As a Master’s or PhD student, one of the most critical components of your research project is the methodology chapter. This section of your thesis outlines the framework you’ll use to answer your research question or hypothesis. One useful tool to help you structure your methodology chapter is the Saunders Research Onion.

Developed by Professor Mark Saunders, the Saunders Research Onion is a unique and versatile research framework that can help guide you through the process of conducting and reporting research. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Saunders Research Onion and show you how to use it to structure your methodology chapter.

What is the Saunders Research Onion?

The Saunders Research Onion is a multi-layered model that depicts the various stages involved in conducting research. The onion model features six layers, with each layer representing a different aspect of the research process. The layers of the onion model include:

  1. Research Philosophies
  2. Research Approaches
  3. Research Strategies
  4. Research Choices
  5. Time Horizons
  6. Techniques and Procedures (Data Collection and Data Analysis Methods)

Each layer builds on the previous one and helps to clarify and refine the research process. By using the Saunders Research Onion, you can create a structured and logical approach to conducting and reporting your research.

  1. Research Philosophies

The first layer of the Saunders Research Onion is the Research Philosophy layer, which is an essential aspect of research methodology. It is concerned with the underlying assumptions and beliefs that guide the research process. This layer comprises three sub-layers: Epistemology, Ontology, and Axiology.

Epistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge and how it can be acquired. The three dominant paradigms within epistemology are Positivism, Realism, and Interpretivism. Positivism holds that knowledge can only be gained through empirical observation and scientific methods. Realism posits that there is an objective reality that exists independently of the observer, and that knowledge can be acquired through direct observation of this reality. Interpretivism, on the other hand, suggests that reality is subjective and that knowledge is acquired through interpretation and understanding of the social world.

Ontology, the second sub-layer of research philosophy, is concerned with the nature of reality and the assumptions that underpin it. There are three dominant paradigms within ontology, namely Objectivism, Constructivism, and Pragmatism. Objectivism posits that there is a single objective reality that exists independently of the observer. Constructivism suggests that reality is socially constructed and that it is shaped by the individual’s experiences and interactions with the world. Pragmatism posits that reality is constructed through the individual’s experiences and interactions with the world, and that the truth is relative to the context in which it is defined.

The third sub-layer of Research Philosophy is Axiology, which is concerned with the values and ethical considerations that guide the research process. It includes considerations such as ethical principles, cultural values, and political beliefs. Axiology is essential to ensure that the research is conducted in a manner that is ethical and reflects the values of the research community.

It is crucial for researchers to understand the different paradigms within epistemology and ontology, as well as the ethical considerations within axiology. This understanding helps researchers to select an appropriate research methodology that is aligned with their research question and objectives. Moreover, this understanding enables researchers to critically evaluate existing literature and to select appropriate research methods for their studies.

  • Research Approaches

The research approach you choose will depend on your research question and the nature of your research problem. Saunders Research Onion identifies two main research approaches – deductive and inductive.

Deductive approach: In the deductive approach, researchers start with a theory and then test it through empirical data collection. The researcher will develop a hypothesis and then collect data to confirm or refute the hypothesis. This approach is commonly used in quantitative research.

Inductive approach: The inductive approach, on the other hand, is where the researcher starts with a set of observations or data and then tries to develop a theory or explanation based on the patterns that emerge. This approach is common in qualitative research.

  • Research Strategies

Research strategies refer to the specific techniques or methods used to collect and analyze data. Saunders Research Onion identifies several research strategies:

Experiment: In an experiment, the researcher manipulates one or more independent variables to observe their effect on a dependent variable. This research strategy is typically used in laboratory settings.

Survey: In a survey, the researcher collects data from a sample of participants using questionnaires, interviews, or online surveys. This strategy is commonly used in social sciences and business research.

Case Study: In a case study, the researcher analyzes a specific case or phenomenon in depth, usually using multiple sources of data, such as interviews, documents, and observations. This strategy is commonly used in social sciences and business research.

