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What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

Published on August 25, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 20, 2023.

Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation , or research paper , the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research and your dissertation topic .

It should include:

  • The type of research you conducted
  • How you collected and analyzed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • How you mitigated or avoided research biases
  • Why you chose these methods
  • Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
  • Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
  • Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).

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Table of contents

How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about methodology.

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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .

It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.

You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.

Option 1: Start with your “what”

What research problem or question did you investigate?

  • Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
  • Explore an under-researched topic?
  • Establish a causal relationship?

And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
  • Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
  • Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?

Option 2: Start with your “why”

Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?

  • Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ? How did you prevent bias from affecting your data?

Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .

Quantitative methods

In order to be considered generalizable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Here, explain how you operationalized your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion and exclusion criteria , as well as any tools, procedures, and materials you used to gather your data.

Surveys Describe where, when, and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questionnaire?
  • What form did your questions take (e.g., multiple choice, Likert scale )?
  • Were your surveys conducted in-person or virtually?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • What was your sample size and response rate?

Experiments Share full details of the tools, techniques, and procedures you used to conduct your experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment ?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables ?
  • What tools did you use?

Existing data Explain how you gathered and selected the material (such as datasets or archival data) that you used in your analysis.

  • Where did you source the material?
  • How was the data originally produced?
  • What criteria did you use to select material (e.g., date range)?

The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions measured on a 7-point Likert scale.

The goal was to collect survey responses from 350 customers visiting the fitness apparel company’s brick-and-mortar location in Boston on July 4–8, 2022, between 11:00 and 15:00.

Here, a customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from the company on the day they took the survey. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously. In total, 408 customers responded, but not all surveys were fully completed. Due to this, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

  • Information bias
  • Omitted variable bias
  • Regression to the mean
  • Survivorship bias
  • Undercoverage bias
  • Sampling bias

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research , methods are often more flexible and subjective. For this reason, it’s crucial to robustly explain the methodology choices you made.

Be sure to discuss the criteria you used to select your data, the context in which your research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting your data (e.g., were you an active participant, or a passive observer?)

Interviews or focus groups Describe where, when, and how the interviews were conducted.

  • How did you find and select participants?
  • How many participants took part?
  • What form did the interviews take ( structured , semi-structured , or unstructured )?
  • How long were the interviews?
  • How were they recorded?

Participant observation Describe where, when, and how you conducted the observation or ethnography .

  • What group or community did you observe? How long did you spend there?
  • How did you gain access to this group? What role did you play in the community?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research? Where was it located?
  • How did you record your data (e.g., audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data Explain how you selected case study materials for your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyze?
  • How did you select them?

In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness store’s product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers.

Here, a returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from the store.

Surveys were used to select participants. Interviews were conducted in a small office next to the cash register and lasted approximately 20 minutes each. Answers were recorded by note-taking, and seven interviews were also filmed with consent. One interviewee preferred not to be filmed.

  • The Hawthorne effect
  • Observer bias
  • The placebo effect
  • Response bias and Nonresponse bias
  • The Pygmalion effect
  • Recall bias
  • Social desirability bias
  • Self-selection bias

Mixed methods

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. If a standalone quantitative or qualitative study is insufficient to answer your research question, mixed methods may be a good fit for you.

Mixed methods are less common than standalone analyses, largely because they require a great deal of effort to pull off successfully. If you choose to pursue mixed methods, it’s especially important to robustly justify your methods.

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how to write a methodology section for a research paper

Next, you should indicate how you processed and analyzed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.

In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:

  • How you prepared the data before analyzing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
  • Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )

In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).

Specific methods might include:

  • Content analysis : Categorizing and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
  • Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
  • Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context

Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.

Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .

  • Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviors, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
  • Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalized beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
  • Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalizable.

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.

1. Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .

2. Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:

  • Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
  • Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
  • Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

3. Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.

Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles

Methodology

  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Thematic analysis
  • Cohort study
  • Peer review
  • Ethnography

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Conformity bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Availability heuristic
  • Attrition bias

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).

In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .

In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.

In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion . The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation , or research proposal .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

Reliability and validity are both about how well a method measures something:

  • Reliability refers to the  consistency of a measure (whether the results can be reproduced under the same conditions).
  • Validity   refers to the  accuracy of a measure (whether the results really do represent what they are supposed to measure).

If you are doing experimental research, you also have to consider the internal and external validity of your experiment.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.

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How To Write The Methodology Chapter

The what, why & how explained simply (with examples).

By: Jenna Crossley (PhD) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | September 2021 (Updated April 2023)

So, you’ve pinned down your research topic and undertaken a review of the literature – now it’s time to write up the methodology section of your dissertation, thesis or research paper . But what exactly is the methodology chapter all about – and how do you go about writing one? In this post, we’ll unpack the topic, step by step .

Overview: The Methodology Chapter

  • The purpose  of the methodology chapter
  • Why you need to craft this chapter (really) well
  • How to write and structure the chapter
  • Methodology chapter example
  • Essential takeaways

What (exactly) is the methodology chapter?

The methodology chapter is where you outline the philosophical underpinnings of your research and outline the specific methodological choices you’ve made. The point of the methodology chapter is to tell the reader exactly how you designed your study and, just as importantly, why you did it this way.

Importantly, this chapter should comprehensively describe and justify all the methodological choices you made in your study. For example, the approach you took to your research (i.e., qualitative, quantitative or mixed), who  you collected data from (i.e., your sampling strategy), how you collected your data and, of course, how you analysed it. If that sounds a little intimidating, don’t worry – we’ll explain all these methodological choices in this post .

Free Webinar: Research Methodology 101

Why is the methodology chapter important?

The methodology chapter plays two important roles in your dissertation or thesis:

Firstly, it demonstrates your understanding of research theory, which is what earns you marks. A flawed research design or methodology would mean flawed results. So, this chapter is vital as it allows you to show the marker that you know what you’re doing and that your results are credible .

Secondly, the methodology chapter is what helps to make your study replicable. In other words, it allows other researchers to undertake your study using the same methodological approach, and compare their findings to yours. This is very important within academic research, as each study builds on previous studies.

The methodology chapter is also important in that it allows you to identify and discuss any methodological issues or problems you encountered (i.e., research limitations ), and to explain how you mitigated the impacts of these. Every research project has its limitations , so it’s important to acknowledge these openly and highlight your study’s value despite its limitations . Doing so demonstrates your understanding of research design, which will earn you marks. We’ll discuss limitations in a bit more detail later in this post, so stay tuned!

Need a helping hand?

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

How to write up the methodology chapter

First off, it’s worth noting that the exact structure and contents of the methodology chapter will vary depending on the field of research (e.g., humanities, chemistry or engineering) as well as the university . So, be sure to always check the guidelines provided by your institution for clarity and, if possible, review past dissertations from your university. Here we’re going to discuss a generic structure for a methodology chapter typically found in the sciences.

Before you start writing, it’s always a good idea to draw up a rough outline to guide your writing. Don’t just start writing without knowing what you’ll discuss where. If you do, you’ll likely end up with a disjointed, ill-flowing narrative . You’ll then waste a lot of time rewriting in an attempt to try to stitch all the pieces together. Do yourself a favour and start with the end in mind .

Section 1 – Introduction

As with all chapters in your dissertation or thesis, the methodology chapter should have a brief introduction. In this section, you should remind your readers what the focus of your study is, especially the research aims . As we’ve discussed many times on the blog, your methodology needs to align with your research aims, objectives and research questions. Therefore, it’s useful to frontload this component to remind the reader (and yourself!) what you’re trying to achieve.

In this section, you can also briefly mention how you’ll structure the chapter. This will help orient the reader and provide a bit of a roadmap so that they know what to expect. You don’t need a lot of detail here – just a brief outline will do.

The intro provides a roadmap to your methodology chapter

Section 2 – The Methodology

The next section of your chapter is where you’ll present the actual methodology. In this section, you need to detail and justify the key methodological choices you’ve made in a logical, intuitive fashion. Importantly, this is the heart of your methodology chapter, so you need to get specific – don’t hold back on the details here. This is not one of those “less is more” situations.

Let’s take a look at the most common components you’ll likely need to cover. 

Methodological Choice #1 – Research Philosophy

Research philosophy refers to the underlying beliefs (i.e., the worldview) regarding how data about a phenomenon should be gathered , analysed and used . The research philosophy will serve as the core of your study and underpin all of the other research design choices, so it’s critically important that you understand which philosophy you’ll adopt and why you made that choice. If you’re not clear on this, take the time to get clarity before you make any further methodological choices.

While several research philosophies exist, two commonly adopted ones are positivism and interpretivism . These two sit roughly on opposite sides of the research philosophy spectrum.

Positivism states that the researcher can observe reality objectively and that there is only one reality, which exists independently of the observer. As a consequence, it is quite commonly the underlying research philosophy in quantitative studies and is oftentimes the assumed philosophy in the physical sciences.

Contrasted with this, interpretivism , which is often the underlying research philosophy in qualitative studies, assumes that the researcher performs a role in observing the world around them and that reality is unique to each observer . In other words, reality is observed subjectively .

These are just two philosophies (there are many more), but they demonstrate significantly different approaches to research and have a significant impact on all the methodological choices. Therefore, it’s vital that you clearly outline and justify your research philosophy at the beginning of your methodology chapter, as it sets the scene for everything that follows.

The research philosophy is at the core of the methodology chapter

Methodological Choice #2 – Research Type

The next thing you would typically discuss in your methodology section is the research type. The starting point for this is to indicate whether the research you conducted is inductive or deductive .

Inductive research takes a bottom-up approach , where the researcher begins with specific observations or data and then draws general conclusions or theories from those observations. Therefore these studies tend to be exploratory in terms of approach.

Conversely , d eductive research takes a top-down approach , where the researcher starts with a theory or hypothesis and then tests it using specific observations or data. Therefore these studies tend to be confirmatory in approach.

Related to this, you’ll need to indicate whether your study adopts a qualitative, quantitative or mixed  approach. As we’ve mentioned, there’s a strong link between this choice and your research philosophy, so make sure that your choices are tightly aligned . When you write this section up, remember to clearly justify your choices, as they form the foundation of your study.

Methodological Choice #3 – Research Strategy

Next, you’ll need to discuss your research strategy (also referred to as a research design ). This methodological choice refers to the broader strategy in terms of how you’ll conduct your research, based on the aims of your study.

Several research strategies exist, including experimental , case studies , ethnography , grounded theory, action research , and phenomenology . Let’s take a look at two of these, experimental and ethnographic, to see how they contrast.

Experimental research makes use of the scientific method , where one group is the control group (in which no variables are manipulated ) and another is the experimental group (in which a specific variable is manipulated). This type of research is undertaken under strict conditions in a controlled, artificial environment (e.g., a laboratory). By having firm control over the environment, experimental research typically allows the researcher to establish causation between variables. Therefore, it can be a good choice if you have research aims that involve identifying causal relationships.

Ethnographic research , on the other hand, involves observing and capturing the experiences and perceptions of participants in their natural environment (for example, at home or in the office). In other words, in an uncontrolled environment.  Naturally, this means that this research strategy would be far less suitable if your research aims involve identifying causation, but it would be very valuable if you’re looking to explore and examine a group culture, for example.

As you can see, the right research strategy will depend largely on your research aims and research questions – in other words, what you’re trying to figure out. Therefore, as with every other methodological choice, it’s essential to justify why you chose the research strategy you did.

Methodological Choice #4 – Time Horizon

The next thing you’ll need to detail in your methodology chapter is the time horizon. There are two options here: cross-sectional and longitudinal . In other words, whether the data for your study were all collected at one point in time (cross-sectional) or at multiple points in time (longitudinal).

