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- What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips
What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips
Published on August 25, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on January 30, 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 ).
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.
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.
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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 .
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
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 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.
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.
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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Methodology in a Research Paper: Definition and Example
Updated December 12, 2022
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When researchers document their studies, they typically include a methodology to describe the processes and outcomes of their research. If you're covering a thesis topic, submitting a dissertation or documenting a project for your employer, including a methodology helps summarize your studies for readers who review your work. The methodology is also important to provide insight into the validity and reliability of your research.
In this article, we explore what a methodology is, what to include in this part of your paper and how it differs from your research methods with an example of methodology in a research paper.
What is a methodology in a research paper?
The methodology in a research paper, thesis paper or dissertation is the section in which you describe the actions you took to investigate and research a problem and your rationale for the specific processes and techniques you use within your research to identify, collect and analyze information that helps you understand the problem.
The methodology section of your research paper allows readers to evaluate the overall validity and reliability of your study and gives important insight into two key elements of your research: your data collection and analysis processes and your rationale for conducting your research. When writing a methodology for a research paper, it's important to keep the discussion clear and succinct and write in the past tense.
Quantitative and qualitative methodologies
There are two main approaches to methodology; quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research methodology relies on concrete facts and data-driven research, and qualitative research methodology relies on non-data-driven research, such as surveys and polls, to identify patterns and trends.
What to include in a methodology
Students, graduates and other researchers often include several key sections within the methodology section. Consider the following elements when developing a methodology in research papers:
Type of research
The first part of a methodology section usually describes the type of research you perform and how you develop your research methods. This section also discusses the question or problem you investigate through your research and the type of data you need to perform evaluations and research assessments. Additionally, the methodology often includes the criteria your experimental studies need to meet to produce valid and reliable evidence. The information you cover in this part of your methodology allows readers to gain insight into how you measure validity and reliability during your studies.
Data collection process
The methodology also includes an explanation of your data collection process. For instance, if you perform experimental tests on samples, conduct surveys or interviews or use existing data to form new studies, this section of your methodology details what you do and how you do it. Several key details to include in this section of a methodology focus on how you design your experiment or survey, how you collect and organize data and what kind of data you measure. You may also include specific criteria for collecting qualitative and quantitative data.
Data analysis process
Your data analysis approaches are also important in your methodology. Your data analysis describes the methods you use to organize, categorize and study the information you collect through your research processes. For instance, when explaining quantitative methods, you might include details about your data preparation and organization methods along with a brief description of the statistical tests you use. When describing your data analysis processes regarding qualitative methods, you may focus more on how you categorize, code and apply language, text and other observations during your analysis.
Resources, materials and tools
The tools, materials and other resources you need for your research and analysis are also important elements to describe in your methodology. Software programs, mathematical and statistical formulas and other tools that help you perform your research are essential in documenting your methodology. This section of your methodology can also detail any special techniques you apply to collect data and identify important variables. Additionally, your approaches to studying your hypothesis and underlying research questions are essential details in your methodology.
Rationale behind the research
Since your methodology aims to show readers why your research is valid and relevant, the last part of this section of your research paper needs to focus on your rationale. Details like why your studies are relevant, what industries your studies relate to and how other researchers can replicate your results are essential components of this part of your methodology. It's important to address any approaches you plan to take to continue evaluating your research over time and to cite the primary and secondary sources you use in your research.
Differences between the methodology and methods
Although the methodology section of your research paper includes details about the methods you use in your research, there are several differences between a methodology and the research methods you apply:
The overall purpose of your methodology differs from the set of methods you use to apply to your research. While the methodology is the entire section of your research paper that describes your processes, the methods refer to the actual steps you take throughout your research to collect and analyze data. The methodology serves as a summary that demonstrates the validity and reliability of your methods, while the methods you detail in this section of your paper are the scientific approaches to test and make conclusions about the data you study.
The format for a methodology differs from the format you use to list and explain your research and analysis methods. The methodology usually appears at the beginning of your paper and looks like a summary or essay in paragraph form detailing your research validity, process and rationale. The format you use to describe your research and analysis methods can take various forms, depending on the type of research, type of data and type of assessments you use.
For instance, when describing the methods you use to perform quantitative and statistical analyses, the format you use may focus on a graph or chart to display your data. Additionally, the methods you describe within each part of your methodology can include tables or lists to demonstrate your research process and outcomes.
The purpose and format ultimately influence the content that you include in both your methodology and your research method details. However, the content within your entire methodology focuses on delivering a concise summary of your research, approaches and outcomes. Therefore, the content of your methodology includes all aspects of performing your studies. The content in your research paper that details your collection and analysis methods differs because it's often necessary to explain your scientific approaches and research processes with lists and visual aids (like charts or graphs) to support the information.
