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Choosing a research strategy

In this section you will explore the philosophy underpinning the quantitative research strategy and how it informs the research methods that are applicable in executing quantitative research.

Firstly, Let us remind ourselves of the term ‘research’, and why it takes place. Research involves:

‘looking into something, looking for something, comparing and contrasting things and finding out more information’ (Arewa 2018).

Within Project and Construction Management disciplines in the Built Environment there are many potential topics for research including but not limited to:

  • people, their behaviour, opinions, attitudes, trends and patterns

  • ethics

  • processes

  • design

  • mechanical and chemical properties of substance or things.

Research philosophies

‘Generally, no research will take place within a philosophical vacuum – all research is guided by a set of philosophical beliefs and it is this philosophy that helps us to justify why we ask certain questions. A research philosophy can be defined to mean a set of beliefs concerning the nature of the reality that is being investigated’ (Bryman 2012).

A fundamental question which most researchers are faced with is the construction of the philosophical position and orientation of their enquiry otherwise known as the research paradigm. In order to carry out any research we should first, therefore, understand the core philosophical position that underpins the method to be adopted.

Research Paradigms

A paradigm is a cluster of beliefs and dictates, which influences what should be studied and how it will be studied.

A number of theoretical paradigms are discussed in the literature such as:

  • positivist (and postpositivist)

  • constructivist (and deconstructivist)

  • interpretivist

  • transformative

  • emancipatory

  • critical

  • pragmatism

However, the use of different terms in different texts and the varied claims regarding how many research paradigms are used, sometimes leads to confusion for first time or early career researcher. Definitions of some of the more common paradigms referred to above are discussed subsequently.

The methodology encompasses the rationale and philosophical assumptions of a particular study (Dainty 2008). A clear distinction between research methodology and the overarching paradigm is the inclusion of epistemological and ontological stances . A simpler way to understand this is represented thus:

  • What should be regarded as acceptable knowledge in a discipline? = epistemology

  • What is the concept of reality underpinning the study? = ontology

  • What is the concept behind the study and methods required? = methodology

By incorporating all three of these together we collectively describe the paradigm of a research strategy.

The basic principle of research strategy follows a sequence of activities. We need to look at the ontological and epistemological assumptions which underpin the research paradigm that guides these.

At every stage in the research process we make assumptions, either consciously or unconsciously and these assumptions fall under two major categories.

Ontological assumptions

These are the claims and assumptions upon which a theory is based.

A researchers’ ontological positions can be objective and constructive. Objective ontology evaluates social phenomena independent of social actions (usually associated with the quantitative approach) while constructive ontology recognises that social phenomena is dynamic and realised through social interaction (usually linked to qualitative approach) (Dainty 2008).

This position of the researcher affects the manner of research to be undertaken. (Grix 2001).

Epistemological assumptions

These are the assumptions about human knowledge, particularly the acceptable knowledge in a discipline. These assumptions shape how we understand our research questions, the methods that we will use to investigate the research question, collect data, analyse and interpret data. In other words, the specification of the ontological stance as a prerequisite for the choice of the epistemological standpoint which, in turn, shapes the research methodology that is going to be adopted (Grix 2001).

These philosophical foundations must be reviewed when arriving at a decision for research methodology, which in turn influences the research method (Knight and Ruddock 2008). We should not discuss methods in isolation without knowledge of both the ontological and the epistemological stance of the researcher. The table below highlights the questions asked to create the researchers philosophical approach.

Ontology Epistemology Theoretical perspective Methodology Method Sources
What is reality? How can we know reality? What approaches can we use to acquire knowledge? What procedure can we use to acquire knowledge? What tools can we use for acquiring knowledge? What data can we collect?

Research methodologies

An important feature in a research project is to have a clear methodological position for your study. This means identifying whether the study is taking a positivist, objectivist, constructivist, interpretivist stances? This is further illustrated in the table below which lists methodologies and the paradigms that they are associated with :

Positivist / Postpositivist Interpretivist / Constructivist Transformative Pragmatic
Experimental Naturalistic Critical theory Mixed models
Quasi experimental Phenomenological Neo-Marxist Problem-centred
Correlational Heuristic inquiry Feminist Pluralistic
Reductionist Interpretivist Critical race theory Real world
Theory verification Ethnographic Freirean Practice orientated
Causal Multiple participant meanings Participatory Design based research

(Mertens 2005, Creswell 2003)

Research methods

There are basically two distinct types of research methods: Quantitative and Qualitative research. Each of these methods have an associating instrument for collecting and analysing data. This is further illustrated by the table below.

Paradigm Methods Data collection tools
Postivist/Postpositivist Primarily quantitative Experiments
Interpretivist/Construcutivst Primarily qualitative Interviews
    Documents reviews
    Visual data analysis
Transformative Qualitative Diverse range
  Quantitative avoiding discrimination
Pragmatic Methods matched to the purpose Many come from all

Your task

What type of research method will you use or adopt for poor construction productivity.

Give justification for your choice.


Arewa (2018)

Bryman, A. and Cramer, D. (2012) Quantitative data analysis with IBM SPSS 17, 18 & 19: A guide for social scientists. London: Routledge.

Dainty, A. (2008) ‘Methodological pluralism in construction management research.’ Advanced research methods in the built environment 1 1-13.

Grix, J. (2001) Demystifying Postgraduate Research from Ma to PhD. Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press.

Knight, A. and Ruddock, L. (2009) Advanced research methods in the built environment. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Saunders, M., Lewis, P., Thornhill, A. (2015) Research Methods for Business Students

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This article is from the free online course:

Quantitative Research Methods and Contemporary Issues

Coventry University

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