Tips When Writing the Methods Section of a Research Paper
When writing a research paper, a section details the work conducted and how it was done. The Methods section is one of the most important parts of any publication because it carries the core information of the study and what is addressed.
To start, you need a clear outline to build an insightful base for the Methods module and the research paper. Guide your reader through your experiment using these helpful tips.
What Is the Methods Section of a Research Paper?
The Methods section is a descriptive and technical map that guides readers through the path a researcher journeyed to arrive at their conclusions. It is the essence of every paper as it answers all unasked questions, telling the what, how, why, and when of the research or experiment.
Also referred to as Materials and Methods, this section of any research paper comes after the introduction and provides enough data and evidence to confirm the research’s validity and results.
In The American Psychological Association (APA) format, this section details the methods and procedures the research or experiment was carried out, with minimal additions that may distract the reader. The research paper format must follow set standards if it is published. This includes detailed steps, tests, and surveys, if applicable.
It is crucial for every research paper because it provides clear findings to other researchers who may want to replicate the experiment. It also informs them of what alternate procedures they may carry out and how they influence their results.
Structure of the Methods Section In A Research Paper
Every research study is designed to meet the outlined objectives. The methods section of a research article should also follow this path, describing the participants in the experiment or research, the tools and apparatus used to run the experiment, and the steps and procedures involved. You need to pass on information on the success and setbacks you may have encountered.
According to APA style, there are three major subsections to report here; participants, apparatus, and procedure. No rule says these subtitles must be followed to the letter; writers should use headings related to their research topics. They must report only the steps they carried out, omitting whatever headings that were not a part of the experiment.
This segment reports the characteristics of the participants involved in the experiment, the method of sampling, and the sample size.
This details the demography of the respondents that may be relevant to the experiment. This includes but is not limited to age, gender, ethnicity or race, religion, level of education, socioeconomic status, the population they were taken from, and any restrictions.
Fifty female undergraduate students between the ages of 19 and 23 participated in the experiment. All were sophomores in the Faculty of Engineering and native English speakers who lived on the university campus. The participants were separated into two groups of 25 students, each without any determining criteria. This study was conducted at the University of Alabama, USA.
- Sampling Strategy
Identify the selection criteria and whether the sample was random or not. Include it if you have access to data informing the percentage of people invited to participate and how many agreed. You should also report the selection mode; was it voluntary, or were the participants assigned to the study? Additionally, identify any compensation that may have been offered to participants.
The ethics board was petitioned, and approval was granted before the recruitment of participants commenced. All the female sophomores from the faculty of Engineering at the University of Alabama, USA, were invited to participate, and those who did were self-selected. In liaison with department heads, the students were offered additional credits in a faculty-wide course as compensation for their time.
Identify the sample size per group, the statistical power you aimed to attain, whether you were able to attain it, and the analyses you used in determining the figures you arrived at. You should also include whether the final sample you got was what you initially required.
The required power for this experiment to detect a 15% effect at a significance level of .08 was 75%. To achieve this, we needed 25 participants in each group. The final sample met these conditions.
This subsection describes the materials and apparatus used in the experiment. It calls for detailed information on all devices and techniques used to collate data, measure suitable variables, and reach analysis, including tests and surveys. You must include a proper count of the number of apparatus used, their names, model number, manufacturer, reliability, and validity. For surveys, including the meaning of the formats used and the number of questions asked.
A survey that consisted of 15 multiple choice questions was carried out to determine the safety of female students on the school campus. The participants were asked to answer the questions using a 5-point grading system (1 = Extremely True and 5 = Extremely False).
This includes the conditions in which data was collated, instructions given to the participants, and data analysis methods.
The two groups of participants were placed in two different classrooms at individual desks and given 10 minutes to answer the questions. They were instructed to give the first answers they thought of without thinking too deeply. Each group had a supervisor attached to it.
Advice On How to Write the Methods Section
You already know the relevance of the Methods to your research paper. It is scrutinised by journal editors, and when it is well written, the possibilities of publication increase.
You must follow the APA format and guidelines specified for your field. If you cannot write according to standards, you can use a research paper writing service to get good results. Go for one with good reviews and a super online reputation.
Here are some more tips for a concise and meticulously written methodology:
- Follow the standard writing standards that are accepted in your field. This includes the “Instructions for Authors” and specific guidelines for your study.
- Notation and terminology should be consistent throughout the methodology section and identify any unique terms you use.