The choice you make here depends again on your research aims, objectives and research questions. If, for example, you aim to assess how a specific group of people’s perspectives regarding a topic change over time , you’d likely adopt a longitudinal time horizon.

Another important factor to consider is simply whether you have the time necessary to adopt a longitudinal approach (which could involve collecting data over multiple months or even years). Oftentimes, the time pressures of your degree program will force your hand into adopting a cross-sectional time horizon, so keep this in mind.

Methodological Choice #5 – Sampling Strategy

Next, you’ll need to discuss your sampling strategy . There are two main categories of sampling, probability and non-probability sampling.

Probability sampling involves a random (and therefore representative) selection of participants from a population, whereas non-probability sampling entails selecting participants in a non-random  (and therefore non-representative) manner. For example, selecting participants based on ease of access (this is called a convenience sample).

The right sampling approach depends largely on what you’re trying to achieve in your study. Specifically, whether you trying to develop findings that are generalisable to a population or not. Practicalities and resource constraints also play a large role here, as it can oftentimes be challenging to gain access to a truly random sample. In the video below, we explore some of the most common sampling strategies.

Methodological Choice #6 – Data Collection Method

Next up, you’ll need to explain how you’ll go about collecting the necessary data for your study. Your data collection method (or methods) will depend on the type of data that you plan to collect – in other words, qualitative or quantitative data.

Typically, quantitative research relies on surveys , data generated by lab equipment, analytics software or existing datasets. Qualitative research, on the other hand, often makes use of collection methods such as interviews , focus groups , participant observations, and ethnography.

So, as you can see, there is a tight link between this section and the design choices you outlined in earlier sections. Strong alignment between these sections, as well as your research aims and questions is therefore very important.

Methodological Choice #7 – Data Analysis Methods/Techniques

The final major methodological choice that you need to address is that of analysis techniques . In other words, how you’ll go about analysing your date once you’ve collected it. Here it’s important to be very specific about your analysis methods and/or techniques – don’t leave any room for interpretation. Also, as with all choices in this chapter, you need to justify each choice you make.

What exactly you discuss here will depend largely on the type of study you’re conducting (i.e., qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods). For qualitative studies, common analysis methods include content analysis , thematic analysis and discourse analysis . In the video below, we explain each of these in plain language.

For quantitative studies, you’ll almost always make use of descriptive statistics , and in many cases, you’ll also use inferential statistical techniques (e.g., correlation and regression analysis). In the video below, we unpack some of the core concepts involved in descriptive and inferential statistics.

In this section of your methodology chapter, it’s also important to discuss how you prepared your data for analysis, and what software you used (if any). For example, quantitative data will often require some initial preparation such as removing duplicates or incomplete responses . Similarly, qualitative data will often require transcription and perhaps even translation. As always, remember to state both what you did and why you did it.

Section 3 – The Methodological Limitations

With the key methodological choices outlined and justified, the next step is to discuss the limitations of your design. No research methodology is perfect – there will always be trade-offs between the “ideal” methodology and what’s practical and viable, given your constraints. Therefore, this section of your methodology chapter is where you’ll discuss the trade-offs you had to make, and why these were justified given the context.

Methodological limitations can vary greatly from study to study, ranging from common issues such as time and budget constraints to issues of sample or selection bias . For example, you may find that you didn’t manage to draw in enough respondents to achieve the desired sample size (and therefore, statistically significant results), or your sample may be skewed heavily towards a certain demographic, thereby negatively impacting representativeness .

In this section, it’s important to be critical of the shortcomings of your study. There’s no use trying to hide them (your marker will be aware of them regardless). By being critical, you’ll demonstrate to your marker that you have a strong understanding of research theory, so don’t be shy here. At the same time, don’t beat your study to death . State the limitations, why these were justified, how you mitigated their impacts to the best degree possible, and how your study still provides value despite these limitations .

Section 4 – Concluding Summary

Finally, it’s time to wrap up the methodology chapter with a brief concluding summary. In this section, you’ll want to concisely summarise what you’ve presented in the chapter. Here, it can be a good idea to use a figure to summarise the key decisions, especially if your university recommends using a specific model (for example, Saunders’ Research Onion ).

Importantly, this section needs to be brief – a paragraph or two maximum (it’s a summary, after all). Also, make sure that when you write up your concluding summary, you include only what you’ve already discussed in your chapter; don’t add any new information.

Keep it simple

Methodology Chapter Example

In the video below, we walk you through an example of a high-quality research methodology chapter from a dissertation. We also unpack our free methodology chapter template so that you can see how best to structure your chapter.

Wrapping Up

And there you have it – the methodology chapter in a nutshell. As we’ve mentioned, the exact contents and structure of this chapter can vary between universities , so be sure to check in with your institution before you start writing. If possible, try to find dissertations or theses from former students of your specific degree program – this will give you a strong indication of the expectations and norms when it comes to the methodology chapter (and all the other chapters!).

Also, remember the golden rule of the methodology chapter – justify every choice ! Make sure that you clearly explain the “why” for every “what”, and reference credible methodology textbooks or academic sources to back up your justifications.

If you need a helping hand with your research methodology (or any other component of your research), be sure to check out our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through every step of the research journey. Until next time, good luck!

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

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Peace be upon you, I am Dr. Ahmed Khedr, a former part-time professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. I am currently teaching research methods, and I have been dealing with your esteemed site for several years, and I found that despite my long experience with research methods sites, it is one of the smoothest sites for evaluating the material for students, For this reason, I relied on it a lot in teaching and translated most of what was written into Arabic and published it on my own page on Facebook. Thank you all… Everything I posted on my page is provided with the names of the writers of Grad coach, the title of the article, and the site. My best regards.

Daniel Edwards

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Magnus Mahenge

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Arthur Margraf

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Aruni Nilangi

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White Label Blog Content

This is a very well thought out post. Very informative and a great read.

FELEKE FACHA

THANKS SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR NICE IDEA

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  • Research Guides

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 6. The Methodology
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Research Process Video Series
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
  • Bibliography

The methods section describes actions taken to investigate a research problem and the rationale for the application of specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information applied to understanding the problem, thereby, allowing the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability. The methodology section of a research paper answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed? The writing should be direct and precise and always written in the past tense.

Kallet, Richard H. "How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004): 1229-1232.

Importance of a Good Methodology Section

You must explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:

  • Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the results and, by extension, how you interpreted their significance in the discussion section of your paper.
  • Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your analysis of the findings.
  • In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you have chosen a particular procedure or technique.
  • The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
  • The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
  • The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
  • In the social and behavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an existing method is utilized.

Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects . 5th edition. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Groups of Research Methods

There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:

  • The e mpirical-analytical group approaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences . This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
  • The i nterpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way . Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.

II.  Content

The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you used to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that the method is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.

The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:

  • Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
  • Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
  • The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
  • The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.

In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:

  • Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem . Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
  • Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design . Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
  • Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use , such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
  • Explain how you intend to analyze your results . Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
  • Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers . Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
  • Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure . For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
  • Provide a justification for case study selection . A common method of analyzing research problems in the social sciences is to analyze specific cases. These can be a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis that are either examined as a singular topic of in-depth investigation or multiple topics of investigation studied for the purpose of comparing or contrasting findings. In either method, you should explain why a case or cases were chosen and how they specifically relate to the research problem.
  • Describe potential limitations . Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.

NOTE :   Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. If necessary, consider using appendices for raw data.

ANOTHER NOTE : If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem , the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data [e.g., through interviews or observations], the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.

YET ANOTHER NOTE :   If your study involves interviews, observations, or other qualitative techniques involving human subjects , you may be required to obtain approval from the university's Office for the Protection of Research Subjects before beginning your research. This is not a common procedure for most undergraduate level student research assignments. However, i f your professor states you need approval, you must include a statement in your methods section that you received official endorsement and adequate informed consent from the office and that there was a clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants and to the university. This statement informs the reader that your study was conducted in an ethical and responsible manner. In some cases, the approval notice is included as an appendix to your paper.

III.  Problems to Avoid

Irrelevant Detail The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but concise. Do not provide any background information that does not directly help the reader understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how the data was analyzed in relation to the research problem [note: analyzed, not interpreted! Save how you interpreted the findings for the discussion section]. With this in mind, the page length of your methods section will generally be less than any other section of your paper except the conclusion.

Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method , not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.

Problem Blindness It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.

Literature Review Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].

It’s More than Sources of Information! A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.

Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation , Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process . (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.

Writing Tip

Statistical Designs and Tests? Do Not Fear Them!

Don't avoid using a quantitative approach to analyzing your research problem just because you fear the idea of applying statistical designs and tests. A qualitative approach, such as conducting interviews or content analysis of archival texts, can yield exciting new insights about a research problem, but it should not be undertaken simply because you have a disdain for running a simple regression. A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in very clear and direct ways, whereas, a similar study of a qualitative nature usually requires considerable time to analyze large volumes of data and a tremendous burden to create new paths for analysis where previously no path associated with your research problem had existed.

To locate data and statistics, GO HERE .

Another Writing Tip

Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods

There can be multiple meaning associated with the term "theories" and the term "methods" in social sciences research. A helpful way to delineate between them is to understand "theories" as representing different ways of characterizing the social world when you research it and "methods" as representing different ways of generating and analyzing data about that social world. Framed in this way, all empirical social sciences research involves theories and methods, whether they are stated explicitly or not. However, while theories and methods are often related, it is important that, as a researcher, you deliberately separate them in order to avoid your theories playing a disproportionate role in shaping what outcomes your chosen methods produce.

Introspectively engage in an ongoing dialectic between the application of theories and methods to help enable you to use the outcomes from your methods to interrogate and develop new theories, or ways of framing conceptually the research problem. This is how scholarship grows and branches out into new intellectual territory.

Reynolds, R. Larry. Ways of Knowing. Alternative Microeconomics . Part 1, Chapter 3. Boise State University; The Theory-Method Relationship. S-Cool Revision. United Kingdom.

Yet Another Writing Tip

Methods and the Methodology

Do not confuse the terms "methods" and "methodology." As Schneider notes, a method refers to the technical steps taken to do research . Descriptions of methods usually include defining and stating why you have chosen specific techniques to investigate a research problem, followed by an outline of the procedures you used to systematically select, gather, and process the data [remember to always save the interpretation of data for the discussion section of your paper].

The methodology refers to a discussion of the underlying reasoning why particular methods were used . This discussion includes describing the theoretical concepts that inform the choice of methods to be applied, placing the choice of methods within the more general nature of academic work, and reviewing its relevance to examining the research problem. The methodology section also includes a thorough review of the methods other scholars have used to study the topic.

Bryman, Alan. "Of Methods and Methodology." Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 3 (2008): 159-168; Schneider, Florian. “What's in a Methodology: The Difference between Method, Methodology, and Theory…and How to Get the Balance Right?” PoliticsEastAsia.com. Chinese Department, University of Leiden, Netherlands.

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SciSpace Resources

Here's What You Need to Understand About Research Methodology

Deeptanshu D

Table of Contents

Research methodology involves a systematic and well-structured approach to conducting scholarly or scientific inquiries. Knowing the significance of research methodology and its different components is crucial as it serves as the basis for any study.

Typically, your research topic will start as a broad idea you want to investigate more thoroughly. Once you’ve identified a research problem and created research questions , you must choose the appropriate methodology and frameworks to address those questions effectively.

What is the definition of a research methodology?

Research methodology is the process or the way you intend to execute your study. The methodology section of a research paper outlines how you plan to conduct your study. It covers various steps such as collecting data, statistical analysis, observing participants, and other procedures involved in the research process

The methods section should give a description of the process that will convert your idea into a study. Additionally, the outcomes of your process must provide valid and reliable results resonant with the aims and objectives of your research. This thumb rule holds complete validity, no matter whether your paper has inclinations for qualitative or quantitative usage.

