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Research philosophies

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Paradigms are made up of three distinct elements; ontology, methodology and epistemology. They are all different elements, but they together make up a whole or a paradigm. For example, just like these objects here, they’re made up of different elements; the teapot, the cup and the milk jug. They are all different, but together they make up something else. They make up a tea service, just like ontology, epistemology and methodology are different but together they make up a paradigm. Cheers.
I’ll go through each term in detail.
Ontology is concerned with the form and character of being. In other words, what is reality like?
Epistemology focuses on how knowledge is formed and understood, so in other words, what is known about reality?
Methodology is concerned with the study of how new knowledge can be acquired. In other words, how can we learn about reality?
As a researcher, you will face the fundamental question of what philosophical structure and direction you should give your enquiry. In order to carry out any research, you should first understand the core philosophical position that underpins the research method you are planning to adopt. This is otherwise known as the research paradigm.
Bryman and Bell (2011: 24) define a paradigm as
… a cluster of beliefs, and dictates in a particular discipline to influence what should be studied, how research should be done and how results should be interpreted.
The overarching paradigm includes the ontological and epistemological point of view the research is taking alongside the research methodology. It may help in the understanding of these terms if we represent them as simple questions:
Ontology asks ‘What is the concept of reality underpinning the study?’
Epistemology asks ‘What should be regarded as acceptable knowledge in a discipline?’
Methodology asks ‘What is the concept behind the study and methods required?’
By incorporating all three of these together, we collectively describe the paradigm of a research strategy.
In the next step you will explore how these three elements link together to form a research paradigm.


Bryman, A., Bell, E. (2011) Business Research Methods. 3rd edn. Oxford University Press
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