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How to Write a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is a bit more difficult that a standard high school essay. You need to site sources, use academic data and show scientific examples. Before beginning, you’ll need guidelines for how to write a research paper.
Start the Research Process
Before you begin writing the research paper, you must do your research. It is important that you understand the subject matter, formulate the ideas of your paper, create your thesis statement and learn how to speak about your given topic in an authoritative manner. You’ll be looking through online databases, encyclopedias, almanacs, periodicals, books, newspapers, government publications, reports, guides and scholarly resources. Take notes as you discover new information about your given topic. Also keep track of the references you use so you can build your bibliography later and cite your resources.
Develop Your Thesis Statement
When organizing your research paper, the thesis statement is where you explain to your readers what they can expect, present your claims, answer any questions that you were asked or explain your interpretation of the subject matter you’re researching. Therefore, the thesis statement must be strong and easy to understand. Your thesis statement must also be precise. It should answer the question you were assigned, and there should be an opportunity for your position to be opposed or disputed. The body of your manuscript should support your thesis, and it should be more than a generic fact.
Create an Outline
Many professors require outlines during the research paper writing process. You’ll find that they want outlines set up with a title page, abstract, introduction, research paper body and reference section. The title page is typically made up of the student’s name, the name of the college, the name of the class and the date of the paper. The abstract is a summary of the paper. An introduction typically consists of one or two pages and comments on the subject matter of the research paper. In the body of the research paper, you’ll be breaking it down into materials and methods, results and discussions. Your references are in your bibliography. Use a research paper example to help you with your outline if necessary.
Organize Your Notes
When writing your first draft, you’re going to have to work on organizing your notes first. During this process, you’ll be deciding which references you’ll be putting in your bibliography and which will work best as in-text citations. You’ll be working on this more as you develop your working drafts and look at more white paper examples to help guide you through the process.
Write Your Final Draft
After you’ve written a first and second draft and received corrections from your professor, it’s time to write your final copy. By now, you should have seen an example of a research paper layout and know how to put your paper together. You’ll have your title page, abstract, introduction, thesis statement, in-text citations, footnotes and bibliography complete. Be sure to check with your professor to ensure if you’re writing in APA style, or if you’re using another style guide.
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How to write the methods section of a research paper
- 1 Respiratory Care Services, San Francisco General Hospital, NH:GA-2, 1001 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA. [email protected]
- PMID: 15447808
The methods section of a research paper provides the information by which a study's validity is judged. Therefore, it requires a clear and precise description of how an experiment was done, and the rationale for why specific experimental procedures were chosen. The methods section should describe what was done to answer the research question, describe how it was done, justify the experimental design, and explain how the results were analyzed. Scientific writing is direct and orderly. Therefore, the methods section structure should: describe the materials used in the study, explain how the materials were prepared for the study, describe the research protocol, explain how measurements were made and what calculations were performed, and state which statistical tests were done to analyze the data. Once all elements of the methods section are written, subsequent drafts should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and logically as possibly. The description of preparations, measurements, and the protocol should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. Material in each section should be organized by topic from most to least important.
- Biomedical Research*
- Research Design
- Writing* / standards
How to write the Methods section of a research paper
Dr. Dhriti Bhattacharyya
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.
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!
- Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper
- The secret to writing the introduction and methods section of a manuscript
- Supply adequate details of items mentioned in the materials and methods section
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Published on: Sep 18, 2018
- Methods Section
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How to Write a Methods Section for a Research Paper
A common piece of advice for authors preparing their first journal article for publication is to start with the methods section: just list everything that was done and go from there. While that might seem like a very practical approach to a first draft, if you do this without a clear outline and a story in mind, you can easily end up with journal manuscript sections that are not logically related to each other.
Since the methods section constitutes the core of your paper, no matter when you write it, you need to use it to guide the reader carefully through your story from beginning to end without leaving questions unanswered. Missing or confusing details in this section will likely lead to early rejection of your manuscript or unnecessary back-and-forth with the reviewers until eventual publication. Here, you will find some useful tips on how to make your methods section the logical foundation of your research paper.
Not just a list of experiments and methods
While your introduction section provides the reader with the necessary background to understand your rationale and research question (and, depending on journal format and your personal preference, might already summarize the results), the methods section explains what exactly you did and how you did it. The point of this section is not to list all the boring details just for the sake of completeness. The purpose of the methods sections is to enable the reader to replicate exactly what you did, verify or corroborate your results, or maybe find that there are factors you did not consider or that are more relevant than expected.
To make this section as easy to read as possible, you must clearly connect it to the information you provide in the introduction section before and the results section after, it needs to have a clear structure (chronologically or according to topics), and you need to present your results according to the same structure or topics later in the manuscript. There are also official guidelines and journal instructions to follow and ethical issues to avoid to ensure that your manuscript can quickly reach the publication stage.
Table of Contents:
- General Methods Structure: What is Your Story?
- What Methods Should You Report (and Leave Out)?