Studying research methods used in related studies can provide helpful insights and direction for your own research. Now easily discover papers related to your topic on SciSpace and utilize our AI research assistant, Copilot , to quickly review the methodologies applied in different papers.

Analyze and understand research methodologies faster with SciSpace Copilot

The need for a good research methodology

While deciding on your approach towards your research, the reason or factors you weighed in choosing a particular problem and formulating a research topic need to be validated and explained. A research methodology helps you do exactly that. Moreover, a good research methodology lets you build your argument to validate your research work performed through various data collection methods, analytical methods, and other essential points.

Just imagine it as a strategy documented to provide an overview of what you intend to do.

While undertaking any research writing or performing the research itself, you may get drifted in not something of much importance. In such a case, a research methodology helps you to get back to your outlined work methodology.

A research methodology helps in keeping you accountable for your work. Additionally, it can help you evaluate whether your work is in sync with your original aims and objectives or not. Besides, a good research methodology enables you to navigate your research process smoothly and swiftly while providing effective planning to achieve your desired results.

What is the basic structure of a research methodology?

Usually, you must ensure to include the following stated aspects while deciding over the basic structure of your research methodology:

1. Your research procedure

Explain what research methods you’re going to use. Whether you intend to proceed with quantitative or qualitative, or a composite of both approaches, you need to state that explicitly. The option among the three depends on your research’s aim, objectives, and scope.

2. Provide the rationality behind your chosen approach

Based on logic and reason, let your readers know why you have chosen said research methodologies. Additionally, you have to build strong arguments supporting why your chosen research method is the best way to achieve the desired outcome.

3. Explain your mechanism

The mechanism encompasses the research methods or instruments you will use to develop your research methodology. It usually refers to your data collection methods. You can use interviews, surveys, physical questionnaires, etc., of the many available mechanisms as research methodology instruments. The data collection method is determined by the type of research and whether the data is quantitative data(includes numerical data) or qualitative data (perception, morale, etc.) Moreover, you need to put logical reasoning behind choosing a particular instrument.

4. Significance of outcomes

The results will be available once you have finished experimenting. However, you should also explain how you plan to use the data to interpret the findings. This section also aids in understanding the problem from within, breaking it down into pieces, and viewing the research problem from various perspectives.

5. Reader’s advice

Anything that you feel must be explained to spread more awareness among readers and focus groups must be included and described in detail. You should not just specify your research methodology on the assumption that a reader is aware of the topic.  

All the relevant information that explains and simplifies your research paper must be included in the methodology section. If you are conducting your research in a non-traditional manner, give a logical justification and list its benefits.

6. Explain your sample space

Include information about the sample and sample space in the methodology section. The term "sample" refers to a smaller set of data that a researcher selects or chooses from a larger group of people or focus groups using a predetermined selection method. Let your readers know how you are going to distinguish between relevant and non-relevant samples. How you figured out those exact numbers to back your research methodology, i.e. the sample spacing of instruments, must be discussed thoroughly.

For example, if you are going to conduct a survey or interview, then by what procedure will you select the interviewees (or sample size in case of surveys), and how exactly will the interview or survey be conducted.

7. Challenges and limitations

This part, which is frequently assumed to be unnecessary, is actually very important. The challenges and limitations that your chosen strategy inherently possesses must be specified while you are conducting different types of research.

The importance of a good research methodology

You must have observed that all research papers, dissertations, or theses carry a chapter entirely dedicated to research methodology. This section helps maintain your credibility as a better interpreter of results rather than a manipulator.

A good research methodology always explains the procedure, data collection methods and techniques, aim, and scope of the research. In a research study, it leads to a well-organized, rationality-based approach, while the paper lacking it is often observed as messy or disorganized.

You should pay special attention to validating your chosen way towards the research methodology. This becomes extremely important in case you select an unconventional or a distinct method of execution.

Curating and developing a strong, effective research methodology can assist you in addressing a variety of situations, such as:

  • When someone tries to duplicate or expand upon your research after few years.
  • If a contradiction or conflict of facts occurs at a later time. This gives you the security you need to deal with these contradictions while still being able to defend your approach.
  • Gaining a tactical approach in getting your research completed in time. Just ensure you are using the right approach while drafting your research methodology, and it can help you achieve your desired outcomes. Additionally, it provides a better explanation and understanding of the research question itself.
  • Documenting the results so that the final outcome of the research stays as you intended it to be while starting.

Instruments you could use while writing a good research methodology

As a researcher, you must choose which tools or data collection methods that fit best in terms of the relevance of your research. This decision has to be wise.

There exists many research equipments or tools that you can use to carry out your research process. These are classified as:

a. Interviews (One-on-One or a Group)

An interview aimed to get your desired research outcomes can be undertaken in many different ways. For example, you can design your interview as structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. What sets them apart is the degree of formality in the questions. On the other hand, in a group interview, your aim should be to collect more opinions and group perceptions from the focus groups on a certain topic rather than looking out for some formal answers.

In surveys, you are in better control if you specifically draft the questions you seek the response for. For example, you may choose to include free-style questions that can be answered descriptively, or you may provide a multiple-choice type response for questions. Besides, you can also opt to choose both ways, deciding what suits your research process and purpose better.

c. Sample Groups

Similar to the group interviews, here, you can select a group of individuals and assign them a topic to discuss or freely express their opinions over that. You can simultaneously note down the answers and later draft them appropriately, deciding on the relevance of every response.

d. Observations

If your research domain is humanities or sociology, observations are the best-proven method to draw your research methodology. Of course, you can always include studying the spontaneous response of the participants towards a situation or conducting the same but in a more structured manner. A structured observation means putting the participants in a situation at a previously decided time and then studying their responses.

Of all the tools described above, it is you who should wisely choose the instruments and decide what’s the best fit for your research. You must not restrict yourself from multiple methods or a combination of a few instruments if appropriate in drafting a good research methodology.

Types of research methodology

A research methodology exists in various forms. Depending upon their approach, whether centered around words, numbers, or both, methodologies are distinguished as qualitative, quantitative, or an amalgamation of both.

1. Qualitative research methodology

When a research methodology primarily focuses on words and textual data, then it is generally referred to as qualitative research methodology. This type is usually preferred among researchers when the aim and scope of the research are mainly theoretical and explanatory.

The instruments used are observations, interviews, and sample groups. You can use this methodology if you are trying to study human behavior or response in some situations. Generally, qualitative research methodology is widely used in sociology, psychology, and other related domains.

2. Quantitative research methodology

If your research is majorly centered on data, figures, and stats, then analyzing these numerical data is often referred to as quantitative research methodology. You can use quantitative research methodology if your research requires you to validate or justify the obtained results.

In quantitative methods, surveys, tests, experiments, and evaluations of current databases can be advantageously used as instruments If your research involves testing some hypothesis, then use this methodology.

3. Amalgam methodology

As the name suggests, the amalgam methodology uses both quantitative and qualitative approaches. This methodology is used when a part of the research requires you to verify the facts and figures, whereas the other part demands you to discover the theoretical and explanatory nature of the research question.

The instruments for the amalgam methodology require you to conduct interviews and surveys, including tests and experiments. The outcome of this methodology can be insightful and valuable as it provides precise test results in line with theoretical explanations and reasoning.

The amalgam method, makes your work both factual and rational at the same time.

Final words: How to decide which is the best research methodology?

If you have kept your sincerity and awareness intact with the aims and scope of research well enough, you must have got an idea of which research methodology suits your work best.

Before deciding which research methodology answers your research question, you must invest significant time in reading and doing your homework for that. Taking references that yield relevant results should be your first approach to establishing a research methodology.

Moreover, you should never refrain from exploring other options. Before setting your work in stone, you must try all the available options as it explains why the choice of research methodology that you finally make is more appropriate than the other available options.

You should always go for a quantitative research methodology if your research requires gathering large amounts of data, figures, and statistics. This research methodology will provide you with results if your research paper involves the validation of some hypothesis.

Whereas, if  you are looking for more explanations, reasons, opinions, and public perceptions around a theory, you must use qualitative research methodology.The choice of an appropriate research methodology ultimately depends on what you want to achieve through your research.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Research Methodology

1. how to write a research methodology.

You can always provide a separate section for research methodology where you should specify details about the methods and instruments used during the research, discussions on result analysis, including insights into the background information, and conveying the research limitations.

2. What are the types of research methodology?

There generally exists four types of research methodology i.e.

  • Observation
  • Experimental
  • Derivational

3. What is the true meaning of research methodology?

The set of techniques or procedures followed to discover and analyze the information gathered to validate or justify a research outcome is generally called Research Methodology.

4. Where lies the importance of research methodology?

Your research methodology directly reflects the validity of your research outcomes and how well-informed your research work is. Moreover, it can help future researchers cite or refer to your research if they plan to use a similar research methodology.

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

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  • How to Write Your Methods

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

Ensure understanding, reproducibility and replicability

What should you include in your methods section, and how much detail is appropriate?

Why Methods Matter

The methods section was once the most likely part of a paper to be unfairly abbreviated, overly summarized, or even relegated to hard-to-find sections of a publisher’s website. While some journals may responsibly include more detailed elements of methods in supplementary sections, the movement for increased reproducibility and rigor in science has reinstated the importance of the methods section. Methods are now viewed as a key element in establishing the credibility of the research being reported, alongside the open availability of data and results.

A clear methods section impacts editorial evaluation and readers’ understanding, and is also the backbone of transparency and replicability.

For example, the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology project set out in 2013 to replicate experiments from 50 high profile cancer papers, but revised their target to 18 papers once they understood how much methodological detail was not contained in the original papers.

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

What to include in your methods section

What you include in your methods sections depends on what field you are in and what experiments you are performing. However, the general principle in place at the majority of journals is summarized well by the guidelines at PLOS ONE : “The Materials and Methods section should provide enough detail to allow suitably skilled investigators to fully replicate your study. ” The emphases here are deliberate: the methods should enable readers to understand your paper, and replicate your study. However, there is no need to go into the level of detail that a lay-person would require—the focus is on the reader who is also trained in your field, with the suitable skills and knowledge to attempt a replication.

A constant principle of rigorous science

A methods section that enables other researchers to understand and replicate your results is a constant principle of rigorous, transparent, and Open Science. Aim to be thorough, even if a particular journal doesn’t require the same level of detail . Reproducibility is all of our responsibility. You cannot create any problems by exceeding a minimum standard of information. If a journal still has word-limits—either for the overall article or specific sections—and requires some methodological details to be in a supplemental section, that is OK as long as the extra details are searchable and findable .

Imagine replicating your own work, years in the future

As part of PLOS’ presentation on Reproducibility and Open Publishing (part of UCSF’s Reproducibility Series ) we recommend planning the level of detail in your methods section by imagining you are writing for your future self, replicating your own work. When you consider that you might be at a different institution, with different account logins, applications, resources, and access levels—you can help yourself imagine the level of specificity that you yourself would require to redo the exact experiment. Consider:

  • Which details would you need to be reminded of? 
  • Which cell line, or antibody, or software, or reagent did you use, and does it have a Research Resource ID (RRID) that you can cite?
  • Which version of a questionnaire did you use in your survey? 
  • Exactly which visual stimulus did you show participants, and is it publicly available? 
  • What participants did you decide to exclude? 
  • What process did you adjust, during your work? 

Tip: Be sure to capture any changes to your protocols

You yourself would want to know about any adjustments, if you ever replicate the work, so you can surmise that anyone else would want to as well. Even if a necessary adjustment you made was not ideal, transparency is the key to ensuring this is not regarded as an issue in the future. It is far better to transparently convey any non-optimal methods, or methodological constraints, than to conceal them, which could result in reproducibility or ethical issues downstream.

