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Choosing an appropriate method

An old saying states that to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The point, of course, is that your choice of tool should be dictated by the nature of the problem you are trying to solve rather than by the tool you happen to have to hand. When doing an academic project, the problem is defined by the aim, and the research method you choose should be the one most appropriate to that problem.

To make a good choice, therefore, you need to understand what kind of problem your aim represents. Wieringa et al. (2006) distinguish between different types of research studies in software engineering, and these can also be extended to other technical contexts:

  • Evaluation studies investigate problems in a real-world context - i.e. with reference to actual people and/or cases
  • Validation studies investigate problems in a lab setting - i.e. under controlled conditions and from a theoretical perspective
  • Proposal of solution studies demonstrate a novel approach to solving a problem. Here, the novelty of the approach is central in contrast to the other two approaches listed here which make use of existing techniques.

Petersen et al (2015) associate evaluation and validation studies with specific methods as shown below.

Methods classification

For a more detailed discussion of fitting your research methods to the aim of your project, see Easterbrook et al (2008).

The other pages in this section discuss selected research methods and provide links to additional reference material.