- Details Frequently Missing from the Methods Section
More Journal Guidelines to Consider
- Accurate and Appropriate Language in the Methods
General Methods Section Structure: What Is Your Story?
You might have conducted a number of experiments, maybe also a pilot before the main study to determine some specific factors or a follow-up experiment to clarify unclear details later in the process. Throwing all of these into your methods section, however, might not help the reader understand how everything is connected and how useful and appropriate your methodological approach is to investigate your specific research question. You therefore need to first come up with a clear outline and decide what to report and how to present that to the reader.
The first (and very important) decision to make is whether you present your experiments chronologically (e.g., Experiment 1, Experiment 2, Experiment 3… ), and guide the reader through every step of the process, or if you organize everything according to subtopics (e.g., Behavioral measures, Structural imaging markers, Functional imaging markers… ). In both cases, you need to use clear subheaders for the different subsections of your methods, and, very importantly, follow the same structure or focus on the same topics/measures in the results section so that the reader can easily follow along (see the two examples below).
If you are in doubt which way of organizing your experiments is better for your study, just ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the reader need to know the timeline of your study?
- Is it relevant that one experiment was conducted first, because the outcome of this experiment determined the stimuli or factors that went into the next?
- Did the results of your first experiment leave important questions open that you addressed in an additional experiment (that was maybe not planned initially)?
- Is the answer to all of these questions “no”? Then organizing your methods section according to topics of interest might be the more logical choice.
If you think your timeline, protocol, or setup might be confusing or difficult for the reader to grasp, consider adding a graphic, flow diagram, decision tree, or table as a visual aid.
What Methods Should You Report (and Leave Out)?
The answer to this question is quite simple–you need to report everything that another researcher needs to know to be able to replicate your study. Just imagine yourself reading your methods section in the future and trying to set up the same experiments again without prior knowledge. You would probably need to ask questions such as:
- Where did you conduct your experiments (e.g., in what kind of room, under what lighting or temperature conditions, if those are relevant)?
- What devices did you use? Are there specific settings to report?
- What specific software (and version of that software) did you use?
- How did you find and select your participants?
- How did you assign participants into groups?
- Did you exclude participants from the analysis? Why and how?
- Where did your reagents or antibodies come from? Can you provide a Research Resource Identifier (RRID) ?
- Did you make your stimuli yourself or did you get them from somewhere?
- Are the stimuli you used available for other researchers?
- What kind of questionnaires did you use? Have they been validated?
- How did you analyze your data? What level of significance did you use?
- Were there any technical issues and did you have to adjust protocols?
Note that for every experimental detail you provide, you need to tell the reader (briefly) why you used this type of stimulus/this group of participants/these specific amounts of reagents. If there is earlier published research reporting the same methods, cite those studies. If you did pilot experiments to determine those details, describe the procedures and the outcomes of these experiments. If you made assumptions about the suitability of something based on the literature and common practice at your institution, then explain that to the reader.
In a nutshell, established methods need to be cited, and new methods need to be clearly described and briefly justified. However, if the fact that you use a new approach or a method that is not traditionally used for the data or phenomenon you study is one of the main points of your study (and maybe already reflected in the title of your article), then you need to explain your rationale for doing so in the introduction already and discuss it in more detail in the discussion section .
Note that you also need to explain your statistical analyses at the end of your methods section. You present the results of these analyses later, in the results section of your paper, but you need to show the reader in the methods section already that your approach is either well-established or valid, even if it is new or unusual.
When it comes to the question of what details you should leave out, the answer is equally simple ‒ everything that you would not need to replicate your study in the future. If the educational background of your participants is listed in your institutional database but is not relevant to your study outcome, then don’t include that. Other things you should not include in the methods section:
- Background information that you already presented in the introduction section.
- In-depth comparisons of different methods ‒ these belong in the discussion section.
- Results, unless you summarize outcomes of pilot experiments that helped you determine factors for your main experiment.
Also, make sure your subheadings are as clear as possible, suit the structure you chose for your methods section, and are in line with the target journal guidelines. If you studied a disease intervention in human participants, then your methods section could look similar to this:
Since the main point of interest here are your patient-centered outcome variables, you would center your results section on these as well and choose your headers accordingly (e.g., Patient characteristics, Baseline evaluation, Outcome variable 1, Outcome variable 2, Drop-out rate ).
If, instead, you did a series of visual experiments investigating the perception of faces including a pilot experiment to create the stimuli for your actual study, you would need to structure your methods section in a very different way, maybe like this:
Since here the analysis and outcome of the pilot experiment are already described in the methods section (as the basis for the main experimental setup and procedure), you do not have to mention it again in the results section. Instead, you could choose the two main experiments to structure your results section ( Discrimination and classification, Familiarization and adaptation ), or divide the results into all your test measures and/or potential interactions you described in the methods section (e.g., Discrimination performance, Classification performance, Adaptation aftereffects, Correlation analysis ).
