“You don’t need a methodology”

This would have to be some of the best and (in some ways) oddest advice about doing PhD study that I’ve yet heard.

It comes from Margot Brereton, and was part of some of the wonderful feedback that I received at this years doctoral consortium at OzCHI 2011. (And this is certainly not to discount the excellent and insightful advice from Gerhard Fischer 1, Lian Loke 2, and Toni Robertson 3.)

Ok, so. You don’t need a methodology. What does this mean?

The way I understood it is this: To do research, you need a question, and way of getting data to respond to that question. You then need a way of analysing that data to answer your question. Your question drives your methods. Your methods for data collection and your methods for data analysis are different.

Once you have some data you can begin to ask yourself: what does your data tell you about your question? This is an iterative process: a PhD is about question reframing in response to you data.

But you don’t start with methodology. What you need is a good question.


  1. “if you do not like what you are are doing then it is a bad idea” 
  2. “treat a PhD like an apprenticeship: find a good supervisor” 
  3. “The PhD is the side effect of the person you become”