Example of a methodology in a research paper
The following example of a methodology in a research paper can provide additional insight into what to include and how to structure yours:
This research paper explains the psychological and emotional effects of a support program for employees with mental illness. The program involved extended and individualized support for employment candidates through a job support agency that maintained contact with candidates after initial job placement to offer support in various ways. I used a 50% random sampling of individuals who took part in the support program through the job support agency between April and October, and who fit the study criteria I developed from previous and similar studies.
My team and I randomly assigned the resulting 350 cases to either the treatment group or the control group, which comprised life skills development and employment training within an in-house workshop environment. My team and I measured all 350 participants upon intake and again at the 90-day threshold of employment. The psychological functioning and self-esteem measurements we used provided significant data on the effects of treatment within both measures, including opposing outcomes that differed from our initial hypothesis.
We found through our research that instead of improved function and higher self-esteem, the individuals within the treatment group displayed lower levels of cognitive and emotional function and lower self-esteem. These results led my research team and I to conclude that individuals who work in roles they find unfulfilling often experience significant decreases in performance due to higher job stress and diminished emotional well-being, regardless of their mental health conditions.
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Organizing Academic Research Papers: Purpose of Guide
Purpose of guide.
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Glossary of Research Terms
- 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
- Executive Summary
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
- Content Alert Services
- Evaluating Sources
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Tertiary Sources
- What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?
- Qualitative Methods
- Quantitative Methods
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
- Further Readings
- Annotated Bibliography
- Dealing with Nervousness
- Using Visual Aids
- Grading Someone Else's Paper
- How to Manage Group Projects
- Multiple Book Review Essay
- Reviewing Collected Essays
- About Informed Consent
- Writing Field Notes
- Writing a Policy Memo
- Writing a Research Proposal
This guide is intended to help you organize and write a quality academic research paper. Also included are recommendations regarding how to manage specific course assignments. Note that, if you have specific questions about how to write a research paper, you should always seek advice from your professor before you begin. Specific requirements stated by your professor will always supersede instructions provided in these general guidelines.
Thanks to Dr. Robert V. Labaree of the Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs, University of Southern California Libraries , for sharing the content of this guide.
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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
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Writing Concisely
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
- Further Readings
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.
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.
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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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
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 and function of the methodology chapter
- The importance of the chapter/section
- How to write and structure the methodology chapter
- General advice for writing a great methodology section
What (exactly) is the methodology chapter?
Your methodology chapter is where you highlight the philosophical underpinnings of your research and outline the specific research design choices you’ve made. The point of the methodology chapter is to tell the reader exactly how you designed your research and to justify your design choices .
The methodology chapter should comprehensively describe and justify all the research design choices you made. For example, the type of research you conducted (e.g. qualitative or quantitative ), how you collected your data, how you analysed your data and who or where you collected data from (sampling). We’ll explain all the key design choices later in this post .
Why is the methodology chapter important?
The methodology chapter is important for two reasons:
Firstly, it demonstrates your understanding of research design 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 design, 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 because it allows you to identify and discuss any methodological issues or problems you encountered (i.e. limitations), and to explain how you mitigated the impacts of these. Every research project has its limitations and shortcomings , so it’s important to acknowledge these openly and highlight your study’s value despite its limitations. Again, this demonstrates your understanding of research design, which will earn you marks. We’ll discuss limitations in more detail later in this post.
Need a helping hand?
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 (for example, humanities vs chemistry vs engineering) as well as the university . So, it’s always a good idea to check the guidelines provided by your institution for clarity and, if possible, review past dissertations and theses from your university. Here we’re going to discuss a generic structure for a methodology chapter typically found in the sciences, especially the social sciences (e.g. psychology).
Before you start writing, we always recommend that you draw up a rough outline , so that you have a clear direction to head in. Don’t just start writing without knowing what will go where. If you do, you’ll most likely end up with a disjointed, poorly flowing narrative . As a result, you’ll waste a lot of time rewriting in an attempt to try to stitch all the pieces together. 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 introduction, you should remind your readers what the focus of your study is, especially the research aims . As we’ve discussed many times on this blog, your research design needs to align with your research aims, objectives and research questions , so it’s useful to frontload this to remind the reader (and yourself!) what you’re trying to achieve with your design and methodology.
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.
Section 2 – The Research Design
The next section of your methodology chapter should present your research design to the reader. In this section, you need to detail and justify all the key design choices in a logical, intuitive fashion. 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 have a look at the most common design choices you’ll need to cover.
Design Choice #1 – Research Philosophy
Research philosophy refers to the underlying beliefs (i.e. world view) regarding how data about a phenomenon should be gathered , analysed and used . Your 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 research design choices.
