Research methodology is the systematic, theoretical analysis of the procedures applied to a field of study (Kothari, 2004). Methodology involves procedures of describing, explaining and predicting phenomena so as to solve a problem; it is the ‘how’; the process, or techniques of conducting research. A Methodology does not set out to provide solutions but offers the theoretical underpinning for understanding which procedure, set of procedures can be applied to a specific case.
Research methodology encompasses concepts such as research designs, target population, sample size and sampling procedure, data collection instruments and data analysis procedure.
The research design on the other hand refers to the overall strategy that one may choose to integrate the different components of the study in a coherent and logical manner. This is done in order to ensure that one effectively addresses the research problem. Research design constitutes the blueprint or the roadmap for the collection, measurement, and analysis of data. According to Kothari (2004), research design is a plan, a roadmap and blueprint strategy of investigation conceived so as to obtain answers to research questions; it is the heart of any study.
Students of research (and even practitioners) more often than not confuse between research designs and research approaches.
Research design is a model or an action plan upon which the entire study is built; dictates the manner in which a study is conducted and provides the road map of a study in terms of the sample, data collection instruments and analysis procedure. Approaches on the other hand, are paradigms, research frameworks, which may be either quantitative or qualitative or both (mixed approach (Creswell, 2003)). A particular research design may adopt one approach or both. For instance, in a cross-sectional survey design, one may decide to use quantitative approach or both (mixed approaches); other studies like a case study, ethnography study, phenomenological study, grounded theory study and content analysis study are mainly qualitative.
There is one major factor that one should consider before deciding on what research design to adopt, namely knowing the type of research being undertaken. When undertaking a research, one does not have to collect data or even begin without first knowing what type of study one is undertaking. Research design is dictated by the type of research. Therefore, having an idea of what type of research one is to undertake directs the study so as to come up with a sketch plan or model (design) which will guide the study.