In each of the forthcoming chapters it will be emphasised that there are no ‘right’, superior or proper methods to use in researching crime and justice. One of the aims of this book is to illustrate that in ‘real life’ research there are compromises, innovations and ingenious routes that have to be taken to achieve certain ends. This chapter in particular aims to highlight that the choice of methods is important – the question that needs to be asked is, ‘Can this method (or methods) have the potential to deliver answers to the sort of questions the project will pose?’ You may notice the word ‘potential’ in this sentence – this is because in the real world not everything goes to plan; sometimes things go wrong, and in some cases happy accidents occur as a result of not being able to control where and when the research takes place. There are at least two examples of this in the interviews that are reproduced in this book and the experienced researchers who describe these instances are suitably philosophical about the outcomes of their studies and the way they overcame various obstacles. To explore these issues this chapter begins with a general discussion of
the ideas or philosophy behind research methods, with an emphasis on how to think about choosing and using particular methods. This includes how and why certain approaches can only discover what they set out to do, as an aid to choosing wisely. The limitations of research methods are shown by using examples from various studies that illustrate real life research. These discussions involve talking about what can and cannot be achieved using quantitative and qualitative methods, and the sort of studies that are better suited to each. This is followed by a section on formulating research questions, and the necessity to reformulate them as the project proceeds in the light of do-ability, within budget and time restraints. This latter discussion includes cross-references to points in forthcoming chapters where these issues are raised in the interviews with researchers that form the ‘research in real life’ part of this book.