Visual aids for methods help when reading the whole paper

Consider whether a visual representation of your methods could be appropriate or aid understanding your process. A visual reference readers can easily return to, like a flow-diagram, decision-tree, or checklist, can help readers to better understand the complete article, not just the methods section.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to describing what you did, it is just as important to assure readers that you also followed all relevant ethical guidelines when conducting your research. While ethical standards and reporting guidelines are often presented in a separate section of a paper, ensure that your methods and protocols actually follow these guidelines. Read more about ethics .

Existing standards, checklists, guidelines, partners

While the level of detail contained in a methods section should be guided by the universal principles of rigorous science outlined above, various disciplines, fields, and projects have worked hard to design and develop consistent standards, guidelines, and tools to help with reporting all types of experiment. Below, you’ll find some of the key initiatives. Ensure you read the submission guidelines for the specific journal you are submitting to, in order to discover any further journal- or field-specific policies to follow, or initiatives/tools to utilize.

Tip: Keep your paper moving forward by providing the proper paperwork up front

Be sure to check the journal guidelines and provide the necessary documents with your manuscript submission. Collecting the necessary documentation can greatly slow the first round of peer review, or cause delays when you submit your revision.

Randomized Controlled Trials – CONSORT The Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) project covers various initiatives intended to prevent the problems of  inadequate reporting of randomized controlled trials. The primary initiative is an evidence-based minimum set of recommendations for reporting randomized trials known as the CONSORT Statement . 

Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses – PRISMA The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses ( PRISMA ) is an evidence-based minimum set of items focusing  on the reporting of  reviews evaluating randomized trials and other types of research.

Research using Animals – ARRIVE The Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments ( ARRIVE ) guidelines encourage maximizing the information reported in research using animals thereby minimizing unnecessary studies. (Original study and proposal , and updated guidelines , in PLOS Biology .) 

Laboratory Protocols Protocols.io has developed a platform specifically for the sharing and updating of laboratory protocols , which are assigned their own DOI and can be linked from methods sections of papers to enhance reproducibility. Contextualize your protocol and improve discovery with an accompanying Lab Protocol article in PLOS ONE .

Consistent reporting of Materials, Design, and Analysis – the MDAR checklist A cross-publisher group of editors and experts have developed, tested, and rolled out a checklist to help establish and harmonize reporting standards in the Life Sciences . The checklist , which is available for use by authors to compile their methods, and editors/reviewers to check methods, establishes a minimum set of requirements in transparent reporting and is adaptable to any discipline within the Life Sciences, by covering a breadth of potentially relevant methodological items and considerations. If you are in the Life Sciences and writing up your methods section, try working through the MDAR checklist and see whether it helps you include all relevant details into your methods, and whether it reminded you of anything you might have missed otherwise.

Summary Writing tips

The main challenge you may find when writing your methods is keeping it readable AND covering all the details needed for reproducibility and replicability. While this is difficult, do not compromise on rigorous standards for credibility!

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

  • Keep in mind future replicability, alongside understanding and readability.
  • Follow checklists, and field- and journal-specific guidelines.
  • Consider a commitment to rigorous and transparent science a personal responsibility, and not just adhering to journal guidelines.
  • Establish whether there are persistent identifiers for any research resources you use that can be specifically cited in your methods section.
  • Deposit your laboratory protocols in Protocols.io, establishing a permanent link to them. You can update your protocols later if you improve on them, as can future scientists who follow your protocols.
  • Consider visual aids like flow-diagrams, lists, to help with reading other sections of the paper.
  • Be specific about all decisions made during the experiments that someone reproducing your work would need to know.

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

Don’t

  • Summarize or abbreviate methods without giving full details in a discoverable supplemental section.
  • Presume you will always be able to remember how you performed the experiments, or have access to private or institutional notebooks and resources.
  • Attempt to hide constraints or non-optimal decisions you had to make–transparency is the key to ensuring the credibility of your research.
  • How to Write a Great Title
  • How to Write an Abstract
  • How to Report Statistics
  • How to Write Discussions and Conclusions
  • How to Edit Your Work

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The contents of the Writing Center are also available as a live, interactive training session, complete with slides, talking points, and activities. …

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  • What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

Published on 25 February 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 10 October 2022.

Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research.

It should include:

  • The type of research you conducted
  • How you collected and analysed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • Why you chose these methods
  • Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
  • Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
  • Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).

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Table of contents

How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, frequently asked questions about methodology.

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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .

It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.

You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.

Option 1: Start with your “what”

What research problem or question did you investigate?

  • Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
  • Explore an under-researched topic?
  • Establish a causal relationship?

And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
  • Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
  • Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?

Option 2: Start with your “why”

Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?

  • Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ?

Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .

Quantitative methods

In order to be considered generalisable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Here, explain how you operationalised your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion/exclusion criteria, as well as any tools, procedures, and materials you used to gather your data.

Surveys Describe where, when, and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questionnaire?
  • What form did your questions take (e.g., multiple choice, Likert scale )?
  • Were your surveys conducted in-person or virtually?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • What was your sample size and response rate?

Experiments Share full details of the tools, techniques, and procedures you used to conduct your experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment ?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables ?
  • What tools did you use?

Existing data Explain how you gathered and selected the material (such as datasets or archival data) that you used in your analysis.

  • Where did you source the material?
  • How was the data originally produced?
  • What criteria did you use to select material (e.g., date range)?

The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions measured on a 7-point Likert scale.

The goal was to collect survey responses from 350 customers visiting the fitness apparel company’s brick-and-mortar location in Boston on 4–8 July 2022, between 11:00 and 15:00.

Here, a customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from the company on the day they took the survey. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously. In total, 408 customers responded, but not all surveys were fully completed. Due to this, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research , methods are often more flexible and subjective. For this reason, it’s crucial to robustly explain the methodology choices you made.

Be sure to discuss the criteria you used to select your data, the context in which your research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting your data (e.g., were you an active participant, or a passive observer?)

Interviews or focus groups Describe where, when, and how the interviews were conducted.

  • How did you find and select participants?
  • How many participants took part?
  • What form did the interviews take ( structured , semi-structured , or unstructured )?
  • How long were the interviews?
  • How were they recorded?

Participant observation Describe where, when, and how you conducted the observation or ethnography .

  • What group or community did you observe? How long did you spend there?
  • How did you gain access to this group? What role did you play in the community?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research? Where was it located?
  • How did you record your data (e.g., audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data Explain how you selected case study materials for your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyse?
  • How did you select them?

In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness shop’s product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers.

Here, a returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from the store.

Surveys were used to select participants. Interviews were conducted in a small office next to the cash register and lasted approximately 20 minutes each. Answers were recorded by note-taking, and seven interviews were also filmed with consent. One interviewee preferred not to be filmed.

Mixed methods

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. If a standalone quantitative or qualitative study is insufficient to answer your research question, mixed methods may be a good fit for you.

Mixed methods are less common than standalone analyses, largely because they require a great deal of effort to pull off successfully. If you choose to pursue mixed methods, it’s especially important to robustly justify your methods here.

Next, you should indicate how you processed and analysed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.

In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:

  • How you prepared the data before analysing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
  • Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )

In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).

Specific methods might include:

  • Content analysis : Categorising and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
  • Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
  • Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context

Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.

Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .

  • Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviours, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
  • Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalised beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
  • Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalisable.

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.

1. Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives  and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .

2. Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:

  • Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
  • Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
  • Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

3. Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.

Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research. Developing your methodology involves studying the research methods used in your field and the theories or principles that underpin them, in order to choose the approach that best matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyse data (e.g. interviews, experiments , surveys , statistical tests ).

In a dissertation or scientific paper, the methodology chapter or methods section comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to test a hypothesis by systematically collecting and analysing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population. Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research.

For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

Statistical sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population. There are various sampling methods you can use to ensure that your sample is representative of the population as a whole.

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McCombes, S. (2022, October 10). What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved 25 March 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/methodology/

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How to Write Research Methodology

Last Updated: May 21, 2023 Approved

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. and by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 515,574 times.

The research methodology section of any academic research paper gives you the opportunity to convince your readers that your research is useful and will contribute to your field of study. An effective research methodology is grounded in your overall approach – whether qualitative or quantitative – and adequately describes the methods you used. Justify why you chose those methods over others, then explain how those methods will provide answers to your research questions. [1] X Research source

Describing Your Methods

Step 1 Restate your research problem.

  • In your restatement, include any underlying assumptions that you're making or conditions that you're taking for granted. These assumptions will also inform the research methods you've chosen.
  • Generally, state the variables you'll test and the other conditions you're controlling or assuming are equal.

Step 2 Establish your overall methodological approach.

  • If you want to research and document measurable social trends, or evaluate the impact of a particular policy on various variables, use a quantitative approach focused on data collection and statistical analysis.
  • If you want to evaluate people's views or understanding of a particular issue, choose a more qualitative approach.
  • You can also combine the two. For example, you might look primarily at a measurable social trend, but also interview people and get their opinions on how that trend is affecting their lives.

Step 3 Define how you collected or generated data.

  • For example, if you conducted a survey, you would describe the questions included in the survey, where and how the survey was conducted (such as in person, online, over the phone), how many surveys were distributed, and how long your respondents had to complete the survey.
  • Include enough detail that your study can be replicated by others in your field, even if they may not get the same results you did. [4] X Research source

Step 4 Provide background for uncommon methods.

  • Qualitative research methods typically require more detailed explanation than quantitative methods.
  • Basic investigative procedures don't need to be explained in detail. Generally, you can assume that your readers have a general understanding of common research methods that social scientists use, such as surveys or focus groups.

Step 5 Cite any sources that contributed to your choice of methodology.

  • For example, suppose you conducted a survey and used a couple of other research papers to help construct the questions on your survey. You would mention those as contributing sources.

Justifying Your Choice of Methods

Step 1 Explain your selection criteria for data collection.

  • Describe study participants specifically, and list any inclusion or exclusion criteria you used when forming your group of participants.
  • Justify the size of your sample, if applicable, and describe how this affects whether your study can be generalized to larger populations. For example, if you conducted a survey of 30 percent of the student population of a university, you could potentially apply those results to the student body as a whole, but maybe not to students at other universities.

Step 2 Distinguish your research from any weaknesses in your methods.

  • Reading other research papers is a good way to identify potential problems that commonly arise with various methods. State whether you actually encountered any of these common problems during your research.

Step 3 Describe how you overcame obstacles.

  • If you encountered any problems as you collected data, explain clearly the steps you took to minimize the effect that problem would have on your results.

Step 4 Evaluate other methods you could have used.

  • In some cases, this may be as simple as stating that while there were numerous studies using one method, there weren't any using your method, which caused a gap in understanding of the issue.
  • For example, there may be multiple papers providing quantitative analysis of a particular social trend. However, none of these papers looked closely at how this trend was affecting the lives of people.

Connecting Your Methods to Your Research Goals

Step 1 Describe how you analyzed your results.

  • Depending on your research questions, you may be mixing quantitative and qualitative analysis – just as you could potentially use both approaches. For example, you might do a statistical analysis, and then interpret those statistics through a particular theoretical lens.

Step 2 Explain how your analysis suits your research goals.

  • For example, suppose you're researching the effect of college education on family farms in rural America. While you could do interviews of college-educated people who grew up on a family farm, that would not give you a picture of the overall effect. A quantitative approach and statistical analysis would give you a bigger picture.

Step 3 Identify how your analysis answers your research questions.

  • If in answering your research questions, your findings have raised other questions that may require further research, state these briefly.
  • You can also include here any limitations to your methods, or questions that weren't answered through your research.

Step 4 Assess whether your findings can be transferred or generalized.

  • Generalization is more typically used in quantitative research. If you have a well-designed sample, you can statistically apply your results to the larger population your sample belongs to.

