intentions of other role-players are recovered and reconstructed to make sense of the current situation.

In hermeneutics theories are developed or borrowed and continually tested, looking for discrepant data and alternative ways of making sense of the data.

It is not the purpose of hermeneutics to offer explanations or to provide authoritative rules or conceptual analysis, but rather to seek and deepen understanding.

As a mode of analysis, it suggests a way of understanding or making meaning of textual data.

Objectivity is sought by analyzing our prejudices and perceptions.

Even so, ambiguity is not regarded as an obstacle to qualitative research and it is accepted that interpretation will sometimes be typical and perhaps even unique to a situation or context.

A hermeneutic approach is open to the ambiguous nature of textual analysis and resists the urge to offer authoritative readings and neat reconciliations.

Rather, it recognizes the uniquely situated nature of interpretation.

This means that events and phenomena can have different meanings in different contexts.

From this we can already see that generalized and authoritative theories will seldom result from research making use of hermeneutics as paradigm.

You, as the researcher, are free to accept or reject the interpretations of others, and you can add your own interpretation to the data that you use in your research.

You can also review historical text if you feel that it is necessary.

In the process you will also learn while contributing to the available knowledge in a particular field of study.

Understanding occurs when you recognize the significance of the data that you are interpreting and when you recognize the interrelatedness of the different elements of the phenomenon.

Many human, religious and philosophical scientists elaborated on and added to the nature of hermeneutics.

Two useful elaborations are, firstly the realization that rich data can be gained from expression and comprehension.

And secondly, that hermeneutical analysis is a circular process.

Let me explain this by means of the figure that you can now see on your screen.

The hermeneutic circle signifies a methodological process of understanding.

Understanding consist of two independent processes, namely understanding the meaning of the whole of a text or any other data and coming to understand the parts of the whole.

In this regard, ‘understanding the meaning of the whole’ means making sense of the parts.

Grasping the meaning of the parts depends on having some sense of the whole.

Each part is what it is by virtue of its location and function with respect to the whole.

The hermeneutic circle takes place when this meaning-making quest involves continual shifts from the parts to the whole and back again.

The hermeneutic data analysis process is aimed at deciphering the hidden meaning in the apparent meaning.

Therefore, in analyzing the data you are searching for and unfolding the levels of meaning implied in the literal meaning of the text.

Consequently, in designing your research, you will deliberately plan to collect data that is textually rich.

You should analyze the textually rich data to make sense of the bigger picture or whole.

Understanding requires the interpretation of words, signs, events, body language, artefacts and any other objects or behavior from which a message can be deduced.

Hermeneutics provides the philosophical grounding for the interpretive paradigms, including interpretivism, relativism, ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, constructivism and phenomenology.

It is also possible to associate and integrate hermeneutics with critical research paradigms.

Hermeneutics opposes rationalism, positivism, scientism and modernism.

These are all predominantly technicist paradigms.

It is, therefore, clear that hermeneutics is more suited for qualitative research rather than quantitative research.

Some researchers question the circular nature of hermeneutic investigation because setting understanding as a prerequisite for the parts as well as the whole is a catch twenty-two situation.

You cannot understand the parts if you do not understand the whole and you cannot understand the whole if you do not understand the parts.

A second criticism against hermeneutics is that viewing conversation as inquiry can damage the validity of your research conclusions and findings.



  • Deals with interpretation.
  • Uses language and interaction as data.
  • Seeks to understand rather than to explain.
  • Deepens understanding.
  • Involves the analysis of meaning in a social context.
  • Acknowledges that interpretation can be different in different situations and contexts.
  • Recognizes the role of history in interpretation.
  • Views conversation as inquiry.
  • Is a circular process. AND
  • Is comfortable with ambiguity.

Rich data can be gathered from how things are said and understood.

Theories are developed or borrowed and continually tested.

Hermeneutics can be associated with all the interpretivist and some critical paradigms.

Hermeneutics is opposed to the technicist paradigms.

Criticism against hermeneutics are that the analysis of data is a circular process and that viewing conversation as data can damage the validity of conclusions and findings.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 46: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Critical Theory

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Violence against women tend to increase during every type of crisis.

Reports from some countries show that the abuse of women, children and old people are much higher than normal when countries institute lockdown in an effort to gain control over the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

According to medical and psychological reports, the detrimental impact of domestic violence on the physical and mental health of the victims has increased substantially.

As people lose their jobs and resources become scarcer, women and children may be at even greater risk of experiencing abuse.

Critical theory is one of the most suitable paradigmatic approaches to follow when conducting research on violence against women, children and the elderly.

I discuss critical theory and how it should be approached in this post.

What is Critical Theory?

The term ‘critical’ refers to the capacity to question the conceptual and theoretical basis of knowledge and method.

The questions that the researcher asks should go beyond prevailing assumptions and understandings. AND

Also, it should acknowledge the role of power and social position in phenomena.

Critical theory is prescriptive, explanatory, practical and normative.

It explains what is wrong with the current social reality,

It identifies those who are responsible for change, and

It provides clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation.

Its intention is not merely to give an account of society and behavior, but to realize a society that is based on equality and democracy for all the people in the society.

Conflict and inequality are crucial to understanding the dynamics of human relations.

Critical theory seeks to uncover the interests at work in particular situations and to interrogate the legitimacy of those interests.