- Indicate all materials, procedures, apparatus, and other information that may influence the results.
- Specify any challenges you faced during the experiment and how you tackled them.
- There is usually so much information to add to the methodology. To avoid exceeding the journal’s word count, you can reduce the bulk by citing resources or articles that describe some part of your method instead of giving lengthy explanations.
Methods and Results Should Match
In the Methods section, the results obtained should be discussed based on the experimental procedures used. Explain the methodology behind the techniques used to acquire all the observations and results of the experiment in the right order. You can create a detailed flowchart or block flow diagram (BFD) to easily describe the complexities of the study and its procedures to the reader.
Preparing the Statistical Methods Subsection
The statistical analysis subsection comes at the end of the Methods section. It includes a thorough description of the analysed data to arrive at the results and conclusion. Due to its technicality, it might be a little difficult and daunting to write. If this is the case, you can get the statistician who participated in the study to write it.
Here, you must indicate all the data variables, including the control variables, dependent and independent variables, and any potential irrelevant variables that could affect your results and conclusion. Specify the exact tests carried out on the different types of data you have, the requirements you tested like distribution normality, and all assumptions you initially applied.
You should also include all data alterations, possible mix-ups, confidence intervals or significance levels used, techniques for data analysis, and ensuing statistical tests that were employed. Furthermore, specify any criteria particular to the experiment, like set baselines and any specific software used to conduct the statistical analysis.
The Style of the Methods Section
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of the Methods section is to explain how and why the experiment was carried out so that readers can understand it and possibly repeat the procedure.
Therefore, it is essential to be aware of your audience, so you can modify your writing based on what they know and explain technical terms where necessary. If you are finding it difficult to write in the appropriate style, you can buy research paper written by writers. You can find these writers on several platforms for college essays.
The methodology should read as though you describe the experiment to your reader. For this reason, it should be worded in third person constructs and a passive voice. For example, you should use “We carried out a survey” and not “I carried out a survey”. Since the experiment has already been carried out, you must write the entire section in the past tense.
What Information Should Be Included in the Methods Section?
Now you know what the Methods section is, what information must be included in this segment of your paper? Here’s a summary of the things you need to include:
How to Write a Research Methodology in Four Steps
Published on February 25, 2019 by Shona McCombes. Revised on December 8, 2021.
In your thesis or dissertation, you will have to discuss the methods you used to do your research. The methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research. It should include:
- The type of research you did
- How you collected your data
- How you analyzed your data
- Any tools or materials you used in the research
- Your rationale for choosing these methods
The methodology section should generally be written in the past tense.
Academic style guides in your field may also provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies. For example, there are specific guidelines for writing an APA methods section.
Table of contents
- Step 1: Explain your methodological approach
- Step 2: Describe your methods of data collection
- Step 3: Describe your methods of analysis
- Step 4: Evaluate and justify your methodological choices
- Tips for writing a strong methodology
- Frequently asked questions about methodology
Step 1: Explain your methodological approach
Begin by introducing your overall approach to the research.
What research problem or question did you investigate? For example, did you aim to systematically describe the characteristics of something, to explore an under-researched topic, or to establish a cause-and-effect relationship? And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?
- Did you need quantitative data (expressed in numbers) or qualitative data (expressed in words)?
- Did you need to collect primary data yourself, or did you use secondary data that was collected by someone else?
- Did you gather experimental data by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data by gathering observations without intervening?
Depending on your discipline and approach, you might also begin with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology.
- Why is this the most suitable approach to answering your research questions?
- 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?
Step 2: Describe your methods of data collection
Once you have introduced your overall methodological approach, you should give full details of your data collection methods.
In quantitative research, for valid generalizable results, you should describe your methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.
Explain how you operationalized concepts and measured your variables; your sampling method or inclusion/exclusion criteria; and any tools, procedures and materials you used to gather data.
Describe where, when and how the survey was conducted.
- How did you design the questionnaire and what form did the questions take (e.g. multiple choice, Likert scale)?
- What sampling method did you use to select participants?
- Did you conduct surveys by phone, mail, online or in person, and how long did participants have to respond?
- What was the sample size and response rate?
You might want to include the full questionnaire as an appendix so that your reader can see exactly what data was collected.
Give full details of the tools, techniques and procedures you used to conduct the experiment.
- How did you design the experiment?
- How did you recruit participants?