While several research philosophies exist, two commonly adopted ones are positivism and interpretivism .
Positivism is commonly the underlying research philosophy in quantitative studies. It states that the researcher can observe reality objectively and that there is only one reality, which exists independent of the observer.
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) , but they demonstrate significantly different approaches to research and have a significant impact on all the research design 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.
Design 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 . With inductive research, theory is generated from the ground up (i.e. from the collected data), and therefore these studies tend to be exploratory in terms of approach. Deductive research, on the other hand, starts with established theory and builds onto it with collected data, and 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 methods methodology. 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 . Again, when you write this section up, remember to clearly justify your choices, as they form the foundation of your study.
Design Choice #3 – Research Strategy
Next, you’ll need to discuss your research strategy (i.e., your research “action plan”). This research design choice refers to how you conduct your research based on the aims of your study.
Several research strategies exist, including experiments , case studies , ethnography , grounded theory, action research , and phenomenology . Let’s look at two 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 variable is manipulated). This type of research is undertaken under strict conditions in controlled, artificial environments – for example, within a laboratory. By having firm control over the environment, experimental research often allows the researcher to establish causation between variables. Therefore, it can be a good choice if you have research aims that involve identifying or measuring cause and effect.
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 design choice, it’s essential to justify why you chose the research strategy you did.
Design Choice #4 – Time Horizon
The next thing you need to cover 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 (i.e. cross-sectional) or at multiple points in time (i.e. 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 is simply the practical constraints – in other words, whether you have the time necessary to adopt a longitudinal approach (which could involve collecting data over multiple 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.
Design Choice #5 – Sampling Strategy
Next, you’ll need to discuss your chosen 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-randomized (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.
Design Choice #6 – Data Collection Method
Next up, you need to explain how exactly 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 is therefore very important.
Design Choice #7 – Data Analysis Methods/Techniques
The final major design choice that you need to address is that of analysis techniques . In other words, once you’ve collected your data, how will you go about analysing it. Here it’s important to be 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 . 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 this section, 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 . As always, remember to state both what you did and why you did it.
Section 3 – The Methodological Limitations
With the key research design choices outlined and justified, the next step is to discuss the limitations of your design. No research design or methodology is perfect – there will always be trade-offs between the “ideal” design 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 design, 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 useful to use a figure to summarise the key design 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.
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 section of your dissertation or thesis), 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!
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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How to Write a Research Methodology for Your Academic Article
This article is part of an ongoing series on academic writing help of scholarly articles. Previous parts explored how to write an introduction for a research paper and a literature review outline and format .
The Methodology section portrays the reasoning for the application of certain techniques and methods in the context of the study.
For your academic article, when you describe and explain your chosen methods it is very important to correlate them to your research questions and/or hypotheses. The description of the methods used should include enough details so that the study can be replicated by other Researchers, or at least repeated in a similar situation or framework.
Every stage of your research needs to be explained and justified with clear information on why you chose those particular methods, and how they help you answer your research question or purpose.
As the Authors, in this section you get to explain the rationale of your article for other Researchers. You should focus on answering the following questions:
- How did you collect the data or how did you generate the data?
- Which research methods did you use?
- Why did you choose these methods and techniques?
- How did you use these methods for analyzing the research question or problem?
The responses to these questions should be clear and precise, and the answers should be written in past tense.
First off, let’s establish the differences between research methods and research methodology.
Research Methods and Research Methodology
As an Academic and Author of valuable research papers, it’s important not to confuse these two terms.
Research Methodology Definition
Research Methodology refers the discussion regarding the specific methods chosen and used in a research paper. This discussion also encompasses the theoretical concepts that further provide information about the methods selection and application.
In other words, you should highlight how these theoretical concepts are connected with these methods in a larger knowledge framework and explain their relevance in examining the purpose, problem and questions of your study. Thus, the discussion that forms your academic article’s research methodology also incorporates an extensive literature review about similar methods, used by other Authors to examine a certain research subject.
Research Method Definition
A Research Method represents the technical steps involved in conducting the research. Details about the methods focus on characterizing and defining them, but also explaining your chosen techniques, and providing a full account on the procedures used for selecting, collecting and analyzing the data.
Important Tips for a Good Methodology Section
The methodology section is very important for the credibility of your article and for a professional academic writing style.
Data Collection or Generation for Your Academic Article
Readers, academics and other researchers need to know how the information used in your academic article was collected. The research methods used for collecting or generating data will influence the discoveries and, by extension, how you will interpret them and explain their contribution to general knowledge.
The most basic methods for data collection are:
Secondary data are data that have been previously collected or gathered for other purposes than the aim of the academic article’s study. This type of data is already available, in different forms, from a variety of sources.