Legitimacy implies identifying the extent to which equality and democracy are protected and promoted.

The intentions of critical theory are to transform society and individuals to social democracy.

Improving the quality of life in the workplace and in social settings focuses on the elimination or reduction of inequality, preferential treatment and discrimination.

Critical theory identifies the ‘false’ or ‘fragmented’ consciousness that has brought an individual or social group to relative powerlessness.

It questions the legitimacy of power.

It investigates issues of repression, lack of freedom of expression, ideology, participation (or not) representation (or not), inclusion or exclusion and the protection of individual and group interest.

Increasingly the multiple identities of individuals can justify an investigation.

Differences in race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, skin colour, disability and minority can be grounds for discrimination and oppression.

Any such discrimination can be investigated through critical theory.

Critical theory is any research that challenges conventional knowledge and methodologies.

It can use a quantitative or qualitative research approach.

Such research will, of course, need to maintain scientific objectivity.

In this respect the purpose of the critical theory paradigm would be practical, namely, to bring about a more just, egalitarian society in which individual and collective freedom are secured.

The contribution of critical theory is often not just adding to or improving current knowledge or philosophy, but also to contribute to the physical living quality of people.

The main task of critical research is seen as being one of social critique, meaning that the restrictive and alienating conditions of the status quo are brought to light.

Critical research focuses on the contest, conflict and contradictions in contemporary society.

It seeks to be emancipatory by helping to eliminate the causes of alienation and domination in society.

Critical theory decides what counts as valid social knowledge.

This is expressed as critique of the social structure and systems as revealed through the analysis of the discourse in society.

Although people can consciously act to change their social and economic circumstances, critical researchers recognize that their ability to do so is constrained by various forms of social, cultural and political domination.

Consciousness and identity are formed within the political field of knowledge.

Critical theorists argue that values, historical circumstances and political considerations cannot be changed through research.

Therefore, efforts to eliminate or reduce inequality and discrimination should focus on managing such values, historical circumstances and political considerations in such a way that people are not discriminated against because of it.

Our understanding of the educational, political, economic or social situation depends on the context within which we encounter them.

Our own theoretical knowledge and assumptions also influence our interpretation of observations.

These factors create our ideological frames of reference that act as lenses through which we see the world.

Research making use of a critical theory paradigm should, therefore, take the context and environment into consideration when seeking theoretical and physical improvements.

You, as the researcher, should disclose the needs and struggles of the community being investigated regardless of whether the community is aware of the needs or challenges.

Critical research attempts to reveal the socio-historical specificity of knowledge and to shed light on how particular knowledge reproduces structural relations of inequality and oppression.

It is assumed that social reality is historical and that it is produced and reproduced by people.

Every historical period produces rules that dictate what counts as scientific facts.

Society reproduces inequalities from one generation to the next.

This is called “reproduction theory”.

It is necessary to study conflict and inequality and the resistance that they cause to understand the dynamics of human relations.

Resistance becomes an important part of the response to injustices towards individuals or groups in a community or society.

In this respect, critical theory is also “resistance theory”.

Critical theory investigates and uses three types of knowledge, also called “cognitive interests”.

They are technical interests, practical interests and emancipatory interests.

Technical interests are concerned with the control of the physical environment, which generates empirical and analytical knowledge.

They are concerned with “how” things are done.

Practical interests are concerned with understanding the meaning of situations, which generates hermeneutic and historical knowledge.

Practical interests are concerned with the “what”, or the ontology of phenomena.

Emancipatory interests are concerned with the provision of growth and advancement, which generates critical knowledge and is concerned with exposing conditions of constraint and domination.

The emancipatory interest deals with the human capacity to be self-reflective and self-determining.

That is to act rationally.

Technical and emancipatory interests together deal with the epistemology of knowledge.

Critical theory serves as a foundation for and can be integrated with rationalism, neoliberalism, post-colonialism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism, humanism, and critical race theory.

Although qualitative research methods are popular, quantitative research methods can also be used.

Proponents of critical theory claim that it is a complex and intricate paradigm which requires years of intensive study to fully understand.

They, furthermore, feel that research that deals with the values and emotions of people need to take affective factors, which are difficult to quantify, into consideration.

A second school of scientists feel that regarding critical theory as complex is smugness.

Emotions, they believe, can be analyzed quantitatively by asking multiple-choice questions in a questionnaire.


Critical theory questions the conceptual and theoretical basis of current knowledge and methods.

It focuses on the contest, conflict and contradictions in society.

Valid social knowledge is expressed as critique of the social structure and systems.

Critical theory is hampered by social, cultural and political domination.

Historical as well as current own knowledge and assumptions are accepted as data for research.

Critical theory is:

  1. Prescriptive.
  2. Explanatory.
  3. Practical.
  4. Normative. AND
  5. Emancipatory.

The intention of critical theory can be:

  1. To identify who is responsible for change and who resists needed change.
  2. To realize a society based on equality and democracy for all.
  3. To uncover illegitimate practices in society.
  4. To transform society and individuals to social democracy.
  5. To improve the quality of life of a community or society in general.
  6. To identify the acts or omissions that cause inequality and injustice.
  7. To combat discrimination.
  8. To set achievable and practical goals for social transformation.
  9. To explain what is wrong with the current social reality.
  10. To add to and improve current knowledge.

Critical theory can be used with qualitative or quantitative research methods.

