How to Write a Methodology for a Research Paper

What is a Methodology?

The methodology chapter appears after the literature review in a dissertation or thesis, and should naturally flow from it. Before you get to your methodology, you should have described your research problem and conducted a research of what other scholars say about your topic in the same field. You will also have looked at how these scholars arrived at their conclusions, that is, the basis of their assumptions, theoretical frameworks used, methods of data collection, and data analysis. The observations and discussions with your supervisor are useful in tackling the research question. The strategies could include a plan on how data will be gathered, models used to process the data, or what logical positions majorly inform your work. Therefore, a research methodology is text that provides a comprehensive account of how to approach the dissertation or thesis and why you’ve decided to use that approach.

How to Write a Methodology

The methodology should establish a clear connection between your research problem/question, the existing scholarly information you obtained as part of your literature review, and how you will draw your conclusions. As such, no matter your field of study, the methodology section of your paper should include:

  • A Restatement of your Research Question(s)

The key to vindicating your methodology is showing that it is suitable for the objective of tackling the research question you stated at the start. You need to restate the main question you intend to answer when presenting your methodology, but do not restate it word-for-word. You can rephrase the research problem in a way that links your methodology and the literature review.

  • A Description of your Method or Design

This is the soul of the methodology, but not the methodology itself. It is the section where you describe your process for collecting and analyzing data, or for tackling your research question. This should be detailed and clear enough such that another scholar can read and understand it and apply it outside the framework of your dissertation. If you are providing a new theoretical perspective on a philosophical problem or literary work, your reader should understand your theory to effectively apply it to another problem or text. If you are explaining a scientific experiment, the reader should have all that is necessary to reconstruct your experiment in a laboratory. In case you are introducing a new form of statistical model, the data should be applicable to another data set after the reader goes through your methodology section.

  • The Rationale and Background for your Design

The methodology is not just a description of your method, it explains why you have chosen it and why you think it will produce the best outcomes, the most perceptive set of analyses and deductions, or the most inventive perspective. This will bring in some section of your literature review, portraying your choices as rooted and informed in sound scholarship, while demonstrating creativity and innovation. Furthermore, ensure that you link your basis for your method clearly to the research problem. Your reader should clearly see that your choice of methodology is a tailored and thoughtful response to the problem you intend to solve.

  • An Assessment of your Method and an Account of its Limitations

There is no perfect research method, and it is likely that your choice also has some drawbacks. For example, you might have selected a small number of participants for an interview because the distinct perspectives of a group of interviewees on the issue you are investigating is more valuable than a larger amount of data about answers to a similar question. This means that you have sacrificed a quantitative research strategy to your problem, which might has produced its own set of significant perceptions. Be upfront and honest, but do not apologize, about your chosen method’s limitations, and be ready to prove why it is the best strategy for your objectives.

While your methodology outline will look the same irrespective of your field of study, the details can be quite different in relation to your subject area of study.

Types of Dissertation Methodology

The following are the common dissertation types and what you should include in each of their methodology section.

  • Scientific Studies

The methodology chapter of a scientific study should emphasize objectivity and reproducibility above everything else. The methods have to appear to be strong to the reader, with no visible flaws in the execution or design. You should include relevant information about the equipment, laboratory setup, and a procedure to enable another researcher to replicate your method. In addition, you need to show that you have considered any variables that can distort your data and that you have a way of handling the variables either in data collection, analysis, or making conclusion.

You should also include details and justifications for the statistical models you will apply in data analysis. Keep in mind that a scholar can use a part of your methodology as a starting point for their research, they can choose to follow your research design but opt for a different results analysis model.

  • Behavioral or Social Sciences Studies

Just like with a scientific study, a behavioral or social sciences methodology should also portray objectivity and duplicability, allowing another scholar to duplicate your study in part or in whole for their needs. But, the density of working with human subjects means that you have several extra questions to deliberate upon. Firstly, you should respond to some broad questions about the type of analysis you are doing: is it quantitative or qualitative research, or a mixed strategy that applies qualitative data to give background and context to quantitative data, and vice versa. Will you collect data through recorded interviews with your participants, asking them to fill a written questionnaire, or observe them as they undertake some activity? Or will you forego doing research with human participants, and base your research on a pre-existing data set or documentary evidence? What is the range of your data and deductions? Can the research be applied in other contexts, or is it particular to the specific location or cultural context where you did your research?

Other than answering these questions, you must show your reader that you have deliberated on all ethical questions related to your research. Part of this proof involves obtaining approval for your research design from the relevant ethics bodies, but some readers will still consider your study problematic or contentious, for example, where your subject might have to relive incidences of trauma or grief. Ensure that you address such issues head-on, and justify your methods by stressing the possible value of your deductions.

  • A Critical Dissertation in Humanities and the Arts

Methodological objectivity is just as valued in humanities and the arts as in the social sciences and sciences. But, if you are writing a humanities or an arts dissertation the way that you express this objectivity, and persuade your readers, is a bit different. The methodology chapter in a humanities or an arts dissertation is more closely related to your literature review than a social science or scientific study. Hence, you may be tempted to focus more on the methodology chapter in a humanities or an arts dissertation, and act more or less effortlessly from literature review into analysis. But it is essential that you give a comprehensive justification of your frameworks and how they are related to your research problem. If you do not provide a justification, your reader may take issue with your whole analysis as you have failed to persuade them of the suitability of your theoretical foundations to what you are analyzing.

