Research methods for your thesis

Which methods are there?

You can collect data for your thesis in all sorts of ways. Are you setting up an experiment? Do you conduct a survey among people from your target group? Do you do literature research? There are plenty of options! To answer your research question, you must choose an appropriate research method. Which method will help you to arrive at a good answer to your research question? We help you make that choice.

What is a research method?

The research method is the approach you use to arrive at an answer to your research question. This involves the way you collect data and then analyze it.

Thinking thoroughly about your research method is essential if you want to arrive at meaningful results that will allow you to answer your research question. Only with the right method can you achieve results that are both reliable and valid.


How do you choose the research method for your thesis?

In practice, you often draw up a research plan or research design before you start your thesis. Your thesis supervisor can then look at this and, where necessary, provide feedback on your choice of method.

Before choosing your research method, you should ask yourself some questions:

1. What kind of data do you need to answer the research question?

  1. Is the data numerical (quantitative) or can it be expressed in words (qualitative)?
  2. Are you going to collect data yourself, or will you use data previously collected by others? 

2. Do you conduct experimental or descriptive research? Do you measure the effect of one variable on another in a controlled environment by manipulating it, or are you measuring variables in a natural setting?

3. How many participants are you going to include in your research? For example, in case studies (an analysis of one situation, event or example) you would use different methods than if you wanted to draw conclusions about a larger number of people.

It is also good to think about the data analysis in advance. Once your data collection is complete, you will analyze the data to arrive at concrete results. Qualitative research uses analytical methods such as categorization or coding. With quantitative research methods, you usually use statistical tests for the analysis.

Research methods for quantitative research

With research methods for quantitative research, you collect numerical data. Quantitative methods are often used to be able to say something about larger groups of people or cases. These research methods make it possible to perform a systematic analysis and from that, draw statistically substantiated conclusions.

Quantitative data allows you to test hypotheses, measure the effect of variable X on variable Y, or determine numerical differences between groups.

Keep in mind that for quantitative research some knowledge of statistics is important. You also usually need a somewhat larger sample for quantitative research.

Research methods for qualitative research

Research methods for qualitative research involve the collection of non-numerical data. Qualitative data includes, for example, opinions, conversations, texts or observations. This will give you a “rich” picture of the phenomenon you are investigating.

Qualitative research is often used to examine a smaller sample. The advantage of this type of research is that it is usually possible to fine-tune the method in the meantime based on insight you gain as the project progresses. This would be more difficult in quantitative research.

The disadvantage of qualitative research is that it is more difficult to generalize the data to larger groups of people or multiple cases. Moreover, the analysis is more difficult; you first have to structure the data. It is also difficult to make the research reproducible because the data collection and analysis methods are somewhat more flexible.

Examples of research methods

There are different methods for qualitative and quantitative research. We discuss the most important examples of each research methods below.


With an experiment, you investigate whether there is a causal relationship between two variables. Does watching television make your vision worse? Does a specific adjustment in an online shop affect how many people place an order?

For those kinds of research questions, you have to collect data yourself in a non-natural setting. You manipulate the variables: for example, one group sees the website with the modification and the other group sees the website without modification. You then measure the effect that adjustment has on the variable you are investigating. You can do this, for example, with a survey or interview.

All other circumstances must be equal so that the difference can in essence only be due to manipulation.


With a survey, you can do both qualitative and quantitative research. It's about asking people from your target audience questions. This allows you to investigate, for example, the characteristics or opinions of your research population.

A survey with only closed questions is a form of quantitative research. In a survey with partly open questions, your research is qualitative or there may be a mixed methods design (both qualitative and quantitative research).

Literature search

You do not always collect data for your research yourself. You may want to review or compare previous studies or other documents to gain insight on your topic. Then you should do a literature review.

Qualitative data are the most common outcome in literature research, but you can also arrive at numerical data (for example by counting certain conclusions or events in the studies).

Focus group

A focus group means that you invite a group of people from your target group to discuss a specific topic together at the same time. You do this to gather valuable opinions and insights about your research topic.


You can also collect information through individual interviews with people from your target group to better understand your research topic. The results are usually qualitative. You will see an exception to this if you start counting examples of something in your interview transcript. In this way, you would arrive at quantitative data.


Do you want to map the behaviour of a person, animal or object in a natural environment? This method is called carrying out observations. This often leads to qualitative data. An exception to this applies if you count the number of times that a certain phenomenon occurs (for example, the number of times someone makes a certain statement). In that case, quantitative analyses are still possible.

There is a distinction between active and passive observation. In passive observation, you observe the situation as an outsider without taking part in it yourself. With active observation you are part of the situation, group or culture you are observing.

Case study

In a case study, you fully immerse yourself in one or a few specific people, situations or events to gain an in-depth understanding of them. You get very elaborate information about your investigated cases, but it is often not possible to draw conclusions about the whole population on that basis. More research is needed for that.

A combination of research methods is also possible

You can also combine several research methods for your thesis. For example, it is possible that you first conduct a literature search and then set up an experiment or conduct surveys based on the results found. Other combinations are also conceivable. A combination of research methods such as research design is called a mixed methods design.

Where do you describe the research method in your thesis?

You must provide a detailed description of your research method(s) in your thesis. This makes your research repeatable, meaning that in principle, someone else could carry out the same research to check whether your research results are correct. This description also allows your reader to judge whether your results are reliable and valid.

You describe the chosen research method in the chapter 'Methodology'. Always provide a good justification for your choice of method. In this chapter, also describe the other choices you made for your research. You also describe your sample, discuss the data analysis and state what you have done to increase reliability and validity.

Do you need a thesis check?

Would you like to have your thesis checked again after you have done your research and written your thesis? We are happy to help you! The editors of AthenaCheck can check your thesis for language errors, structure and/or common thread. This way you can hand in your thesis without any worries.