Template to Write Research Methodology

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

Community Q&A

AneHane

  • Organize your methodology section chronologically, starting with how you prepared to conduct your research methods, how you gathered data, and how you analyzed that data. [13] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Write your research methodology section in past tense, unless you're submitting the methodology section before the research described has been carried out. [14] X Research source Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Discuss your plans in detail with your advisor or supervisor before committing to a particular methodology. They can help identify possible flaws in your study. [15] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

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Write

  • ↑ http://expertjournals.com/how-to-write-a-research-methodology-for-your-academic-article/
  • ↑ http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/methodology
  • ↑ https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/dissertation-methodology.html
  • ↑ https://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/4245/05Chap%204_Research%20methodology%20and%20design.pdf
  • ↑ https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/FYP/html/method.htm

About This Article

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

To write a research methodology, start with a section that outlines the problems or questions you'll be studying, including your hypotheses or whatever it is you're setting out to prove. Then, briefly explain why you chose to use either a qualitative or quantitative approach for your study. Next, go over when and where you conducted your research and what parameters you used to ensure you were objective. Finally, cite any sources you used to decide on the methodology for your research. To learn how to justify your choice of methods in your research methodology, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Methods Section for a Research Paper

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

A common piece of advice for authors preparing their first journal article for publication is to start with the methods section: just list everything that was done and go from there. While that might seem like a very practical approach to a first draft, if you do this without a clear outline and a story in mind, you can easily end up with journal manuscript sections that are not logically related to each other. 

Since the methods section constitutes the core of your paper, no matter when you write it, you need to use it to guide the reader carefully through your story from beginning to end without leaving questions unanswered. Missing or confusing details in this section will likely lead to early rejection of your manuscript or unnecessary back-and-forth with the reviewers until eventual publication. Here, you will find some useful tips on how to make your methods section the logical foundation of your research paper.

Not just a list of experiments and methods

While your introduction section provides the reader with the necessary background to understand your rationale and research question (and, depending on journal format and your personal preference, might already summarize the results), the methods section explains what exactly you did and how you did it. The point of this section is not to list all the boring details just for the sake of completeness. The purpose of the methods sections is to enable the reader to replicate exactly what you did, verify or corroborate your results, or maybe find that there are factors you did not consider or that are more relevant than expected. 

To make this section as easy to read as possible, you must clearly connect it to the information you provide in the introduction section before and the results section after, it needs to have a clear structure (chronologically or according to topics), and you need to present your results according to the same structure or topics later in the manuscript. There are also official guidelines and journal instructions to follow and ethical issues to avoid to ensure that your manuscript can quickly reach the publication stage.

Table of Contents:

  • General Methods Structure: What is Your Story? 
  • What Methods Should You Report (and Leave Out)? 
  • Details Frequently Missing from the Methods Section

More Journal Guidelines to Consider 

  • Accurate and Appropriate Language in the Methods

General Methods Section Structure: What Is Your Story? 

You might have conducted a number of experiments, maybe also a pilot before the main study to determine some specific factors or a follow-up experiment to clarify unclear details later in the process. Throwing all of these into your methods section, however, might not help the reader understand how everything is connected and how useful and appropriate your methodological approach is to investigate your specific research question. You therefore need to first come up with a clear outline and decide what to report and how to present that to the reader.

The first (and very important) decision to make is whether you present your experiments chronologically (e.g., Experiment 1, Experiment 2, Experiment 3… ), and guide the reader through every step of the process, or if you organize everything according to subtopics (e.g., Behavioral measures, Structural imaging markers, Functional imaging markers… ). In both cases, you need to use clear subheaders for the different subsections of your methods, and, very importantly, follow the same structure or focus on the same topics/measures in the results section so that the reader can easily follow along (see the two examples below).

If you are in doubt which way of organizing your experiments is better for your study, just ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the reader need to know the timeline of your study? 
  • Is it relevant that one experiment was conducted first, because the outcome of this experiment determined the stimuli or factors that went into the next?
  • Did the results of your first experiment leave important questions open that you addressed in an additional experiment (that was maybe not planned initially)?
  • Is the answer to all of these questions “no”? Then organizing your methods section according to topics of interest might be the more logical choice.

If you think your timeline, protocol, or setup might be confusing or difficult for the reader to grasp, consider adding a graphic, flow diagram, decision tree, or table as a visual aid.

What Methods Should You Report (and Leave Out)?

The answer to this question is quite simple–you need to report everything that another researcher needs to know to be able to replicate your study. Just imagine yourself reading your methods section in the future and trying to set up the same experiments again without prior knowledge. You would probably need to ask questions such as:

  • Where did you conduct your experiments (e.g., in what kind of room, under what lighting or temperature conditions, if those are relevant)? 
  • What devices did you use? Are there specific settings to report?
  • What specific software (and version of that software) did you use?
  • How did you find and select your participants?
  • How did you assign participants into groups?  
  • Did you exclude participants from the analysis? Why and how?
  • Where did your reagents or antibodies come from? Can you provide a Research Resource Identifier (RRID) ?
  • Did you make your stimuli yourself or did you get them from somewhere?
  • Are the stimuli you used available for other researchers?
  • What kind of questionnaires did you use? Have they been validated?
  • How did you analyze your data? What level of significance did you use?
  • Were there any technical issues and did you have to adjust protocols?

Note that for every experimental detail you provide, you need to tell the reader (briefly) why you used this type of stimulus/this group of participants/these specific amounts of reagents. If there is earlier published research reporting the same methods, cite those studies. If you did pilot experiments to determine those details, describe the procedures and the outcomes of these experiments. If you made assumptions about the suitability of something based on the literature and common practice at your institution, then explain that to the reader.

In a nutshell, established methods need to be cited, and new methods need to be clearly described and briefly justified. However, if the fact that you use a new approach or a method that is not traditionally used for the data or phenomenon you study is one of the main points of your study (and maybe already reflected in the title of your article), then you need to explain your rationale for doing so in the introduction already and discuss it in more detail in the discussion section .

Note that you also need to explain your statistical analyses at the end of your methods section. You present the results of these analyses later, in the results section of your paper, but you need to show the reader in the methods section already that your approach is either well-established or valid, even if it is new or unusual. 

When it comes to the question of what details you should leave out, the answer is equally simple ‒ everything that you would not need to replicate your study in the future. If the educational background of your participants is listed in your institutional database but is not relevant to your study outcome, then don’t include that. Other things you should not include in the methods section:

  • Background information that you already presented in the introduction section.
  • In-depth comparisons of different methods ‒ these belong in the discussion section.
  • Results, unless you summarize outcomes of pilot experiments that helped you determine factors for your main experiment.

Also, make sure your subheadings are as clear as possible, suit the structure you chose for your methods section, and are in line with the target journal guidelines. If you studied a disease intervention in human participants, then your methods section could look similar to this:

materials an methods breakdown

Since the main point of interest here are your patient-centered outcome variables, you would center your results section on these as well and choose your headers accordingly (e.g., Patient characteristics, Baseline evaluation, Outcome variable 1, Outcome variable 2, Drop-out rate ). 

If, instead, you did a series of visual experiments investigating the perception of faces including a pilot experiment to create the stimuli for your actual study, you would need to structure your methods section in a very different way, maybe like this:

materials and methods breakdown

Since here the analysis and outcome of the pilot experiment are already described in the methods section (as the basis for the main experimental setup and procedure), you do not have to mention it again in the results section. Instead, you could choose the two main experiments to structure your results section ( Discrimination and classification, Familiarization and adaptation ), or divide the results into all your test measures and/or potential interactions you described in the methods section (e.g., Discrimination performance, Classification performance, Adaptation aftereffects, Correlation analysis ).

Details Commonly Missing from the Methods Section

Manufacturer information.

For laboratory or technical equipment, you need to provide the model, name of the manufacturer, and company’s location. The usual format for these details is the product name (company name, city, state) for US-based manufacturers and the product name (company name, city/town, country) for companies outside the US.

Sample size and power estimation

Power and sample size estimations are measures for how many patients or participants are needed in a study in order to detect statistical significance and draw meaningful conclusions from the results. Outside of the medical field, studies are sometimes still conducted with a “the more the better” approach in mind, but since many journals now ask for those details, it is better to not skip this important step.

Ethical guidelines and approval

In addition to describing what you did, you also need to assure the editor and reviewers that your methods and protocols followed all relevant ethical standards and guidelines. This includes applying for approval at your local or national ethics committee, providing the name or location of that committee as well as the approval reference number you received, and, if you studied human participants, a statement that participants were informed about all relevant experimental details in advance and signed consent forms before the start of the study. For animal studies, you usually need to provide a statement that all procedures included in your research were in line with the Declaration of Helsinki. Make sure you check the target journal guidelines carefully, as these statements sometimes need to be placed at the end of the main article text rather than in the method section.

Structure & word limitations

While many journals simply follow the usual style guidelines (e.g., APA for the social sciences and psychology, AMA for medical research) and let you choose the headers of your method section according to your preferred structure and focus, some have precise guidelines and strict limitations, for example, on manuscript length and the maximum number of subsections or header levels. Make sure you read the instructions of your target journal carefully and restructure your method section if necessary before submission. If the journal does not give you enough space to include all the details that you deem necessary, then you can usually submit additional details as “supplemental” files and refer to those in the main text where necessary.

Standardized checklists

In addition to ethical guidelines and approval, journals also often ask you to submit one of the official standardized checklists for different study types to ensure all essential details are included in your manuscript. For example, there are checklists for randomized clinical trials, CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) , cohort, case-control, cross‐sectional studies, STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology ), diagnostic accuracy, STARD (STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies) , systematic reviews and meta‐analyses PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta‐Analyses) , and Case reports, CARE (CAse REport) .

Make sure you check if the manuscript uses a single- or double-blind review procedure , and delete all information that might allow a reviewer to guess where the authors are located from the manuscript text if necessary. This means that your method section cannot list the name and location of your institution, the names of researchers who conducted specific tests, or the name of your institutional ethics committee.  

methods section checklist

Accurate and Appropriate Language in the Methods Section

Like all sections of your research paper, your method section needs to be written in an academic tone . That means it should be formal, vague expressions and colloquial language need to be avoided, and you need to correctly cite all your sources. If you describe human participants in your method section then you should be especially careful about your choice of words. For example, “participants” sounds more respectful than “subjects,” and patient-first language, that is, “patients with cancer,” is considered more appropriate than “cancer patients” by many journals.

Passive voice is often considered the standard for research papers, but it is completely fine to mix passive and active voice, even in the method section, to make your text as clear and concise as possible. Use the simple past tense to describe what you did, and the present tense when you refer to diagrams or tables. Have a look at this article if you need more general input on which verb tenses to use in a research paper . 

Lastly, make sure you label all the standard tests and questionnaires you use correctly (look up the original publication when in doubt) and spell genes and proteins according to the common databases for the species you studied, such as the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee database for human studies .  

Visit Wordvice AI’s AI Text Editor to receive a free grammar check and English editing services (including manuscript editing , paper editing , and dissertation editing ) before submitting your manuscript to journal editors.

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Academic Paper: Methodology

8 min read • march 13, 2023

Dylan Black

Dylan Black

Introduction

Now that we've finished our introduction and lit review and you are officially an expert™️ in your topic of inquiry, we can finally get started on planning out what exactly it is you're planning on doing! While this may seem like a simple task, many AP Research students consider the Methodology section of the paper to be the most laborious and at times the most difficult part of the paper.

Furthermore, your method is completely unique to your paper. This is because, for completely different topics, the methods used within those disciplines will differ entirely. In some of the harder sciences (ie. chemistry, physics, biology) you are more likely to use a formal experiment whereas, in the humanities, qualitative methods like interviews and content analyses are much more common.