- How did you manipulate and measure the variables?
- What tools or technologies did you use in the experiment?
In experimental research, it is especially important to give enough detail for another researcher to reproduce your results.
Explain how you gathered and selected material (such as publications or archival data) for inclusion 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)?
In qualitative research, since methods are often more flexible and subjective, it’s important to reflect on the approach you took and explain the choices you made.
Discuss the criteria you used to select participants or sources, the context in which the research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting the 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 people took part?
- What form did the interviews take (structured, semi-structured, unstructured)?
- How long were the interviews and how were they recorded?
Describe where, when and how you conducted the observation or ethnography.
- What group or community did you observe and how did you gain access to them?
- How long did you spend conducting the research and where was it located?
- What role did you play in the community?
- How did you record your data (e.g. audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?
Explain how you selected case study materials (such as texts or images) for the focus of your analysis.
How to write the methods section of a research paper
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.
Ng KH, Peh WC. Ng KH, et al. Singapore Med J. 2008 Nov;49(11):856-8; quiz 859. Singapore Med J. 2008. PMID: 19037549
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Nair B. Nair B. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2020 Nov 8;11(6):937-943. doi: 10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_658_20. eCollection 2020 Nov-Dec. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2020. PMID: 33344343 Free PMC article.
Kan P, Mokin M, Mack WJ, Starke RM, Sheth KN, Albuquerque FC, Levitt MR. Kan P, et al. J Neurointerv Surg. 2020 Nov 25:neurintsurg-2020-016964. doi: 10.1136/neurintsurg-2020-016964. Online ahead of print. J Neurointerv Surg. 2020. PMID: 33239307 Free PMC article. Review.
Martín Cervantes PA, Cruz Rambaud S. Martín Cervantes PA, et al. Heliyon. 2020 Aug 26;6(8):e04760. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04760. eCollection 2020 Aug. Heliyon. 2020. PMID: 32923716 Free PMC article.
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How to Write an APA Method Section
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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The method section of an APA format psychology paper provides the methods and procedures used in a research study or experiment. This part of an APA paper is critical because it allows other researchers to see exactly how you conducted your research, allowing for the reproduction of the experiment and assessment of alternative methods that might produce different results.
So what exactly do you need to include when writing your method section? You should provide detailed information on the research design, participants, equipment, materials, variables, and actions taken by the participants. The method section should provide enough information to allow other researchers to replicate your experiment or study.
The method section should utilize subheadings to divide up different subsections. These subsections typically include participants, materials, design, and procedure.
In this part of the method section, you should describe the participants in your experiment, including who they were (and any unique features that set them apart from the general population), how many there were, and how they were selected. If you utilized random selection to choose your participants, it should be noted here.
For example: “We randomly selected 100 children from elementary schools near the University of Arizona.”
At the very minimum, this part of your method section must convey basic demographic characteristics of your participants (such as sex, age, ethnicity, or religion), the population from which your participants were drawn, and any restrictions on your pool of participants.
For example, if your study consists of female college students from a small private college in the Midwest, you should note this in this part of your method section.
This part of your method section should also explain how many participants were assigned to each condition and how they were assigned to each group. Were they randomly assigned to a condition, or was some other selection method used?
It is also important to explain why your participants took part in your research. Was your study advertised at a college or hospital? Did participants receive some type of incentive to take part in your research?
Information on participants helps other researchers understand how your study was performed, how generalizable the result might be, and allows other researchers to replicate the experiment with other populations to see if they might obtain the same results.
Describe the materials, measures, equipment, or stimuli used in the experiment. This may include testing instruments, technical equipment, or other materials used during the course of research. If you used some type of psychological assessment or special equipment during the course of your experiment, it should be noted in this part of your method section.
For example: “Two stories from Sullivan et al.’s (1994) second-order false belief attribution tasks were used to assess children’s understanding of second-order beliefs.”
For standard equipment such as computers, televisions, and videos, you can simply name the device and not provide further explanation.
So if you used a computer to administer a psychological assessment, you would need to identify the specific psychological assessment used, but you could simply state that you used a computer to administer the test rather than listing the brand and technical specifications of the device.
Specialized equipment, especially if it is something that is complex or created for a niche purpose, should be given greater detail. In some instances, such as if you created a special material or apparatus for your study, you may need to provide an illustration of the item that can be included in your appendix and then referred to in your method section.