It investigates technical interests, practical interests and emancipatory interest.

Critical theory can be associated with rationalism, neoliberalism, post-colonialism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism, humanism, and critical race theory.

Positivism opposes critical theory.

Some scientists regard critical theory as complex while others regard the perception that it is complex as smugness.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 42: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Paradigmatic Approaches

Written by Dr Hannes Nel


Do you believe that something can be only true or false, right or wrong?

Do you turn your back on people with whom you disagree?

Do you agree with the notion that the truth is often the perception of an individual?

And do you accept that not all people see the truth the same as you do?

I hope my posts on paradigms will convince you that an argument or premise can be true for some but not for others, sometimes true but not always, only partially true, and true in one context but not in a different one.

An introduction to research paradigms

Most paradigms can also be regarded as research methods.

And what we call research methods are often data collection methods.

There are many paradigms, but not all of them can be used as the foundation for research.

Because some paradigms are only concepts that are too dependent on a specific context for the discovery of generalizations.

But even this is not a general rule.

Because your research, not just the paradigm, will sometimes be dependent on a specific context.

Relativism is an example of a paradigm that always applies to a certain context.

Some paradigms are modifications of classical paradigms.

Research paradigms are sometimes also called:

  • Philosophical perspectives.
  • Philosophical epochs.
  • Epistemological approaches.
  • Discipline matrixes.
  • Theoretical frameworks.

They represent certain assumptions and perceptions with respect to the nature of the world and how we know it.

A paradigm is a philosophy that includes certain patterns, structures and frameworks or systems.

It is a system of interrelated ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions.

It includes scientific ideas and values that a group of researchers have in common regarding the nature of research and how it should be conducted.

The paradigm or paradigms that you use will add a philosophical perception to the clinical academic meaning of your research.

It also determines the spirit in which you will do your research.

Different groups of researchers see research differently.

That is why there are many different paradigms to choose from.

You should decide which paradigmatic approach you will follow in your research.

It is possible to adopt more than one paradigm.

You can even follow one paradigmatic approach in one section of your thesis or dissertation and a different one in a different section.

You can even use a paradigm as the foundation of just one argument in your thesis or dissertation.

Just as long as they don’t contradict each other.

And you need to be careful of not damaging the consistency of your arguments by making use of too many paradigms.

This can easily happen if you forget your arguments and stance in an earlier section of your report.

Your philosophical stance informs the research method that you will use and the way in which you will interpret the data that you collect.

By choosing a paradigmatic approach, you commit yourself to a particular stance while rejecting a good number of other possibilities.

This need not be a problem – you can always change your stance later while doing your research.

It can easily happen that you need to change your paradigmatic approach, because your knowledge and understanding will grow as you collect and analyze data.

That is great, because you need to be objective and flexible when you embark on doctoral or master’s degree studies.  

Always keep an open mind and be prepared to admit it when you are wrong.

Fortunately, you have a computer that allows you to return to and review previous work as many times as might be necessary.

And you can change your mind without other people knowing it.

This applies to natural science as well as social science.

And obviously then also to quantitative and quantitative research.

You should choose your research paradigm with the research problem, question or hypothesis in mind.

Research paradigms allow for a variety of research methods that can be used.

The choice is not so much about the research method that you will use, but rather about your ontological and epistemological assumptions.

The challenge is to select a paradigm or combination of paradigms that are most suited for solving a research problem, question or hypothesis.

The choice of a research paradigm or paradigms should be made in the context of many and often competing influences.

Your personal preferences and many external variables will also play a role.

Even so, don’t get bogged down in too much soul searching and uncertainty about which paradigm to choose.

Study the paradigms carefully and select one to four that look like they fit in well with what you have in mind.

If you do not decide on a paradigm to follow, you will inevitably follow one that fits in with your personal preferences.

And you will not even know that you are following a paradigm if you don’t know them.

The danger of this is that you might switch around between different paradigms too often, with the result that your arguments might be confusing and perhaps even contradict one another.

This is especially true when you investigate a complex research question or hypothesis.

Consistency, structure and logic are critically important in writing a thesis or dissertation.

You run the risk of destroying those requirements if you don’t follow one or a few paradigms that articulates with your research question or hypothesis.

Using more than one paradigm improves the possibility that the knowledge that you develop will be comprehensive and generalizable.

You should choose your paradigm or paradigms early.

That is, when you structure your research approach and methods.

You can even specify your choice in your research proposal if it is doctoral studies that you are embarking on.

It will show your intent, motivation and expectations for your research.

You will need to make some philosophical assumptions when you decide upon a paradigm or paradigms because it will also impact om the focus of your research.

I need to emphasise, be careful of combining paradigms that are in opposition with one another.

This is necessary because opposing paradigms are often based on different ontological and epistemological assumptions.

They, furthermore, do not share a common vocabulary with shared meanings.

And there is no neutral ground from which to adjudicate the merit of the paradigms or their consequences.

I will point out such possible clashes when we discuss the paradigms individually.

In brief – technicist paradigms are often in opposition with interpretive paradigms while critical paradigms fit in somewhere between the two groups.

Being “in opposition with”; “challenged by”; rejected by”; “associated with”; or “disagree with” does not mean that different paradigms completely differ or disagree.

But rather that they agree or disagree in terms of certain characteristics and elements.

You need to be fully aware of the paradigmatic assumptions that you make.