However, in figuring out the best research method for your research, not only will you have to think "what is the best way of solving this problem/answering this question?" but you will ALSO have to remember to look back at your sources from your literature review and see how those sources designed their methods. This will come in handy a bit later when we discuss justifying your methodology .

Image from GIPHY

Types of Research Methods

In Research, you will be presented with so so so many different types of research methods ranging from observatory studies to content analyses to experiments . In this guide, because of the sheer magnitude of how many methodologies there are, we'll be talking about two major subsets of research and describe a few methods that you may want to look into. Again, do what is best for your project and what applies most to your discipline.

Quantitative Methods

According to the University of South Carolina, " Quantitative methods emphasize objective measurements and the statistical, mathematical, or numerical analysis of data" ( USC ). In essence, quantitative methods are methods that rely more on numbers and less on "soft" evidence, so to speak. This means substantiating claims, not just through the method results, but by performing analysis on data to prove formally, usually through the use of statistical tools, your assertions.

Descriptions of quantitative methods usually involve three main parts:

The study population and sampling

Which people, places, things are you studying and what is the sample size?

The data collected/the tools for data collection

What specifically are you collecting and how will you be collecting it?

Data analysis

How did you take the raw data (the pure numbers) and analyze it in such a way that it proves your hypothesis?

Discipline wise, quantitative methods lend themselves to the sciences and social sciences, with experiments as the typical quantitative method. However, another popular quantitative method involves surveys , specifically surveys with fixed results like multiple choice questions, not open-ended responses, though you can have a combination, this just means your method is more mixed .

Qualitative Methods

While quantitative methods fixate mostly on numbers , qualitative methods fixate on non-numerical, and less "hard", data. According to USC, qualitative methods differentiate from quantitative methods in that they "are not experimentally examined or measured [if measured at all] in terms of quantity, amount, intensity, or frequency". This means that a qualitative study will not focus as heavily on numbers and will rather focus on more abstract, but still concrete, analysis of things like content.

Note that just because a study is qualitative does not mean that its results are A) easier to write or B) are less rigorous. The results from a qualitative study, while less statistically concrete, are still required to be incredibly backed, supported, and thought out. Many people consider non-numerical studies to be less rigorous because "numbers never lie" so to speak, but in fact, quantitative studies can have many issues with credibility, some that can't be applied to qualitative studies.

Qualitative methods typically revolve around some form of content. Whether this content involves collected responses, from things like interviews and/or surveys , or a formal content analysis where a researcher uses coding , a way of breaking down content, to do an in-depth analysis. (disconnected from programming 🖥️)

Qualitative research lends itself to the humanities and social sciences, such as in literature, film analysis, historical research, and other very document and content-heavy fields. Furthermore, if you are collecting any sort of "wordy" responses, such as long responses in a survey and interview responses, your method is more than likely going to incorporate some form of qualitative analysis .

Ethics of Experimentation and the IRB

Many AP Research students perform studies that involve human subjects. This means that you must abide by the rules of ethical experimentation . Note that, even if you aren't doing an experiment, if you have human subjects, ethics will 100% play a role in your methodological design. In this section, we'll go over some of the key points of ethics and describe what an IRB (Institutional Review Board) is.

The first, and most obvious, ethical principle to abide by is " do no harm ". Basically, don't design an experiment that could cause direct harm, both physical and/or psychological, to your participants. While accidents do happen, and are often not fully under the researcher's control, making explicit note not to deliberately cause harm is important.

Voluntary Participation Being Open and Honest

Furthermore, your participants must voluntarily participate in your study. This doesn't just mean having your participants visually and verbally agree, you must get written permission for participants to take part in a study. When you receive written permission from a participant, however, they still retain the right to stop participating at any time during your experiment or study.

Therefore, if you are observing a human subject and they express a desire to leave or to stop whatever you are performing, you are obligated to let them leave. It's important to note at this point that written permission carries over to minors . However, because signatures by a minor are not legally binding, you also need permission from a parental figure to conduct your research.

There have been studies in the past where voluntary participation has not been taken into account, and this has led to ethically disastrous studies. For example, in the Stanford prison experiment , psychology professor Philip Zimbardo conducted a study involving participants labeled as guards and prisoners. In this experiment, the guards were given almost absolute power over prisoners, leading to many prisoners being physically harmed. However, despite ethical principles involving voluntary participation, the experiment was continued, even after participants expressed their desire to withdraw.

It's also important to be open and honest with your participants. This means making sure that your participants are aware of what it is you are studying, the results you expect, and other details about the experiment that otherwise they would not know. However, you may also deceive your participants if their knowledge of the experiment would skew your results.

For example, let's suppose you were doing an experiment on anger and frustration in board games, and your experiment involved an unsolvable puzzle. It is necessary that your participants do not know the details of what you are studying and how you are studying it, otherwise, their reactions will not be accurate.

Confidentiality

Finally, the confidentiality of your participants is an ethical point to make. Despite collecting information from individuals, you may not reveal whose responses are whose and display identifying information in your results section. Identifying information includes names, email addresses, physical addresses, and anything else that can be used to tie a response to an individual person.

IRB Approval

When you perform a study based on human participants, it is necessary that your methodology is approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). An IRB is a panel, of usually five people, who read a request for a methodology and give it one of three "ratings" (they will not use these terms specifically, but they will align to them):

A green light- you are A-OK to get started on your research

A yellow-light- you need to make a few adjustments

A red-light- you either need to start from scratch or make major changes to your experiment for it to be ethical.

Making an IRB proposal typically involves a written application and, sometimes, a short presentation, though this will depend on how your school handles IRBs.

Writing a Method Section

Be explicit and specific.

When writing your method section, being explicit in what you will be doing is, quite honestly, the most important part. The main goal of your method section is to get across exactly what you will be doing to answer your research question. Therefore, you must be incredibly specific when writing because your reader should be able to understand precisely how you performed your research.

Another important role of the method section is to make your research replicable . This means that if a researcher were to read your paper and wanted to re-create your study for whatever reason, they know exactly what steps you took and why you took them.

Justify Your Method With Research

Another important note for your method section is that everything you plan to do must be justified in some way shape or form by already existing research. This means using the little-r research you employed in your literature review to explain:

Why your proposed method aligns with methods used by previous researchers

Why it will accurately solve your problem or answer your question

This point is often glossed over by Research students because to them, their method is obvious and will work, but to readers, this simply is not true. Because of this, it is key to the effectiveness of your method section that you justify and logically support your method.

Closing Thoughts

Congratulations! You now know everything you need to know about designing a methodology and writing a methods section in your research paper. Once you write this section, you're officially over the hump and are over halfway done with your paper! It's also at this point that you transition formally from little-r research to big-R research, which is super super exciting! Good luck, and now that you have a method...

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Key Terms to Review ( 13 )

Content analyses

Data Analysis

Data Collection

Ethical experimentation

Experiments

Methodology

Qualitative Analysis

Study population

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RES 6600: Research in Education: Methods Section

  • Methods Section
  • APA This link opens in a new window

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

Using Library Resources for Research: Methods Section

Start by familiarizing yourself with the "method" sections found in other pieces of research similar to your topic of choice.  two library databases are worth reviewing, both found on the library homepage., 1. the "find articles" box directs you to ebscohost databases, 2. the "find dissertations" box directs you to  proquest databases, you will then want to search using your " topic " and " the type of research method "  you are proposing i.e. qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, action research. e.g.  teacher burnout and qualitative.

how to write a methodology section for a research paper

Video Tutorial Demonstrating How to Find Method Section examples  

Method Section Writing: "What, How, Which, & Why"

  • Chapter 10: Writing a Research Proposal From textbook, Introduction to Educational Design by Craig Mertler
  • Method Sections for Empirical Research Papers From James Madison University Library, this article provides a typical structure with guiding questions for completing a Methods section in a research paper.

Organizing your Social Sciences Research Paper/ The Methodology from University of Southern California Library

How to Write a Methods Section for a Research Pape r by A Research Guide

How to Write a Methods Section for a Psychology Paper: Tips and Examples of an APA Methods Section by verywellMind

How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper by Researcher.Life

APA Professional Sample Papers

Apa sample professional paper and microsoft word templates by research paper type.

  • Professional sample paper with annotations  (features examples of APA conventions in an actual paper)
  • Qualitative professional paper template
  • Quantitative professional paper template
  • Mixed methods professional paper template

Source: APA Style Sample Papers

Dr. Craig Mertler Books & Action Research Interview

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Library Materials

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Check List for Methods Section

1. Read your assignment rubric: 

  • Understand what you are being asked to provide to fulfill your assignment and respond to each section that will make up your grade.
  • Include your research question & hypothesis on a separate page

2. Research Design Type:

  • Describe the overall research design
  • Justify why this design was chosen and how it aligns with the research objectives

3. Sampling Plan & Sample Description (Participants):

  • Provide details about the participants or subjects involved in the study
  • Mention relevant demographic information and discuss any inclusion/exclusion criteria used

4. Data Collection Tools/Instruments:

  • Include materials or instruments used (e.g. surveys, questionnaires, equipment)

5. Procedures:

  • Detail the steps to collect data or conduct research
  • Provide chronological description of the research process

6. Reliability and validity: 

  • Explain the reliability and validity of measurement instruments used
  • Describe the procedures employed to ensure consistency and stability in measurements
  • Describe how the research design and methodology support the validity of the study

6. Ethical Considerations

  • Discuss any ethical issues related to the research and how they were addressed
  • Include information about informed consent, confidentiality, and participant anonymity
  • Provide details about institutional review board (IRB) if appropriate

7. APA Format:

  • The APA citation style requires including the participants, materials, and procedures as an obligatory part. Remember to state demographic characteristics when working on the participants’ aspect. The main heading of the methods section should be written in bold and capitalized. Centering must be used. As for the methodology in research paper subheadings, they should be aligned to the left and done in bold.

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How to Write the Methods Section of a Scientific Article

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What Is the Methods Section of a Research Paper?

The Methods section of a research article includes an explanation of the procedures used to conduct the experiment. For authors of scientific research papers, the objective is to present their findings clearly and concisely and to provide enough information so that the experiment can be duplicated.

Research articles contain very specific sections, usually dictated by either the target journal or specific style guides. For example, in the social and behavioral sciences, the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide is used to gather information on how the manuscript should be arranged . As with most styles, APA’s objectives are to ensure that manuscripts are written with minimum distractions to the reader. Every research article should include a detailed Methods section after the Introduction.

Why is the Methods Section Important?

The Methods section (also referred to as “Materials and Methods”) is important because it provides the reader enough information to judge whether the study is valid and reproducible.

Structure of the Methods Section in a Research Paper

While designing a research study, authors typically decide on the key points that they’re trying to prove or the “ cause-and-effect relationship ” between objects of the study. Very simply, the study is designed to meet the objective. According to APA, a Methods section comprises of the following three subsections: participants, apparatus, and procedure.

How do You Write a Method Section in Biology?

In biological sciences, the Methods section might be more detailed, but the objectives are the same—to present the study clearly and concisely so that it is understandable and can be duplicated.

If animals (including human subjects) were used in the study, authors should ensure to include statements that they were treated according to the protocols outlined to ensure that treatment is as humane as possible.

  • The Declaration of Helsinki is a set of ethical principles developed by The World Medical Association to provide guidance to scientists and physicians in medical research involving human subjects.

Research conducted at an institution using human participants is overseen by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) with which it is affiliated. IRB is an administrative body whose purpose is to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects during their participation in the study.

Literature Search

Literature searches are performed to gather as much information as relevant from previous studies. They are important for providing evidence on the topic and help validate the research. Most are accomplished using keywords or phrases to search relevant databases. For example, both MEDLINE and PubMed provide information on biomedical literature. Google Scholar, according to APA, is “one of the best sources available to an individual beginning a literature search.” APA also suggests using PsycINFO and refers to it as “the premier database for locating articles in psychological science and related literature.”