Describe the type of design used in the experiment. Specify the variables as well as the levels of these variables. Clearly identify your independent variables, dependent variables, control variables, and any extraneous variables that might influence your results. Explain whether your experiment uses a within-groups or between-groups design.
For example: “The experiment used a 3×2 between-subjects design. The independent variables were age and understanding of second-order beliefs.”
The next part of your method section should detail the procedures used in your experiment. Explain what you had participants do, how you collected data, and the order in which steps occurred.
For example: “An examiner interviewed children individually at their school in one session that lasted 20 minutes on average. The examiner explained to each child that he or she would be told two short stories and that some questions would be asked after each story. All sessions were videotaped so the data could later be coded.”
Keep this subsection concise yet detailed. Explain what you did and how you did it, but do not overwhelm your readers with too much information.
Things to Remember
- Use the past tense. Always write the method section in the past tense.
- Be descriptive. Provide enough detail that another researcher could replicate your experiment, but focus on brevity. Avoid unnecessary detail that is not relevant to the outcome of the experiment.
- Use APA format. As you are writing your method section, keep a style guide on hand. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is the official source for APA style.
- Make connections. Read through each section of your paper for agreement with other sections. If you mention procedures in the method section, these elements should be discussed in the results and discussion sections.
- Proofread. Check your paper for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.. typos, grammar problems, and spelling errors. Although a spell checker is a handy tool, there are some errors only you can catch.
- Get a second opinion. Many times, you can become too close to your work to see errors or lack of clarity. Take a rough draft of your method section to your university’s writing lab for additional assistance.
A Word From Verywell
The method section is one of the most important components of your APA format paper. The goal of your paper should be to clearly detail what you did in your experiment. Provide enough detail that another researcher could replicate your study if they wanted.
Finally, if you are writing your paper for a class or for a specific publication, be sure to keep in mind any specific instructions provided by your instructor or by the journal editor. Your instructor may have certain requirements that you need to follow while writing your method section.
How to Write a Research Methodology for a Research Paper
The research methodology is the backbone of the research paper. Regardless of how great your introduction or literature review are. It will be difficult to show readers that your work is well researched without a strong and compelling research method.
However, some students find it difficult to write like professional writers. Therefore, continue reading this blog and learn about how to write it that will impress your teacher.
Of course you can write it.
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What is a Research Methodology?
A research methodology is the blueprint of a study that provides an interpretation of the data gathered. Then draw a conclusion about it. Researchers use various techniques to answer their research questions, such as qualitative, quantitative, lab experiments, etc.
The main purpose of the research methodology is to:
- Analyze information about the topic.
- Allow the reader to evaluate the overall validity and reliability critically.
- Discover the answers to questions through scientific methods.
Moreover, in the research methodology section, the researcher has to answer two questions:
- How was the data analyzed?
- How was the data collected or generated?
Also, write the research methodology section in the past tense. In this section, include only relevant information and avoid including any inaccurate details.
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How to Write a Research Methodology?
Research methodology is an important part of any research study. It helps to convince the readers that your work matters and contributes knowledge in its field, making them more inclined to read what you have written.
We gathered some steps to help you write a great research methodology for your research paper.
1. Explain the Methodological Approach
Start by introducing the research problem you want to investigate? Describe the characteristics of something, explore the new topic, or explain the cause-and-effect strategy. Therefore, you have to think about what kind of data you have to collect for this research.
Below are some questions that you need to answer in this section:
- Do you need quantitative or qualitative data?
- Do you need to collect primary or secondary data for your research?
- Do you select experimental or descriptive data?
However, it depends on the discipline and approach. You could start by discussing the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology.
- Do you use a standard methodology?
- What is the best method to answer your research questions?
- What are the main reliability and validity criteria of research?
Therefore, answer these questions to define the methodology.
After introducing the methodological approach, define data collection methods. The main ones are qualitative and quantitative that we’ll discuss below in detail:
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The qualitative method focuses on collecting data from open-ended communication. It allows the researcher to generate new ideas for research and analyze people’s motivations and feelings.
The most common qualitative research methods are:
The in-person interview is one of the most popular research methods because it provides direct access to respondents. To successfully conduct an interview, you must interact with people and ask them questions about their perspectives on a topic or issue at hand; this way, we’ll know how they feel.
Therefore, when you use this method, you have to keep some questions in your mind:
- How to create the interview form?
- How to gather participants?
- Which participant participated in an interview?