And you need to consistently move from description to explanation in terms of your findings and conclusions without deviating from your paradigmatic assumptions.


A paradigm is made up of:

  • A philosophy.
  • A system of interrelated ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions and perceptions.
  • Scientific ideas and values.

The paradigm or paradigms that you choose for your research:

  • Determines the spirit in which you will do your research.
  • Informs the research and data collection methods that you will use.
  • Adds a philosophical perception to the academic meaning of your research, and
  • Lends consistency, structure and logic to your thesis or dissertation.

The paradigm that you choose will probably apply to qualitative and social research or quantitative and natural research.

A mixed research approach is also possible.

You can change your paradigmatic approach at any stage during your research.

When choosing a paradigm or paradigms for your research, you should consider:

  • Your research problem or hypothesis.
  • The ontological and epistemological assumptions of your research.
  • The context in which you will conduct your research.
  • Your personal influences and preferences.
  • Many external variables that will be relevant to your research topic.

You can achieve coherence in your research process by articulating your research question or hypothesis and your research method to the paradigm or paradigms of your choice.

Don’t spend too much time and effort on trying to find the perfect paradigm for your research.


In closing, it would be almost impossible to discuss all paradigms that you can find in the literature.

  • Academics do not agree which paradigms should be accepted as such.
  • Many paradigms overlap and echo the nature and elements of other paradigms.
  • Not all paradigms can be used as the foundation for research.

If everything goes according to plan, I will discuss the following paradigms separately in the twenty-nine posts following on this one:

Behaviourism.11. Interpretivism.21. Pragmatism.
Constructivism.12. Liberalism.22. Pre-modernism.
Critical race theory.13. Modernism.23. Radicalism.
Critical theory.14. Neoliberalism.24. Rationalism.
Empiricism.15. Phenomenology.25. Relativism.
Ethnomethodology.16. Positivism.26. Romanticism.
Feminism.17. Post-colonialism.27. Scientism.
Functionalism.18. Post-modernism.28. Structuralism.
Hermeneutics.19. Post-positivism.29. Symbolic interactionism.
Humanism.20. Post-structuralism.
Continue Reading

ARTICLE 39: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Statistical Research Methods Part 1 of 2.

Written by Dr Hannes Nel


Technicist scientists are of the opinion that natural science is the most reliable path to the truth.

They, furthermore, claim that the truth can only be known through scientific proof.

Truth is based on logic, they say.

They believe in the singularity of meaning.

Something is either true or false – there is no in-between.

That is why they often base their research on hypotheses rather than a research question or statement.

They also believe that the truth can be proven and expressed numerically.

And they believe that the truth is not dependent on context or time.

Social scientists do not agree.

They feel that experience and reflection should not be neglected.

Individual and group perceptions can often be the truth.

The truth can be different in different contexts and at differ times.

Logic is simply common sense.

I will discuss the following issues related to statistical research methods in this article:

  1. Investigating a statistical hypothesis.
  2. Conducting statistical regression analysis.

Investigating a statistical hypothesis

You will mostly use a hypothesis in statistical research, although it is also possible to base your research on a problem statement or question.

You will need to formulate two opposing hypotheses – the null hypothesis and the alternative hypothesis.

The null hypothesis, indicated with H0, (H-naught) is a statement about the population that you believe to be true.

The alternative hypothesis, indicated with H1, is a claim about the population that is contradictory to H0. It is what we will conclude when you reject H0.

A null hypothesis can often be proved or disproved by means of statistical research.

One of your samples will support the H0 hypothesis while the other will support the H1 hypothesis.

You will reject the H0 hypothesis if the sample information favours the H1 hypothesis.

Or you will not reject the H0 hypothesis if the sample information is insufficient to reject it.

For example, your H0 hypothesis can be:

30% or less of the people who contracted the COVID-19 virus lived in rural areas.

You can also write the null hypothesis like this: H0 ≤ .3

Your H1 hypothesis will then be:

More than 30% of the people who contracted the COVID-19 virus did not live in rural areas.

You can also write the alternative hypothesis like this: N1 > .3

You will also need to calculate the size of the sample that you should use with a certain accuracy probability.

Dedicated computer programmes will do this for you.

Once you have composed a sample that will give you some answers with an acceptable level or probability, you will need to interpret the data that was probably analyzed with dedicated software.

You will need to set certain norms, or criteria, for the analysis of the data that you collected for the population first.

The samples also need to meet those norms, criteria or parameters.

A null hypothesis needs to be proven by comparing two sets of data.

If you reject the null hypothesis, then we can assume that there is enough evidence to support the alternative hypothesis.

That is: More than 30% of the people who contracted the COVID-19 virus did not live in rural areas.

You will probably compare the mean of observations or responses for the two sets of data.

It might sometimes be necessary to use the mode, median or correlation between the sets of data.

Random variability between different samples will also always be present.

There might also be small differences between the statistical relationship in the sample and the population.

It is possible that this can be just a matter of sample error.

Dedicated computer software will do the statistical calculations for you.

A null hypothesis does not “prove” anything to be true, but rather that the hypothesis is false.

If you cannot prove the two phenomena or populations to be different, then they are probably the same.

Then again, if the statistical analysis does not enable you to reject the null hypothesis, it does not necessarily mean that the null hypothesis is true.