Secondary data collection could lead to Internal or External secondary data research.
Primary data represent data originated for the specific purpose of the study, with its research questions. The methods vary on how Authors and Researchers conduct an experiment, survey or study, but, in general, it uses a particular scientific method.
Primary data collection could lead to Quantitative and Qualitative research.
Readers need to understand how the information was gathered or generated in a way that is consistent with research practices in a field of study . For instance, if you are using a multiple choice survey, the readers need to know which questionnaire items you have examined in your primary quantitative research. Similarly, if your academic article involves secondary data from FED or Eurostat it is important to mention the variables used in your study, their values, and their time-frame.
For primary research, that involve surveys, experiments or observations, for a valuable academic article, Authors should provide information about:
- Study participants or group participants,
- Inclusion or exclusion criteria
Selecting and Applying Research Methods
Establishing the main premises of methodology is pivotal for any research because a method or technique that is not reliable for a certain study context will lead to unreliable results, and the outcomes’ interpretation (and overall academic article) will not be valuable.
In most cases, there is a wide variety of methods and procedures that you can use to explore a research topic in your academic article. The methods section should fully explain the reasons for choosing a specific methodology or technique .
Also, it’s essential that you describe the specific research methods of data collection you are going to use , whether they are primary or secondary data collection.
For primary research methods, describe the surveys, interviews, observation methods, etc.
For secondary research methods, describe how the data was originally created, gathered and which institution created and published it.
Reasons for Choosing Specific Research Methods
For this aspect that characterizes a good research methodology, indicate how the research approach fits with the general study , considering the literature review outline and format , and the following sections.
The methods you choose should have a clear connection with the overall research approach and you need to explain the reasons for choosing the research techniques in your study, and how they help you towards understanding your study’s purpose.
Data Analysis Methods
This section should also focus on information on how you intend to analyze your results .
Describe how you plan and intend to achieve an accurate assessment of the hypotheses, relationships, patterns, trends, distributions associated with your data and research purpose.
The data type, how it was measured, and which statistical tests were conducted and performed, should be detailed and reported in an accurate manner.
For explaining the data analysis methods, you should aim to answer questions, such as:
- Will your research be based on statistical analysis?
- Will you use theoretical frameworks to help you (and your Readers) analyze a set of hypotheses or relationships?
- Which data analysis methods will you choose?
- Which other Authors or studies have used the same methods and should be cited in your academic article?
Issues to Avoid
There are certain aspects that you need to pay extra attention in relation to your research methodology section. The most common issues to avoid are:
- Irrelevant details and complicated background information that provides too information and does not provide accurate understanding for Readers
- Unnecessary description and explanations of basic or well-known procedures, for an academic audience who is already has a basin understanding of the study
- For unconventional research approaches, it is important to provide accurate details and explain why your innovative method contributes to general knowledge (save more details for your Discussion/ Conclusion section in which you can highlight your contributions)
- Research limitations and obstacles should be described in a separate section (Research Limitations)
- The methodology should include sources and references that support your choice of methods and procedures, compared to the literature review that provides a general outlook and framework for your study.
Which aspects are you generally focusing on when writing your academic article’s research methodology section?
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Scholarly Articles: How can I tell?
Anatomy of a scholarly article, how to read a scholarly article.
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Where can I get more help?
Contact the OSU Libraries Information Desk
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For a quick overview of the parts of a scholarly article, click on the link below to see an example of a scholarly article and its parts. We will look at the different parts more closely in the next module.
Reading a scholarly journal article does not need to be daunting. Here are some suggestions:
- Read the abstract first. This should give you a complete overview of the article.
- Skim the article to get a sense of the sections and general contents.
- Read the abstract/introduction and then skip to the conclusion or discussion section. This will help you get an overall sense of the article and whether or not it is relevant to your research.
- Then read each section carefully.
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This handout has annotated examples of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. What are Quantitative and Qualitative Research? Quantitative research
A key part of your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it
The methodology section of your research paper allows readers to evaluate the overall validity and reliability of your study and gives
The methodology section of your research paper is not all about describing your data gathering process and your analysis. The methodology is
The methods section of a research paper provides the information by which a study's validity is judged. The method section answers two main
The methodology section of a research paper answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed?
Your methodology chapter is where you highlight the philosophical underpinnings of your research and outline the specific research design choices you've made.
The Methodology section portrays the reasoning for the application of certain techniques and methods in the context of the study. For your
An annotated Method section and other empirical research paper resources are ... find it useful to locate a paper that employs a similar methodology to your
The methodology section or methods section tells you how the author(s) went about doing their research. It should let you know a) what