- How many hours take to record the interview?
The observation method uses subjective methods to collect systematic data. It is used for collecting data on naturally occurring behaviors in their usual context.
Like an interview, in this research method, you should also keep some questions in your mind:
- What method do you use to record the data?
- What group of people or community do you choose?
- What role do you play in this group of people?
In this method, the researcher studies the people’s daily lives without interfering in their activities. And the people are unaware that they are being observed.
Describe to the readers how you selected the materials for your research.
- What criteria do you use to gather data?
- What materials were analyzed and why?
In the quantitative research method, the researcher should describe their methods sufficiently for another researcher to replicate them.
Also, explain how you measured variables and operational concepts. And discuss the sampling method, materials, tools, and procedures used to gather data.
Here are some popular quantitative research methods:
A survey is a powerful tool for gathering all sorts of data. It can distribute through email, social media networks, QR codes, and text messages.
Also, keep some questions in your mind:
- How did you design the questionnaire?
- Which sampling method do you use to choose participants?
- How do you conduct your survey?
- What were the response rate and sampling size?
These questions will help a lot and also include the full interview or questionnaire in an appendix. Therefore, the reader easily knows what data is collected.
Provide full details about the tools, procedures, and techniques used for the experiment.
- What tools do you use for the experiment?
- How do you measure the variables?
- How do you design the experiment?
It is important to provide enough detail so that another researcher can recreate your experiments.
In this step, you should explain how you have analyzed and processed data. However, do not go into in-depth and not discuss the results of your work at this step.
The methodology section is important because it provides the readers with why you selected a certain method. Also, you have to discuss the weaknesses of the selected approach. However, describe why its strengths have convinced you to choose it.
How to write the Methods section of a research paper
The Methods section of a research article is like a roadmap leading to the core of the research, guiding the readers through the actual journey the authors took to reach their destination. In the manuscript, this section contains the essential details for other scientists to replicate the experiments of the study and help the common readers to understand the study better.
The descriptive nature of this section may make it seem one of the easiest parts of a manuscript to write. However, this is also the part, where the details are often missed while writing, and sometimes during reading due to its highly technical nature’.
In this article, we will share some tips to make the Methods section of your manuscript interesting and informative. While the article uses examples mostly from the biomedical and clinical research studies, authors from other fields too would find the tips useful for preparing their next manuscript.
Break ice between the readers and the Methods section
First, let’s ponder over the issue of the perception of boredom we often associate with the Methods section of an article. It may be the names of the reagents and instruments, separated by some numbers in terms of some concentrations or the technical terminologies that make the reading a heavy-duty task. Listed below are some useful ways of breaking the ice between the Methods section and the readers:
1. Explanation : Usually, each paragraph or subsection of the Methods section talks about a specific experiment. Early in each paragraph, explain the rationale behind your choices of that particular experiment.; for example, why you used a certain compound, a specific strain of mice as the experimental model or the particular concentration of that key reagent.
For clinical research, providing a detailed rationale for selecting the exclusion or inclusion criteria can be a good idea to present early in the Methods section. If you took a conventional or widely used method, you certainly don’t need to appear stating the obvious, but for less conventional approaches sharing your reasoning of the study design instantly makes the readers curious and engaged with your paper.
2. Visual presentation : To help the readers follow the study design or methodology better, visual elements like the schematic diagram, flowchart, and table can be used in this section. They help in breaking the monotony and making the absorption of complex information easy.
The dos and don’ts of writing the Methods section
Secondly, the information in the methods section is closely scrutinized by the journal editors and peer reviewers to assess whether the most appropriate technique was used to reach your research goal. While every detail of your experiment need not be included, the essential and critical steps should be well described to receive a positive peer review.
The essential do’s and don’ts of writing a technically sound Methods section:
1. Adhere to the specific guidelines: Read the author’s instruction section of your target journal carefully and follow the specific instructions. For example, the heading of the section “Materials and Methods” may need to be changed to “Patients and the Method” to follow the guidelines of your target journal or the name of the institutes could be omitted for the journals that do not prefer open-label reporting. Also, you may be expected to follow a particular style guideline like the one published by the American Psychological Association while writing the Methods section.
Biomedical researchers would benefit from using the checklists for different study types to ensure the essential details are included in the Methods. Some of the standardized and widely referred checklists include the ones 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).