Conducting statistical regression

Statistical regression analysis is a generic term for all methods in which quantitative data is collected and interpreted to numerically express the relationship between two groups of variables.

The expression may be used to describe the relationship between the two groups of variables.

It can also be used to predict values, although one must be careful of trying to predict future trends based on statistical data.

The two data groups, popularly represented by X and Y, are compared numerically or graphically to identify a relationship between the items or groups of items X and Y.

You can mostly use such comparisons to determine trends and correlation between variables.

It might, for example, be possible to identify a correlation between the hours that a student spends studying and his or her eventual performance in the exam.

Correlation measures the strength of association between two variables and the direction of the relationship.

In terms of the strength of the relationship, the values of the correlation coefficient will always vary between +1 and -1.

A value of +1 indicates a perfect degree of association between the two variables.

That means that if one thing happens, then something else will also happen.

For example, if you cut your arm you will bleed.

A value of -1 indicates a negative relationship between two variables.

For example, the faster you drive, the less time will it take you to reach your destination.

For example, the decrease in the number of new individuals that test positive for the COVID-19 virus does not enable us to predict when the pandemic will come to an end.

You can, perhaps, argue that correlation enables you to predict what will happen to one variable if a second variable changes.

However, predicting that such change will take place is often difficult, if not impossible in social sciences.

You can predict with a good measure of accuracy what will happen if you add certain amounts of yeast to the dough for baking bread.

But you cannot always predict how the baker will respond if she or he serves you the bread and you criticize it.

The situation is different in exact sciences, such as chemistry, where the scientist can initiate the change and control the size, measure and frequency of change.


You will probably use two opposing hypotheses in statistical research.

The null hypothesis is a statement about a population that you believe to be true.

The alternative hypothesis should contradict the null hypothesis.

You will use two samples to prove or disprove your hypothesis.

The findings that you gather from your analysis of the samples should apply to the population as well.

There might, however, be a sample error of which you should take note.

Statistical regression analysis investigates the relationship between two sets of variables.

It can show a correlation between the sets of variables.

It can also sometimes be used to predict values.

I would rather call it “foresee” values, because prediction based on statistics can be risky.

Relationships can be compared numerically or graphically.

Correlation between two variables can be anything between +1 and -1.

A value of +1 would indicate a perfectly positive correlation.

A value of -1 would indicate a perfectly negative correlation.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 26: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Conceptual studies

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Is prostitution all bad?

Are all prostitutes bad people?

When is a person a prostitute?

In laymen’s terms, one would probably call subjective answers to questions like these “labelling the individual”.

The label can easily become a concept for academic research.

Concepts are the elements of which theories are composed.

Also, concepts are symbolic and abstract elements that represent objects, or features of objects, processes, or phenomena.

If prostitution is the topic of your research, you might need to identify characteristics that will define such a person.

Concepts may introduce new ideas or perspectives.

They may also be a means of explaining a broad generalization.

You might, for example, discover through your studies that prostitutes are not all bad, which might question the rather general perception that a prostitute can only be defined in terms of bad characteristics.

In terms of ideas, concepts are important because they are the foundation of communication and thought.

Concepts provide a means for people to let others know what they are thinking and allow information to be shared.

By conceptualizing a set of behaviors or ideas as part of a coherent package, we can describe a range of possible ideas, relations and outcomes with a single term.

Examples of such terms are sociopaths, delinquents, criminals, rapists, altruists, serial murderers, etc.

Conceptual studies are largely based on secondary sources that you, as a researcher, may consult to gain an understanding of concepts.

They aim to add to your existing knowledge and understanding.

An in-depth critical analysis of the literature is intrinsic to concept analysis.

Apart from books and documents, maps and air photos can also be sources of data for concept analysis.

Conceptual cartography takes the process of critical analysis further because maps are both analytical tools and products of concept analysis.

Conceptual studies can comfortably use the interpretivist paradigms, for example, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics, interpretivism.

Some critical paradigms, for example, feminism, can also be used.  

The classical concepts analysis-type studies follow a step-by-step procedure.

The following are possible steps:

Step 1: Select the concept.

The concept may be prostitutes, whom you would describe in terms of certain characteristics.

Step 2: Identify the purpose of the analysis.

The purpose of your analysis might, for example, be to determine real and objective characteristics of what defines a person as a prostitute.

Step 3: Analyze the concept’s range of meanings.

You will need to keep an open mind when doing research through conceptual studies.

Kill your preconceived perceptions.

Do not be judgmental.

Let your research discover the range of meanings for you.

Step 4: Determine the critical attributes of the concept.

Critical attributes can also be subjective if you do not wipe out your perceptions and believe the data that you collected.

You will need to consult unbiased sources of information.

Step 5: Select a paradigmatic approach.

Interpretivist paradigms are mostly best for conceptual studies because they accept conversation and personal opinions as data.

Step 6: Construct additional cases.

It would not be a good idea to study just one prostitute, although this is also possible, depending on the purpose of your research.

However, corroboration can be found best by comparing case studies and consulting a variety of data sources.

Step 7: Identify antecedents and consequences.

Real-life experiences can often be the best evidence in social research.

Even natural scientists look for actual cause and effect occurrences in their research.


Conceptual studies:

  1. Tend to be abstract, philosophical and rich in theoretical underpinnings.
  2. Are the foundation of communication and thought.
  3. Are largely based on secondary sources of data.
  4. Follow a step-by-step research procedure.