Action research: In action research, the researcher collaborates with a group of participants to identify and solve a problem or improve a situation. This strategy is commonly used in organizational and educational research.

Grounded Theory: In grounded theory, the researcher develops a theory or explanation based on the patterns and themes that emerge from the data. This strategy is commonly used in qualitative research.

Ethnography: In ethnography, the researcher studies a particular culture or community in depth by collecting data through interviews, observations, and other sources. This strategy is commonly used in social sciences and anthropology.

Archival Research: In archival research, the researcher collects data from existing sources, such as historical documents, government records, or organizational archives. This strategy is commonly used in historical and legal research.

  • Research Choices

Research choices refer to the decision of the researcher to use a single method, multiple methods, or mixed methods in their research. Saunders Research Onion identifies three research choices:

Mono method: In mono-method research, the researcher uses a single research method, either qualitative or quantitative, to collect and analyze data.

Multi-method: In multi-method research, the researcher uses multiple research methods, either qualitative or quantitative, to collect and analyze data.

Mixed-method: In mixed-method research, the researcher uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect and analyze data.

  • Time Horizons

Time horizons refer to the duration of time over which data is collected. Saunders Research Onion identifies two types of time horizons:

Cross-sectional: In cross-sectional research, the researcher collects data at a single point in time.

Longitudinal: In longitudinal research, the researcher collects data over an extended period of time, often through repeated measurements or observations.

  • Techniques and Procedures – Data Collection and Data Analysis

Data collection and data analysis are critical components of research methodology, and they are also a part of the sixth layer of the Saunders Research Onion model. Techniques and procedures used for data collection and analysis will depend on the research approach, strategy, and time horizon selected by the researcher.

There are various data collection methods, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, observation, and experiments. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and the researcher must choose the most appropriate method based on the research objectives and the nature of the research question. It is also essential to consider ethical issues related to data collection, such as obtaining informed consent, maintaining confidentiality, and protecting participants from harm.

Data analysis techniques are also crucial for research methodology, and they can be broadly divided into two categories: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative data analysis involves analyzing data in a non-numerical form, such as text, images, or videos. Common techniques for qualitative data analysis include content analysis, thematic analysis, and discourse analysis.

Quantitative data analysis, on the other hand, involves analyzing numerical data using statistical techniques. Common techniques for quantitative data analysis include descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and regression analysis. It is important to choose the appropriate data analysis technique based on the type of data collected and the research question.


The Saunders Research Onion model is a valuable tool for structuring the research methodology chapter of a PhD thesis or Master-level dissertation. The model provides a step-by-step approach to research methodology, starting with the research philosophy and ending with the techniques and procedures for data collection and analysis. By using the model, researchers can ensure that their research methodology chapter is comprehensive, well-structured, and logically organized.

It is important to note that while the Saunders Research Onion model provides a useful framework for research methodology, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Researchers must carefully consider their research objectives, research question, and other contextual factors when selecting the appropriate research philosophy, approach, strategy, time horizon, and data collection and analysis techniques.

At Book My PhD Editor, we understand the importance of a well-written and well-structured research methodology chapter. Our team of experienced editors and proofreaders can help you to ensure that your research methodology chapter is clear, concise, and error-free. We also offer data analysis services to help you analyze your research data using the appropriate techniques. Contact us today at to learn more about our services and how we can help you with your research methodology chapter.

Bonus Tip for Scholars:

Google Scholar – Google Scholar is a search engine that provides access to academic and scholarly literature, including articles, books, conference papers, and other documents. It is designed to help researchers, students, and academics find relevant scholarly content across a wide range of disciplines. Google Scholar indexes material from a variety of sources, including academic publishers, institutional repositories, and preprint servers, and provides links to full-text versions of many of the documents it lists. Users can search Google Scholar by keyword, author, publication, and other parameters, and can also set up alerts to receive notifications of new publications or citations to their own work.