2. Structure the section so that it tells the story of your research : All the experiments should be presented in a logical manner that helps the reader retrace the gradual and development and nuances of the study. A useful way of achieving this is to describe the methods in a chronological order of the experiments. For example: for a clinical trial, you may start with the setting and time of the study ( the beginning and termination dates of the study) , followed by the details of the patient recruitment ( Number of subjects/patients etc.) , study design (prospective, retrospective or other), randomization (if any), assigning into groups, intervention, and describing the techniques used to collect, measure, and analyse data.
3. Follow the order of the results: To improve the readability and flow of your manuscript, match the order of specific methods to the order of the results that were achieved using those methods.
4. Use subheadings: Dividing the Methods section in terms of the experiments helps the reader to follow the section better. You may write the specific objective of each experiment as a subheading. Alternatively, if applicable, the name of each experiment can also be used as subheading.
5. Provide all details meticulously: Provide the details that you considered while designing the study or collecting the data because the smallest variations in these steps may affect the results and interpretation of their significance. When employing the outcome measures, the readers would like to know the information regarding validity and reliability. The correct way of reporting the reliability and the validity depends on the specific research design. Usually, information from existing literature is presented to support for the reliability and the validity of a measure.
Carefully describe the materials, equipment (like testing instruments and technical equipment), or stimuli used in the experiment. If your study involved a survey or any psychological assessment, mention the questionnaire, scoring methods, and validation of scales with every possible detail.
Also, be careful about one common manuscript error i.e. not mentioning the sample size estimation (whenever relevant). Although the estimated sample size is computed before the actual study starts, it helps the reader assess the expected change in the outcome variables and the number of subjects needed to detect that change within a certain confidence range. Similarly, mentioning power calculation is a critical point to be mentioned in the Methods section.
6. Mention the ethical approval: If relevant, early in the Methods section mention whether your study was approved by the ethics committee or institutional review board, and whether you have received oral/ written informed consent from the patients or the guardians.
7. Specify the variables : Clearly mention not only the control variables, independent variables, dependent variables but also if there were any extraneous variables that might influence the result of your study. For example, in a tutorial on learning how to write ‘Research Methodology’, one group is provided with a traditional text while the other group is provided with an interactive online tool. However, if some participants already have prior knowledge of ‘how to write the Methods section’, this pre-knowledge will act as an extraneous variable.
8. Statistical analysis: In this section, describe all statistical tests, levels of significance, and software packages used to conduct the statistical analysis. You may also consult the biostatistician of your team to receive help to write this section . Don’t forget to indicate if the recommendations of a knowledgeable and experienced statistician were considered. Finally, it is important to provide the justification of the preferred statistical method used in the study. For example, why the author is using a one-tailed or two-tailed analysis.
1. Do not describe well-known methods in detail: For the sake of brevity, avoid listing the details of the experiments that are widely used or already published in numerous articles in your field of research. Instead, mention and cite the specific experiment and mention that the referred process was followed. However, if you have modified the standard process to meet the specific aim of your study, do describe the modifications and the reasons for those in sufficient detail.
2. Do not provide unnecessary details: Avoid unnecessary details that are not relevant to the result of the experiment. For example, you need not mention trivial details such as the color of the bucket that held the ice. Try to stick only to the details that are relevant and have an impact on your study.
3. Do not discuss the pros and cons of other methods: While it may be tempting to discuss the reasons why you did not use a particular method or how your chosen method is superior to others, save these details for the Discussion section. Utilize the Methods section only to mention the details of the methods you chose.
To summarize all the tips stated above, the Methods section of an ideal manuscript aims to share the scientific knowledge with transparency and also establishes the robustness of the study. I hope that this article helps you to reach the goal of writing a perfect manuscript!
For a comprehensive guide with expert advice, practical tips and a checklist to showcase the methods used to conduct your research study, check out the course How to write the perfect methods section. It is designed exclusively for researchers by Gareth Dyke who manages the Taylor & Francis journal Historical Biology as Editor-in-Chief.
Writing the methods section of a research paper – How to Guide
Any research paper requires a methods section. So it is of the utmost importance to know how to write it right for every student or any other scholar who wishes to receive good results from the paper. But before we proceed on how to write it, we must clarify what is the methods section of a research paper.
Let’s deal with it step-by-step. To define methods section of a research paper, you first must realize that the methods section is basically that part of your writing where you explain to the reader how you did your research and what assets you used in order to finish it.