Concepts are the building blocks from which theories are constructed.

They can also be the symbolic and abstract elements of theories.

Conceptual studies aim to:

  1. Add to existing knowledge and understanding.
  2. Introduce new ideas and perspectives.
  3. Explain broad generalizations.
  4. Describe a range of ideas in a single term.
Continue Reading

ARTICLE 9: The Nature and Structure of a Dissertation for a Ph. D. or a Thesis for a Master’s Degree

Written by Dr Hannes Nel


Before we discuss the nature and structure of a Ph.D. or master’s degree research report, I need to point out that research on especially the doctoral level is not about just writing an essay. It is hard and complex work, but the rewards are most certainly worth the effort.

Conducting research and writing a report is like the seafarers of old and the astronauts of today who, as the old space science movie used to begin, “venture where no one else has ventured before”.

You will enjoy interesting and exciting discoveries.

Sometimes you might weep because of what you discover.

At other times you will jump for joy.

It is, indeed, a roller coaster ride that I hope you will enjoy.

Let’s board the ship.

Characteristics of a dissertation or thesis

A dissertation should show the following characteristics:

  1. The topic can be highly complex but need not be so.
  2. The content will be highly specialized in a highly complex area of expertise.
  3. The scope can be extensive or at least apply to a realistic community or geographical area.
  4. Analysis of data will require sophisticated analytical processes.
  5. Recognised research approaches, methods and paradigms should be used.
  6. The report should be 30,000 to 70,000 words in length.
  7. The bibliography can include generic and specific sources.
  8. More than 130 sources should be consulted.
  9. Some universities might be flexible about the characteristics of a dissertation.

A research report for a masters degree should show the following characteristics:

  1. The topic will probably be complex.
  2. The content will be specialized but probably not generally applicable.
  3. The scope can be broad in terms of the subject and geographical area to which it applies.
  4. Analysis of data can require the use of complex analytical processes.
  5. Any recognised research approaches, methods and paradigms can be used, depending on the scope, context and purpose of the research.
  6. The thesis should be 20,000 to 50,000 words in length.
  7. The bibliography can include generic and specific sources. An advanced level of existing knowledge of the topic and problem should be evident.
  8. 70 to 130 sources should be consulted.
  9. Some universities might be flexible about the characteristics of a thesis.

The research design

You should design your dissertation or thesis in such a way that it will satisfy the purpose of your research.

Although the design will consist of several headings or steps, it does not mean that you will follow a linear process. You will inevitably need to return to previous work, construct and reconstruct until you achieve an acceptable level of complexity, validity, authenticity and reliability.

The design will be linear, but the research process is always a spiral.

Most of all, however, you will need to achieve the purpose of your research.

In the case of doctoral studies, your research design will probably move from underlying philosophical assumptions and theoretical knowledge to new knowledge and a solution to a problem.

Even though the basic structure of a research report is prescribed by universities, all of them will allow a measure of flexibility by allowing you to add chapters. Omitting chapters that the university asks for might be risky because you might leave out important steps in the writing of the report or in the research process.

Changes in the internal or external environment, new information, unforeseen obstacles and unexpected opportunities to improve your work can move, perhaps even force you to change the structure and layout of your research report.

Research is not just about collecting and interpreting data. It is also a process by means of which you would manage change. That is why your design should be flexible.

Never pad, i.e. never include data in your report that is not relevant to the purpose of your research. Study leaders are experienced educators and they will not be impressed by volume. Quality is what they are looking for.

Structure your dissertation or thesis, including the chapters, subsections, paragraphs and even sentences in such a manner that they logically flow from the problem to the solution.

The design of your dissertation or thesis will depend on your research skills, the topic of the research and what the university prescribes. It should include which type of research you will conduct. Your research can be exploratory, descriptive or explanatory.

Exploratory research is research on a concept, people, or situation that you, as the researcher, know little about. You will typically use observation, interviews and content analysis to do exploratory research.

Descriptive research is research on a concept, people or situation that you know something about and about which you wish to describe what you have found or observed. Descriptive studies lend themselves well to a combination of quantitative and qualitative research approaches.

Explanatory research involves testing a hypothesis and coming to one or more conclusions about the validity of your hypothesis. The topic of the research is often something that has not been researched properly before. For explanatory research, you might use quantitative studies and hypothesis testing or the pursuance of a problem statement or question.

The scale and scope determine the boundaries of the design.

The boundaries put the problem statement or hypothesis into perspective.

You will also need to acknowledge the limitations of your research process. Some universities will allow you to overcome limitations with assumptions. Be careful of using assumptions in your research. It can damage the validity of your findings and the reliability of your recommendations.

Acknowledging that you are developing or deconstructing the findings of somebody else will lend validity and authenticity to your work.

Be modest about your claims to the originality of your work.

Do not underestimate the quality of research done by academics before you.

Do not regard quotations from the work of other researchers as a substitute for sound arguments by you.

Do not be jealous of the work of other researchers. You can often use their work as a corroboration of your own.

Regarding the structure of your research report, it should have the following elements:

  1. The title page.
  2. The table of contents.
  3. A list of figures and tables.
  4. The abstract.
  5. Confirmation of authenticity.
  6. Acknowledgments.
  7. The preface or introduction.
  8. The chapters.
  9. Bibliography and references.
  10. Appendices.