Authors must make sure to have a set of keywords (usually taken from the objective statement) to stay focused and to avoid having the search move far from the original objective. Authors will benefit by setting limiting parameters, such as date ranges, and avoiding getting pulled into the trap of using non-valid resources, such as social media, conversations with people in the same discipline, or similar non-valid sources, as references.

Related: Ready with your methods section and looking forward to manuscript submission ? Check these journal selection guidelines now!

What Should be Included in the Methods Section of a Research Paper?

One commonly misused term in research papers is “methodology.” Methodology refers to a branch of the Philosophy of Science which deals with scientific methods, not to the methods themselves, so authors should avoid using it. Here is the list of main subsections that should be included in the Methods section of a research paper ; authors might use subheadings more clearly to describe their research.

  • Literature search : Authors should cite any sources that helped with their choice of methods. Authors should indicate timeframes of past studies and their particular parameters.
  • Study participants : Authors should cite the source from where they received any non-human subjects. The number of animals used, the ages, sex, their initial conditions, and how they were housed and cared for, should be listed. In case of human subjects, authors should provide the characteristics, such as geographical location; their age ranges, sex, and medical history (if relevant); and the number of subjects. In case hospital records were used, authors should include the subjects’ basic health information and vital statistics at the beginning of the study. Authors should also state that written informed consent was provided by each subject.
  • Inclusion/exclusion criteria : Authors should describe their inclusion and exclusion criteria, how they were determined, and how many subjects were eliminated.
  • Group characteristics (could be combined with “Study participants”) : Authors should describe how the chosen group was divided into subgroups and their characteristics, including the control. Authors should also describe any specific equipment used, such as housing needs and feed (usually for animal studies). If patient records are reviewed and assessed, authors should mention whether the reviewers were blinded to them.
  • Procedures : Authors should describe their study design. Any necessary preparations (e.g., tissue samples, drugs) and instruments must be explained. Authors should describe how the subjects were “ manipulated to answer the experimental question .” Timeframes should be included to ensure that the procedures are clear (e.g., “Rats were given XX drug for 14 d”). For animals sacrificed, the methods used and the protocols followed should be outlined.
  • Statistical analyses: The type of data, how they were measured, and which statistical tests were performed, should be described. (Note: This is not the “results” section; any relevant tables and figures should be referenced later.) Specific software used must be cited.

What Should not be Included in Your Methods Section?

Common pitfalls can make the manuscript cumbersome to read or might make the readers question the validity of the research. The University of Southern California provides some guidelines .

  • Background information that is not helpful must be avoided.
  • Authors must avoid providing a lot of detail.
  • Authors should focus more on how their method was used to meet their objective and less on mechanics .
  • Any obstacles faced and how they were overcome should be described (often in your “Study Limitations”). This will help validate the results.

According to the University of Richmond , authors must avoid including extensive details or an exhaustive list of equipment that have been used as readers could quickly lose attention. These unnecessary details add nothing to validate the research and do not help the reader understand how the objective was satisfied. A well-thought-out Methods section is one of the most important parts of the manuscript. Authors must make a note to always prepare a draft that lists all parts, allow others to review it, and revise it to remove any superfluous information.

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How to write a materials and methods section of a scientific article?

In contrast to past centuries, scientific researchers have been currently conducted systematically in all countries as part of an education strategy. As a consequence, scientists have published thousands of reports. Writing an effective article is generally a significant problem for researchers. All parts of an article, specifically the abstract, material and methods, results, discussion and references sections should contain certain features that should always be considered before sending a manuscript to a journal for publication. It is generally known that the material and methods section is a relatively easy section of an article to write. Therefore, it is often a good idea to begin by writing the materials and methods section, which is also a crucial part of an article. Because “reproducible results” are very important in science, a detailed account of the study should be given in this section. If the authors provide sufficient detail, other scientists can repeat their experiments to verify their findings. It is generally recommended that the materials and methods should be written in the past tense, either in active or passive voice. In this section, ethical approval, study dates, number of subjects, groups, evaluation criteria, exclusion criteria and statistical methods should be described sequentially. It should be noted that a well-written materials and methods section markedly enhances the chances of an article being published.

How to Write a Materials and Methods Section of a Scientific Article?

Up to the 18 th Century scientific researches were performed on a voluntary basis by certain scientists. However from the second half of the 19 th century, scientific development has gained momentum with the contributions of numerous scientists including Edison, Fleming, and Koch. In parallel with these developments, apparently each scientific field, and even their branches made, and still making magnificent progressions from the end of the 18 th century. Secondary to these developments, scientific researches have been implemented systematically by universities, and various institutions in every part of the world as an integral component of national strategies. Naturally, the number of researchers who performed scientific investigations or sponsored by various institutions increased considerably. Also, as is known very well, all over the world scientists, and researchers move from one place to another to disseminate scientific knowledge. All of these scientific efforts, and activities reflect on clinical practice, and hundreds of thousands, and millions scientific articles which we can currently gain access into all of them online. As indicated by the investigator Gerard Piel, “Without publication, science is dead” which explains the importance of publication. In other words, if you don’t share your investigation and knowledge, they don’t mean anything by themselves. Although sharing the knowledge is essential for writing a scientific paper, nowadays writing a scientific article is mostly learnt as a master-apprentice relationship, and therefore certain standards have not been established. This phenomenon creates serious stress especially for young investigators in their early stage of writing scientific papers. Indeed investigators receiving their residency training confront this reality finally during writing of their dissertations. Though sharing knowledge is known as a fundamental principle in writing a scientific paper, it creates difficulties in the whole world. Relevant to this issue, in the whole world investigations have been performed, and books have been written on the subject of how to write a scientific paper. Accordingly, in our country mostly local meetings, and courses have been organized. These organizations, and investigations should be performed. Indeed, nowadays, in the first assessments, the rejection rate of the journals by internationally acknowledged scientific indexes as “Science Citation İndex (SCI)” and “Science Citation İndex Expanded (SCI-extended” which have certain scientific standards, increases to 62 percent. As a matter of fact only 25% of Class A journals have been included in the lists of SCI, and SCI-extended.

As we all know very well, scientific articles consist of sections of summary, introduction, material, and methods, discussion, and references. Among them, conventionally Materials and Methods section has been reported as the most easily written or will be written section. Although it is known as the most easily written section, nearly 30% of the reasons for rejection are related to this section per se. Therefore due care, and attention should be given to the writing of this section. In the writing process of the ‘Material and Methods’ section, all achievements performed throughout the study period should be dealt with in consideration of certain criteria in a specific sequence. Since as a globally anticipated viewpoint, ‘Materials and Methods’ section can be written quite easily, it has been indicated that if difficulties are encountered in writing a manuscript, then one should start writing from this section. In writing this section, study design describing the type of the article, study subjects to be investigated, methods, and procedures of measurements should be provided under four main headings. [ 1 , 2 ] Accordingly, in brief, we can emphasize the importance of providing clear-cut, adequate, and detailed information in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section to the scientists who will read this scientific article. Meeting these criteria carries great importance with respect to the evaluation of reliability of the investigation by the readers, and reviewers, and also informing them about procedural method, design, data collection, and assessment methods of the investigation, Priorly, as is the case in all scientific investigations, one should be reminded about the importance, and indispensability of compliance with certain standard writing rules. Accordingly, rules of grammar should be obeyed, and if possible passive voice of simple past tense should be used. Related to these rules, use of verbs ‘investigated’, ‘evaluated’ or ‘performed’ will be appropriate. Recently, expressions showing the ownership of the investigation as ‘we performed’, ‘we evaluated’, ‘we implemented’ have taken priority. Since the important point is communication of the message contained in the scientific study, the message should be clearly comprehensible. While ensuring clarity of the message, use of flourishing, and irrelevant sentences should be avoided. [ 1 , 3 ] According to another approach, since our article will be read by professionals of other disciplines, it is important to comply with certain rules of writing. To that end, standard units of measurements, and international abbreviations should be used. Abbreviations should be explained within parentheses at their first mention in the manuscript. For instance let’s analyze the following sentence” The patients were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, complete urinalysis, PSA, and urinary system ultrasound” The abbreviation PSA is very well known by the urologist. However we shouldn’t forget that this article will be read by the professionals in other medical disciplines. Similarly this sentence should not be written as: “The patients were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, complete urinalysis PSA (prostate-specific antigen), and urinary system ultrasound.” Indeed the abbreviation should follow the explanation of this abbreviation. Then the appropriate expression of the sentence should be. “The patients were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, complete urinalysis, prostate-specific antigen (PSA), and urinary system ultrasound.”

In addition to the abovementioned information, in the beginning paragraphs of ‘Materials and Methods’ section of a clinical study the answers to the following questions should be absolutely provided:

  • The beginning, and termination dates of the study period.
  • Number of subjects/patients/experimental animals etc. enrolled in the study,
  • Has the approval of the ethics committee been obtained?
  • Study design (prospective, retrospective or other). [ 1 , 2 , 4 – 7 ]

Still additional features of the study design (cross-sectional) should be indicated. Apart from this, other types of study designs (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled or double-blind, parallel control etc.) should be revealed.

The heading of the section “Materials and Methods” can be changed to “Patients and the Method” in accordance with writing rules of the journal in question. Indication of starting, and termination dates of a clinical study will facilitate scientific interpretation of the article. Accordingly, outcomes obtained during development phase of a newly implemented method might be considered differently from those acquired during conventional use of this method. Besides, incidence of the diseases, and number of affected people might vary under the impact of social fluctuations, and environmental factors. Therefore with this justification study period should be specified. Number of cases included in the study should be absolutely indicated in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section. It will be appropriate to determine study population after consultation to a statistician-and if required-following “power analysis” Accordingly, the need for a control group will be indicated based on the study design. Nowadays, as a requirement of patient rights, obtainment of approval from ethics committee should be indicated with its registration number. In addition, acquirement of informed consent forms from patients should be indicated. Ethics Committee approval should be obtained in prospective studies performed with study drugs. Otherwise in case of occurrence of adverse effects, it should be acknowledged that in compliance with Article #90 of the Turkish Criminal Law, a 3-year prison sentence is given to the guilty parties. [ 8 ] Since issues related to the Ethics Committee are the subject of another manuscript, they won’t be handled herein.

The following paragraph exemplifies clearly the aforementioned arguments: “After approval of the local ethics committee (BADK-22), informed consent forms from the patients were obtained, and a total of 176 cases with lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) were retrospectively evaluated between January 2011, and December 2012.” In a prospectively designed study, methods used to communicate with the cases including face-to-face interviews, phone calls and/or e-mail should be indicated. [ 1 , 2 ] Each paragraph or subheading in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section should be in accordance with the related ones in the ‘Results’ section. In other words, the sequence of paragraphs, and subheadings in the ‘Results’ section should be the same in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section.