That is why there are no clear demands concerning how long should a methods section be since every kind of study in any area of study will always be different. So, it kind of depends on the situation and discipline.
What is a Method Section of a Study?
- It is the part of the proposal or research paper that describes the methods used to collect the data.
- It follows the introduction.
- It allows the reader to understand how data were collected, and to judge for herself if she thinks the methods were good.
- It should be detailed enough for a good researcher to be able to replicate a study from reading a method section.
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What is the purpose of the Methods section?
- To describe research goals, questions to be answered or the hypotheses, what was done to answer the research question, describe how it was done, justify the experimental design, and explain how the results were analyzed.
- To make sure that readers have a very clear idea of how you collected your data. In fact, your description should be clear enough for the interested reader to reproduce your experiment and find examples of similar results. This is called replicability. If other people can reproduce (or replicate) your results, then they are more likely to believe your conclusions.
- To convince readers that you were careful and systematic in thinking through your methods, so that they can believe your results and conclude that you are a clear-thinking, competent professional who does reliable work. And used the scientific method.
What are the parts of a Methods section?
- A description of the materials and equipment used in the study. In some disciplines materials may be humans or animals. Equipment may include devices and other treatments used to test materials for various properties.
- An explanation of how the materials were prepared for experimental procedures.
- An overview of the research protocol. The research protocol is the sequence of manipulations and measurement procedures that make up the experiment. Its description should follow the exact sequence of how the procedures were executed and the data collected.
- An explanation of how measurements were made. Also included are details about what variables were measured and what protocols were used for those measurements. The description of measurement instruments can include the manufacturer and model, calibration procedures, and other specifications. It also may be necessary to justify why and how certain variables were measured.
- The last step in the methods section is to describe how the data will be presented in the results section. It should include an accounting of the statistical tests used (descriptive and/or inferential) to analyze the data.
Writing a Methods Section: Step-by-Step Strategy
Before clarifying the process of writing a methods section, first, let’s talk about the possible examples of pitfalls you must avoid. This way, you will prevent making your paper hard to read. That is essential to know how to write a proper methods section.
First and foremost – any background information which is neither useful nor helpful should be avoided at all costs. Same goes for lots of details. Don’t overfill the article.
Secondly, you should focus more on how the method was used to achieve your writing goal and not writing down all the mechanics. Basically, it’s another reminder not to overfill your research paper with non-essential describing details.
Last but not least – tell about all the obstacles you’ve encountered and overcame. Here the rule “Fewer details” does not apply. It will help you a lot to get a positive reaction to your paper from anyone since people always love and admire those who are capable of overcoming obstacles in their way.
What to Include in a Methods Section of a Research Paper: Must-Have Elements
Now let’s find out what to include in a methods section of a research paper so that you didn’t miss anything.
What is essential for every methods part of a research paper is the way you have chosen participants or subject (if yours required any), data on what literature you’ve used, your outline, your inclusion and exclusion criteria, procedures you have done and of course – statistical analyses.
Organizing Academic Research Papers: 6. The Methodology
The methods section of a research paper provides the information by which a study’s validity is judged. The method section answers two main questions: 1) How was the data collected or generated? 2) How was it analyzed? The writing should be direct and precise and written in the past tense.
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 choose affects the results and, by extension, how you likely interpreted those results.
- Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and it misappropriates interpretations of findings.
- In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. Your methodology section of your paper should make clear the reasons why you chose a particular method or procedure.
- 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 questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
- The research method must be appropriate to the objectives of the study. For example, be sure 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 did arise, you must describe the ways in which their impact was minimized or why these problems do not affect the findings in any way that impacts your interpretation of the data.
- Often in social science research, it is useful for other researchers to adapt or replicate your methodology. Therefore, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow others to use or replicate the study. This information is particularly important when a new method had been developed or an innovative use of an existing method has been utilized.
Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; 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 empirical-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 hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
- The interpretative group is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way. This research method allows you to recognize your connection to the subject under study. Because the interpretative group focuses more on subjective knowledge, it requires careful interpretation of variables.
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 should have a clear connection with 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 unsuited 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.
- 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?
- Provide background and 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 rationale 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 statisics being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate.
- Address 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.
III. Problems to Avoid
The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but to the point. Don’t provide any background information that doesn’t directly help the reader to understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how it was analyzed.
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. NOTE: An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional approach to doing the method; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall research process.
It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data. 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.
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 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; 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; 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; 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.