Research design is the blueprint according to which you will conduct your research.

Accept that change will occur while you do your research. Accept this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

Consult as many sources of data as you can find, but guard against trying to include too many research methods, paradigms and data collection methods in your research.

The insights that you offer must be your own.

Remember that scrupulous honesty is as important in small matters as in large.

Enjoy your studies. Hard work will bring you good luck.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 8: How to Choose a Research Approach for Ph. D. or Masters Degree Studies

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Your research approach can be qualitative, quantitative or a mixed approach.

The approach that you choose will largely depend on your research skills and personal preferences.

The nature of the research is also an important determining factor.

It is, for example, unlikely that you will be able to use qualitative research to conduct research on a natural science topic.

The other way around is more possible.

You can often use a quantitative research approach to investigate social science topics, although it might not be the best approach.

What students sometimes claim to be a mixed approach is often a quantitative approach with some statistical analysis.

It is mostly social scientists who do not feel comfortable with quantitative research.

However, some natural scientists find it difficult to conduct qualitative research.

You need to be clear about the approach that you will follow in your research proposal and dissertation if you are a Ph. D. student and in your thesis if you do research for a master’s degree.

You will also need to motivate why you chose the approach that you did.

You should choose a qualitative approach if the research problem deals with social science.

You should choose a quantitative approach if your research problem relates to the natural sciences and if you will need to make use of substantial statistics.

You can choose a mixed research approach if your research problem relates to social science but lends itself to some statistical analysis.

Your study leader will advise you on which approach to follow, and you should listen to her or his advice.

Of course, you can disagree and most study leaders will let you carry on with the approach of your choice, but there is a risk that you might be making a mistake.

You can change your research approach even while you are conducting research already.

However, the longer you take to switch, the more difficult will it be, and the more time will you have lost.

So, you can see that the goal, purpose and objectives with your research will influence your choice of approach.

The goal is what you hope to achieve with your research.

The purpose is the reason why you want to achieve the goal.

You can develop objectives from both the goal and the purpose of your research.

What’s more, you can break objectives down even further into questions that you can use in a questionnaire or interview, should you plan on sending out questionnaires or hold interviews to gather data for your research.

The goal of your research

You need to explain what you hope to achieve with your research.

Try to stick to one goal only.

The more goals you have, the wider will your scope be and the more difficult will it become to come to valid conclusions and proposals.

The purpose of the research

The sponsors of your research will expect some value for their money. They can, therefore, provide you with the purpose of your research.

Sponsors can be industrialists, but they can also be taxpayers, communities, government, parents.

You can, of course, pay for your own studies.

A professor can also suggest a research topic and purpose.

Typical purposes for research can be to add economic value, improved quality of life and improved professionalism.

As I already said, a purpose can be broken down further into objectives.

  • Added economic value can be achieved through improved production processes, more efficient work, higher productivity, etc.
  • Improved quality of life can be broken down into higher income, improved well-being, better health care, safety, social justice, the arts, leisure time utilization, freedom to interact in an enlightened, informed, responsible and constructive manner, etc.
  • Improved professionalism can be the availability of good quality learning institutions, improved skills, more research, etc.

The external environment often affects research projects. Therefore, it also affects the research approach that you will use.

It would be a good idea to consider the level of social, economic, technological, legislative, and natural environmental development of your country or community when choosing a purpose for your research.

The reason for this is not just to be generous, even though being kind is important.

Taking the external environment into consideration is in your own interest. Being aware of changes in the external environment has emotional, marketing, security and financial value.

For example, in a country with a high unemployment rate, research that would promote education, job creation and employment should be promoted.

Strategically speaking society should not only focus on solving current and short-term problems but also position themselves, through research, to seize growth opportunities and to prepare for possible future threats.

Some universities and academics claim that research on master’s and doctoral level can and should have intellectual value for its own sake.

I don’t think that such a value exists. Time and energy spent on research are never wasted. What may be regarded as worthless knowledge now might turn out to be valuable in the future.

I once met somebody who did research on the patterns that water makes in the sand where rivers bend. He wrote an article for a scientific magazine on his research. Scientists in astrology read the article and realised that the sand patterns can be used to determine if there is or has been water, and perhaps also life, on other planets.

Always see if you can gain practical value from your research. In my opinion, universities focus too much on developing new theoretical knowledge rather than solving real-life challenges. In this respect, universities and the industry should co-operate.


You will need to be clear about the research approach that you will follow.

Your study leader can help you to decide which approach to follow.

You can switch from one approach to a different one even while you are doing your research.

This, however, can be a costly exercise.

You will need to formulate a goal, a purpose and some objectives for your research.

Sponsors of your research will often insist on the achievement of a goal that they can benefit from.

Continue Reading

ARTICLE 4: The Difference Between a Research Report on the Honours, the Masters and the Doctoral Level

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


In this article, I will share with you some differences between research reports on the honours, masters and the doctoral level.

Not all universities have the same requirements for research reports on different levels.

They do not even always agree about the requirements for a research report on the same level.

Therefore, my purpose with this post is to give you a “feel” for the difference between research reports on the honours, masters and the doctoral level.

The topic

The topic for an honours degree should be simple.

You should investigate a real problem and find a solution that applies in a specific context.

An example, of such a topic, is to identify a process by means of which to deal with stress in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the master’s degree level, the topic should be more complex.