Particularly, it’s extremely important that your methodology portrays an appreciation of the cultural and historical contexts of the theoretical structures you apply, especially where there is a major disagreement between theorists. If you utilize the work of theorists from opposing or differing schools of thought to validate your readings, your methodology chapter should illustrate a clear understanding of how these ideas disagree and an explanation of why you have decided to use some aspects of the differing views in your work.

  • Dissertations in the Creative Arts

Many art programs provide the option of writing a creative dissertation instead of a critical one where you submit a portfolio of works or a piece of creative writing as opposed to presenting an extended critical project. But, in almost all cases, the creative project has to be accompanied by a considerable critical essay that theorizes your creative work. It is a difficult thing to critically engage with your own work, which makes the adherence and development to a difficult methodology especially significant in this context. You should show that you can detach yourself from your creativity and view it through an objective lens and that you can see your creativity as methodology, as a way of formulating work that is based on research and theory and that can be assessed against clear target objectives.

Common Research Methods

There are various research methods that are used to research scientific subjects. Make sure to consult your professor on the most suitable for your research. The research methods outlined below are common for social sciences.

  • Interviews

This is one of the widely used and most flexible way of obtaining qualitative information about people’s feelings, views, and experiences. An interview is a guided conversation between you as the researcher and another person from whom you want to learn something.

The structure level of an interview may vary, but usually interviewers adopt a semi-structured format. This is where the interviewer develops a guide of the topics or question he or she wants to address in the conversation. But, the interviewer can follow a different path of conversation that arises during the interview, or to ask the interviewee to expand and clarify on certain points. Thus, interviews are efficient methods of obtaining comprehensive information where the research question is flexible in terms of the range of probable answers.

When you want to gain information from large groups of people, interviews are not well suited for it. They are time-consuming, which means that you have to be careful when selecting informants possessing experiences or knowledge necessary to respond to the research question.

  • Observations

If you want to know how people behave under certain circumstances, the most direct way to obtain this information is watching them when under the circumstances. Observations as a form of research method can either be qualitative research or quantitative research. For example, if a researcher wants to know if a traffic sign makes cars slow down at a dangerous bend, he can sit near that bend and count the number of cars. As the data will indicate number of cars, then this is quantitative observation.

The same researcher may want to find out how people respond to a billboard advertisement by watching and describing the responses of the people. In such a case, the data collected would be descriptive, making it qualitative.

Observation studies raise a number of probable ethical concerns. For example, are the people being observed aware that they are under observation? Should they provide consent? If some of them do not want to be observed, can they be ‘removed’ from the study while an observation of the others is still going on?

  • Questionnaires

If your planned research question involves collecting standardized, and therefore comparable information from many people, then you can use questionnaires to collect data. Questionnaires can collect both qualitative and quantitative data, although the level of detail in qualitative answers for a questionnaire is not the same as with an interview.

Questionnaires require the researcher to be extra careful in design and delivery. However, a well-developed questionnaire can be availed to a much larger population than it would be in interviews. This type of data collection method is well suited for research looking to measure some factors for a group of people or to compare groups of people.

  • Documentary Analysis

This analysis involves attaining data from existing documents without questioning people through questionnaires, interviews, or an observation of their behavior. Documentary analysis is the leading way that historians collect data on their research subjects, but it can also be a treasured tool for modern-day social scientists.

Documents are physical materials where ideas or facts have been recorded. Normally, we consider items produced or written on paper, such as minutes of meetings, government policy records, leaflets, and newspaper articles. Items in other forms of media can also be the topic of documentary analysis, including photographs, websites songs, and films. Documents can disclose a lot about the organization of the people who produced them and the community in which they were based.

Some documents can be accessed freely as they are part of the public domain, but others are confidential, classified, or unavailable for public access. If you use such documents as sources of research data, you have to agree with the holder of the documents about how you can or cannot use the contents and how you will preserve confidentiality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between methodology and methods?

Methodology is the rationale and overarching of your research project. It includes studying the methods applicable to your field and the principles or theories behind them, in order to craft a strategy that suits your objectives.

Methods are procedures and tools used to collect and analyze data, such as statistical tests, surveys, experiments, and questionnaires.

When writing shorter scientific paper where the objective is to present the findings of a particular study, you can describe your strategy in a methods section.

In a more complex or longer research project, such as a dissertation or a thesis, you will most likely have a methodology section, where you describe your strategy to responding to the research questions and cite appropriate sources to validate your methods.

Where do I place the methodology section?

In a scientific or a dissertation paper, the methods section or methodology chapter comes after the introduction just before the results, discussion and conclusion sections. Depending on the type and the length of the document, you can also include a theoretical framework or a literature review before the methodology chapter.

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods?

Qualitative research involves meanings and words, while quantitative research involves statistics and numbers. Qualitative methods let you experience in depth and explore ideas, while quantitative methods let you test a hypothesis by methodically collecting and analyzing data.

What is the difference between reliability and validity?

Reliability and validity are related but different concepts about the efficiency of a method to measure something. Reliability refers to if the results obtained will be reliably reproduced under similar conditions, while validity refers to if the results portray what they are intended to measure.

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