Volume 13 Issue 2 (2017)
Main Articles

Influence of Personal Epistemology on Research Design: Implications for Research Education

Viren Singh
Department of Engineering and Technology Management University of Pretoria
David Richard Walwyn
Department of Engineering and Technology Management University of Pretoria
Published October 27, 2017
  • engineering management,
  • master’s dissertation,
  • personal epistemology,
  • realist epistemology,
  • relativist epistemology,
  • interpretative phenomenological analysis,
  • research methodology course,
  • research design,
  • research education
  • ...More


This study was aimed at determining whether a specific research methodology was dominant within a cohort of master’s level engineering management students and, if so, whether this preference was directed by their personal epistemology, rather than the dictates of their research questions. Secondary data were used to determine the dominant research approaches. Interviews with a selected sample of students were undertaken to obtain a more detailed understanding of how personal epistemology impacts on the students’ methodological approaches to research. It was found that empirical-analytical approaches account for 72% of all studies within the student cohort, indicating a strong preference for such approaches. Furthermore, it was revealed in the interviews that the students tended to overlook methodological considerations, focussing only on research design. There was a general lack of self-reflection and awareness of personal epistemology, despite the latter being an important influence over the type and topic of the research, its purpose, research design, analytical techniques, and even the interpretation of results. The rather superficial approach could result in research designs biased by personal epistemologies and ill-suited to the research problems. This suggests possible changes to the teaching of research methodology in order to improve the research practice of students.