You might, for example, conduct a scientific analysis of the factors that cause stress, the effect of such stress on people’s health and behaviour, and possible preventive actions.

On the doctoral level, your research should be highly complex. You will need to develop new knowledge and procedures, for example, the development of a new medication.

Relevance to profession and society

Research on the honours degree level will have limited specialization in a specific area of expertise.

Your research on how to manage stress might, for example, be restricted to psychological observations of a limited number of cases only.

For research on the master’s degree level, you will probably specialize in a complex area of expertise. Here your focus can, for example, shift from identifying the causes and effects of stress to physiological changes in the body caused by stress.

A high degree of specialization in a highly complex area of expertise would be typical of research on the doctoral level. Finding an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus is an example. However, research on the psychological causes and effects of the pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on the economy of a nation, etc. can also be investigated on the doctoral level.  

The nature of the research problem

Research on the honours degree level will mostly cover a small number of dimensions, for example, the impact of stress on communication, work performance, and personal relationships.

Research on the master’s degree level will be more complex and can include multiple dimensions. You might, for example, conduct research on the impact of stress in the workplace, at home, how it impacts on children, male adults, and female adults.

Research on the doctoral level should be highly complex and multi-dimensional. You will probably focus more on a community, perhaps even a nation or country, rather than just the impact of stress on specific dimensions. You research will enable you to identify dimensions rather than for you to you decide on dimensions to investigate in advance.

The scope of your research

The scope of research on the honours degree level should be limited in terms of the subject and geographical area. You might investigate something as small as just a playground for children in a suburb.

The scope of your research on the master’s degree level can be broad in terms of the subject and the geographical area. You might, for example, do research on the value of playgrounds in general for reducing the stress that children experience during a period of lockdown.

The scope for research on the doctoral level can be extensive in terms of the subject and the geographical area. You can, for example, do research on ways in which to reduce the stress experienced by children during periods of lockdown in a country. It is possible that your findings can apply wider than the country on which you did the research. However, time and financial constraints might make it impossible for you to confirm your findings wider than one or two neighbouring countries.

Accessibility of data

Data for research on the honours degree level should be simple and should not display complex interrelationships or require complex analytical processes. It should be easy to identify direct cause and effect. For example, the reasons why children are stressed can be obtained through observation or interviewing parents.

Data for research on the master’s degree level will be complex, showing interrelationships that require complex analytical processes. It might, for example, be necessary to link stressful behaviour to existing psychological theories and principles.

Data for research on the doctoral level will be highly complex, as will be the interrelationships that need to be analyzed. Such data can serve as the foundation for new theories and knowledge.

Research methodology

A variety of research methods can be used for research on the honours, the master’s and the doctoral degree level, including qualitative, quantitative, historical, case study, experimental, and causal-comparative research. The topic and purpose of the research will decide which research method or methods should be used.

Length of the research report

An assignment on the honours degree level should be between 12,000 and 16,000 words. That is 60 to 100 A4 pages.

A thesis on the master’s degree level should be between 20,000 and 50,000 words or 100 to 250 A4 pages.

A dissertation on the doctoral level should be between 30,000 and 70,000 words or 150 to 350 A4 pages.


The bibliography on the honours degree level should be generic and specific. This means that the knowledge of the topic should be evident and obtainable from general sources of information, for example, books, magazines, the internet, interviews, questionnaires, etc.

25 to 70 sources of information should be enough.

The bibliography on the master’s degree level should be more advanced, although the same sources as for research on the honours degree level will often provide the required data.

70 to 130 sources of information should be enough.

The bibliography on the doctoral level will mostly be highly specialized. Such data will serve as the foundation for the development of new data. New data will often be an extension of existing knowledge.

More than 130 sources of information will probably be needed to achieve the purpose of the research.

The format of the thesis or dissertation

The research report on all levels must be formal.

The university will have specific requirements in this regard.

You should not deviate from the university’s requirements without the permission of your study leader.

Linguistic and literary quality

The linguistic and literary quality must be correct and appropriate to the topic and level of the study.

It is always a good idea to have your research thesis or dissertation language edited by a linguistic expert and a must if the language in which you write your report is not your first language.

Contribution to scientific knowledge

An assignment on the honours degree level and a thesis the master’s degree level should serve as an enhancement of the existing knowledge.

A basic measure of original thought should be evident.

A dissertation on the doctoral level should be a significant contribution to scientific knowledge. It should show insight into the subject of your study. It should also show that you can apply a high level of independent and original thought.

Assessment of the research report

An assignment on the honours degree level and a thesis on the master’s degree level will be given a mark, which can be a percentage or just a symbol.

You can be awarded a distinction for your effort.

Marks are not given for a dissertation on the doctoral level. The assumption is that a dissertation on the doctoral level must be worthy of distinction to meet the requirements for a Ph. D.

Close and summary

Research on the honours degree level can be basic.

It is often a form of action research.

Research on the master’s degree level should be more complex than on the honours degree level.

The development of new knowledge is not required.

Research on the doctoral level will inevitably be highly complex.

New knowledge and procedures should be developed, although universities are often satisfied if the student can demonstrate the ability to conduct highly complex research.

Regardless of the level of research, research reports are judged on technical competence, evidence of scholarly research, critical ability, comprehension of the relevant theoretical issues, clarity, and coherence.

Continue Reading