As a next step, names of the groups, and distribution of the cases in these groups should be indicated. For instance: the statement “Cases were divided into 3 groups based on their LUTS scores as. Groups 1 (0–9; n=91), 2 (10–18; n=66), and 3 (≥19; n=20)” clearly delineates the scope of the study at baseline.. In the ‘Materials and Methods’ section the number of study subjects should be absolutely documented. Herein, after assignment of names to groups, in the rest of the manuscript, these names should be used. For example instead of saying: “Mean ages of the cases with LUTS scores between 0–9, 10–18, and ≥19 were determined to be 63.2±2.1, 62.8±4.5, and 65.7±3.9 years, respectively” it will be more comprehensible to use the expression: “Mean ages of the Groups 1, 2, and 3 were specified as 63.2±2.1, 62.8±4.5, and 65.7±3.9 years.” (p=0.478). Expressions indicated in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section should not be repeated in the “Results” section. Thus, errors of repetition will be precluded. Following the abovementioned information, the evaluation method of the cases enrolled in the study should be indicated. Hence, results of medical history, physical examination, and if performed laboratory or radiological evaluations-in that order-should be indicated. The application of survey study-if any-should be investigated, and documented. Therefore, the following sentences encompass all the information stated above: “The cases were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, measurements of serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone (T) levels, complete urinalysis, urinary flow rate, direct urinary system roentgenograms, urinary system ultrasound, and if required cyctoscopy. Lower urinary system complaints, and erectile dysfunction were evaluated using International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS), and International Erectile Function Scale (IIEF), respectively.” Apparently, questionnaire forms were used in the above-cited study. However, methods used for the evaluation of questionnaire forms, and significance of the results obtained, and if possible, the first performer of this survey should be written with accompanying references. In relation to the abovementioned questionnaires the following statements constitute standard expressions for the ‘Materials and Methods’ section: “International Prostate Symptom Score (IPPS) was used in the determination of the severity of prostatic symptoms. IPSS used to determine the severity of the disease, evaluate treatment response, and ascertain the symptomatic progression, is the most optimal scoring system recommended by European Association of Urology (EAU) which classifies the severity of the disease based on IPSS scores as mild (0–7), moderate (8–19), and severe symptomatic (20–35) disease. In the evaluation of sexual function International Erectile Function Scale (IIEF) was used. IIEF is one of the most prevalently used form for the patients who consulted for the complaints of sexual dysfunction Based on IIEF scores, the severity of the disease was classified as severe (1–10), moderate (11–16), mild to moderate (17–21), mild (22–25), and no ED (26–30).”

Whether the institutions of the authors working for should be written in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section can be a subject of debate, generally viewpoints favour provision of this information. However, in compliance with their writing rules, some journals do not favour open-label studies where name of the study site is indicated, and this principle is communicated to the author during editorial evaluation Besides, in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section, the brand of the study object, and its country of origin should be indicated. (ie. if radiological methods are used, then the brand of radiological equipment, and its manufacturing country should be specified. In a study entitled ‘The Impact of Computed Tomography in the Prediction of Post-Radical Nephrectomy Stage in Renal Tumours’ since the main topic of the study is computed tomography, the specifications of the equipment used should be explicitely indicated. On the other hand, the details of the medical method which can effect the outcomes of the study should be also recorded. Accordingly, the methods applied for percutaneous nephrolithotomy, ureterorenoscopy, varicocelectomy, transurethral prostatectomy, radical prostatectomy (perineal, open, laparoscopic or robotic should be absolutely indicated. Then inclusion, and exclusion criteria, and if used control group, and its characteristics should be documented. Thus the following paragraph about exclusion criteria will be appropriate: Patients with a history of neurogenic bladder, prostatic or abdominal operation, and transrectal ultrasound guided prostate biopsy (within the previous 6 months), those aged <40 or >70 years, individuals with a peak urine flow rate below 10 ml/sec, and residual urine more than 150 cc were not included in the study.” [ 1 – 3 , 9 ]

Some diseases mentioned in the “Materials and Methods” section require special monitorization procedures. In these cases the procedure of monitorization should be documented for the sake of the validity of the study in question. Accordingly, in conditions such as “nephrectomy, prostatectomy, orchidectomy, pyeloplasty, varicocelectomy, drug therapies, penile prosthesis, and urethral stricture” clinical follow-up protocols should be provided.

The abovementioned rules, and recommendations are most frequently valid for a clinical study, and some points indicated in experimental studies should be also considered. Types, weights, gender, and number of the animals used in animal studies should be absolutely specified. Besides condition of evaluation of experimental animals should be noted. Then as is the case with clinical studies, approval of the ethics committee should be obtained, and documented. Accordingly, the beginning paragraphs of the ‘Materials and Methods’ can be expressed as follows:

“In the study, 40 Wistar-Albino 6-month-old rats each weighing 350–400 g were used. After approval of the ethics committee (HADYEK-41) the study was performed within the frame of rules specified by the National Institute for animal experiments. The rats were divided into 3 groups. Hence, Group 1 (n=7) was accepted as the control group. The rats subjected to partial ureteral obstruction with or without oral carvedilol therapy at daily doses of 2 mg/kg maintained for 7 days constituted Groups 3 (n=8), and 2 (n=8), respectively. Each group of 4 rats was housed in standard cages with an area of 40×60 cm. The animals were fed with standard 8 mm food pellets, and fresh daily tap water. The rats were kept in the cages under 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of dark. Ambient temperature, and humidity were set at 22±2°C, and 50±10%, respectively.”

Herein, the method, and agent of anesthesia used (local or general anesthesia) in surgical procedures, and then the experimental method applied should be clearly indicated. For example the following sentences explain our abovementioned arguments; “All surgical procedures were performed under xylazine-ketamine anesthesia. In all groups, ureters were approached through midline abdominal incision. In Group 1, ureters were manipulated without causing obstruction. Results of biochemical, and pathological evaluations performed in Group 1 were considered as baseline values.”

“Through a midline abdominal incision partial ureteral obstruction was achieved by embedding two-thirds of the distal part of the left ureter into psoas muscle using 4/0 silk sutures as described formerly by Wen et al. [ 10 ] ( Figure 1 ). [ 11 ] All rats were subjected to left nephrectomies at the end of the experimental study.” As formulated by the above paragraph, if the method used is not widely utilized, then the first researcher who describes the method should be indicated with relevant references. One or more than one figures with a good resolution, and easily comprehensible legends should be also included in the explanation of the experimental model. For very prevalently used experimental models as torsion models cited in the “Materials and Methods” section, there is no need to include figures in the manuscript.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is TJU-39-Supp-10-g01.jpg

Partial ureteral obstruction model [ 11 ]

Appropriate signs, and marks placed on the figure will facilitate comprehension of the legends ( Figure 2 ).

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Object name is TJU-39-Supp-10-g02.jpg

Ureteral segments (black arrows) seen in a rat partial ureteral obstruction model [ 11 ]

The signs used will also improve intelligibility of the target. The figures should be indicated within parentheses in their first mention in the “Materials and Methods” section. Headings and as a prevalent convention legends of the figures should be indicated at the end of the manuscript.

If a different method is used in the study, this should be explained in detail. For instance, in a study where the effect of smoking on testes was investigated, the method, and the applicator used to expose rats to cigarette smoke should be indicated in the ‘Methods’ section following classical description. Relevant to the study in question, the following paragraph explaining the study method should be written: “A glass chamber with dimensions of 75 × 50 × 50 cm was prepared, and divided into 4 compartments with wire fences. The rats in the 2., and 4. cages were placed in these compartments. Each compartment contained 4 rats. Cigarette smoke was produced using one cigarette per hour, and smoke coming from the tip, and the filter of the lighted cigarette was pumped into the gas chamber with a pneumatic motor. The rats were exposed to smoke of 6 cigarettes for 6 hours. The compartments of the rats were changed every day so as to achieve balanced exposure of the rats to cigarette smoke.” [ 12 ]

Meanwhile, chemical names, doses, and routes of administration of the substances used in experimental studies should be indicated. If the substance used is a solution or an antibody, then manufacturing firm, and its country should be indicated in parenthesis. This approach can be exemplified as “Animals used in experiments were randomized into 4 groups of 8 animals. Each group was housed in 2 cages each containing 4 animals. The first group did not undergo any additional procedure (Group 1). The second group was exposed to cigarette smoke (Group 2). The third (Group 3), and the fourth (Group 4) groups received daily intraperitoneal injectable doses of 10 mg/kg resveratrol (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA). The Group 4 was also exposed to cigarette smoke. [ 12 ]

After all of these procedures, method, and analytical procedure of histopathological examination used should be described-if possible-by a pathologist Similarly, biochemical method used should be referenced, and written by the department of clinical chemistry. It can be inferred that each division should describe its own method. In other words, histopathological, microbiological, and pharmacological method should be described in detail by respective divisions.

If we summarize all the information stated above, understandably sharing of the scientific knowledge is essential.. Since reproducibility of a study demonstrates the robustness of a study, with the detailed approaches indicated above, reproducibility of our study is provided, and the relevant questions of “How?”, and “How much?” are answered. Besides, since ‘Materials, and Methods’, and ‘Results’ sections will constitute a meaningful whole, explanations of all information related to the data mentioned in the ‘Results’ section should be provided. As an important point not to be forgotten, evaluation or measurement method used for each parameter indicated in the ‘Results’ section should be expounded in the “Materials and Methods” section. For example if you used an expression in the” Results” section like “median body mass index (BMI) of the patients was 27.42 kg/m 2 ”, then you should beforehand indicate that comparative evaluation of BMIs will be done in the “Materials and Methods” section. In addition, the description, and significance of the values expressed in the “Results” section should be indicated in the “Materials and Methods” section. In other words, it should be stated that the patients were evaluated based on their BMIs as normal (18–24.9 kg/m 2 ), overweight (25 kg/m 2 –40 kg/m 2 ), and morbid obesity (>40 kg/m 2 ). If you encounter difficulties in writing “Materials and Methods” section, also a valid approach for other sections, firstly simple headings can be written, then you can go into details. In brief, for every parameter, the reader should get clear-cut answers to the questions such as “How did they evaluate this parameter, and which criteria were used?”. [ 1 , 3 , 13 – 15 ]

The last paragraph of the ‘Materials, and Methods’ section should naturally involve statistical evaluations. This section should be written by statisticians. Accordingly, the preferred statistical method, and the justifications for this preference should be indicated. In conventional statistical evaluations, provision of details is not required. In information indicated above, the statement “For statistical analysis, ANOVA test, chi-square test, T test, Kruskal-Wallis test have been used.” is not required very much. Instead, more appropriate expression will be a statement indicating that recommendations of a knowledgeable, and an experienced statistician were taken into consideration or advanced statistical information was reflected on the statistical evaluations as follows: “Chi-square tests were used in intergroup comparisons of categorical variables, and categorical variables were expressed as numbers, and percentages. In comparisons between LUTS, and ED as for age, independent two samples t-test was used. In the evaluation of the factors effective on erectile dysfunction multivariate logistic regresssion test was used. P values lower than 0.05 were considered as statistically significant The calculations were performed using a statistical package program (PASW v18, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL).” Herein, the type of statistical package used for statistical methods should be emphasized.

How to write the methods section of a research paper

Affiliation.

  • 1 Respiratory Care Services, San Francisco General Hospital, NH:GA-2, 1001 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA. [email protected]
  • PMID: 15447808

The methods section of a research paper provides the information by which a study's validity is judged. Therefore, it requires a clear and precise description of how an experiment was done, and the rationale for why specific experimental procedures were chosen. The methods section should describe what was done to answer the research question, describe how it was done, justify the experimental design, and explain how the results were analyzed. Scientific writing is direct and orderly. Therefore, the methods section structure should: describe the materials used in the study, explain how the materials were prepared for the study, describe the research protocol, explain how measurements were made and what calculations were performed, and state which statistical tests were done to analyze the data. Once all elements of the methods section are written, subsequent drafts should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and logically as possibly. The description of preparations, measurements, and the protocol should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. Material in each section should be organized by topic from most to least important.

  • Biomedical Research*
  • Research Design
  • Writing* / standards

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  22. How to write a materials and methods section of a scientific article?

    The figures should be indicated within parentheses in their first mention in the "Materials and Methods" section. Headings and as a prevalent convention legends of the figures should be indicated at the end of the manuscript. If a different method is used in the study, this should be explained in detail.

  23. How to write the methods section of a research paper

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  24. How to Write Methodology Section of a Research Paper

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