What’s Your Research Approach?

As a an awareness practitioner and UX researcher, you need to understand your own approach to the work that you do. That means questioning your research methodology and how you attempt to study the world around you in an attempt to solve some of the problems you face. 

You need to become more aware of your own inclinations and the way you envision the world, as well as the nature of the thing you need to study to be able to make the most conscious research design decisions. Sometimes we are a little biased to our own paradigms and worldviews. It is important to understand that you do have a worldview and what those are to help avoid unconscious bias in research.

Sometimes you might need to design a study that requires inquiry into the subjective experiences of a specific group of people and sometimes you need to design a study that requires a more generalised approach that shows relationships between an object and user behaviour for example. The key is understanding what approach to use when.

A paradigm is a shared worldview that represents the beliefs and values in a discipline and guides how research is conducted and problems are solved (Schwandt, 2001).

 It is informed by three things:

  1. Ontology – philosophical assumptions about the nature of reality,
  2. Epistemology – ways of knowing what we know and the nature of truth;
  3. Axiology – ethics and value systems


Ontology refers to the nature of reality. It is about what kinds of things exist in reality and it dictates how those things should be studied.

  • Realism – refers to the idea that only one truth exists and that there are objective measures for this truth. This truth is objective, it does not change and it can be generalised to other situations from one study to another.
  • Relativism – asserts that there are multiple versions of reality, depending on meaning you attach to truth. That means that the truth depends on the meaning you give to it. Each person has their own subjective version of the truth. It asserts that reality is context-bound, and cannot be generalised to all other situations except to similar contexts.


Epistemology is about our relationship with knowledge and is based on our ontology. Based on the two ontological approaches above, can you match it with the corresponding epistemological approach?

  • Etic – This is an objective study, where the researcher is the observer. The observer does not participate, but looks from the outside at the phenomenon being studied.
  • Emic – This is an approach in which the researcher observes from an insider perspective. This occurs through participating and observing – both by the researcher and the participants.


Methodology refers to how knowledge is discovered and analysed in a systematic way – basically how we should go about gathering knowledge in a particular field. There are two basic methods in the Social Sciences.

Experimental methodology  

  • In experimental research, we prove that one thing caused another
  • It uses a deductive approach  
  • It is based on some theory
  • We use an explicitly stated hypothesis to frame our research
  • Our research is to then test the hypothesis
  • We collect specific data  
  • Data is then analysed to prove or disprove the hypothesis 
  • We can use surveys or other objective measurements. 
Phenomenological study
  • This type of study is designed to explore lived experiences 
  • It uses an inductive approach
  • It can be based on various complex philosophies about how data should be collected and analysed
  • We have tentative hypotheses created and used for further research, conclusions, more theories.
  • It is always linked to the context of the studies
  • We look for patterns, common findings in the subjective data
  • We use in-depth interviews and various different pieces of information collected from personal experiences such as diaries, photo-essays and any other relevant documents.


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