Details Commonly Missing from the Methods Section
For laboratory or technical equipment, you need to provide the model, name of the manufacturer, and company’s location. The usual format for these details is the product name (company name, city, state) for US-based manufacturers and the product name (company name, city/town, country) for companies outside the US.
Sample size and power estimation
Power and sample size estimations are measures for how many patients or participants are needed in a study in order to detect statistical significance and draw meaningful conclusions from the results. Outside of the medical field, studies are sometimes still conducted with a “the more the better” approach in mind, but since many journals now ask for those details, it is better to not skip this important step.
Ethical guidelines and approval
In addition to describing what you did, you also need to assure the editor and reviewers that your methods and protocols followed all relevant ethical standards and guidelines. This includes applying for approval at your local or national ethics committee, providing the name or location of that committee as well as the approval reference number you received, and, if you studied human participants, a statement that participants were informed about all relevant experimental details in advance and signed consent forms before the start of the study. For animal studies, you usually need to provide a statement that all procedures included in your research were in line with the Declaration of Helsinki. Make sure you check the target journal guidelines carefully, as these statements sometimes need to be placed at the end of the main article text rather than in the method section.
Structure & word limitations
While many journals simply follow the usual style guidelines (e.g., APA for the social sciences and psychology, AMA for medical research) and let you choose the headers of your method section according to your preferred structure and focus, some have precise guidelines and strict limitations, for example, on manuscript length and the maximum number of subsections or header levels. Make sure you read the instructions of your target journal carefully and restructure your method section if necessary before submission. If the journal does not give you enough space to include all the details that you deem necessary, then you can usually submit additional details as “supplemental” files and refer to those in the main text where necessary.
In addition to ethical guidelines and approval, journals also often ask you to submit one of the official standardized checklists for different study types to ensure all essential details are included in your manuscript. For example, there are checklists for randomized clinical trials, CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) , cohort, case-control, cross‐sectional studies, STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology ), diagnostic accuracy, STARD (STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies) , systematic reviews and meta‐analyses PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta‐Analyses) , and Case reports, CARE (CAse REport) .
Make sure you check if the manuscript uses a single- or double-blind review procedure , and delete all information that might allow a reviewer to guess where the authors are located from the manuscript text if necessary. This means that your method section cannot list the name and location of your institution, the names of researchers who conducted specific tests, or the name of your institutional ethics committee.
Accurate and Appropriate Language in the Methods Section
Like all sections of your research paper, your method section needs to be written in an academic tone . That means it should be formal, vague expressions and colloquial language need to be avoided, and you need to correctly cite all your sources. If you describe human participants in your method section then you should be especially careful about your choice of words. For example, “participants” sounds more respectful than “subjects,” and patient-first language, that is, “patients with cancer,” is considered more appropriate than “cancer patients” by many journals.
Passive voice is often considered the standard for research papers, but it is completely fine to mix passive and active voice, even in the method section, to make your text as clear and concise as possible. Use the simple past tense to describe what you did, and the present tense when you refer to diagrams or tables. Have a look at this article if you need more general input on which verb tenses to use in a research paper .
Lastly, make sure you label all the standard tests and questionnaires you use correctly (look up the original publication when in doubt) and spell genes and proteins according to the common databases for the species you studied, such as the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee database for human studies .
Visit wordvice.ai to receive a free grammar check and English editing services (including manuscript editing , paper editing , and dissertation editing ) before submitting your manuscript to journal editors.
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- Knowledge Base
- 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 June 22, 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, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about methodology.
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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .
It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.
You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.
Option 1: Start with your “what”
What research problem or question did you investigate?
- Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
- Explore an under-researched topic?
- Establish a causal relationship?
And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?
- Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
- Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
- Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?
Option 2: Start with your “why”
Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?
- Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
- Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
- Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
- What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ? How did you prevent bias from affecting your data?
Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .
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.
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Next, you should indicate how you processed and analyzed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.
In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:
- How you prepared the data before analyzing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
- Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
- Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )
In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).
Specific methods might include:
- Content analysis : Categorizing and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
- Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
- Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context
Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.
Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.
In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .
- Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviors, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
- Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalized beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
- Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalizable.
Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.
1. Focus on your objectives and research questions
The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .
2. Cite relevant sources
Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:
- Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
- Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
- Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature
3. Write for your audience
Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.
Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.
If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Normal distribution
- Measures of central tendency
- Chi square tests
- Confidence interval
- Quartiles & Quantiles
- Cluster sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Thematic analysis
- Cohort study
- Peer review
- Implicit bias
- Cognitive bias
- Conformity bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Availability heuristic
- Attrition bias
Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.
Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).
In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .
In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.
In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion . The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation , or research proposal .
Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.
Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.
Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.
Reliability and validity are both about how well a method measures something:
- Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure (whether the results can be reproduced under the same conditions).
- Validity refers to the accuracy of a measure (whether the results really do represent what they are supposed to measure).
If you are doing experimental research, you also have to consider the internal and external validity of your experiment.
A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.
In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.
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How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is both an art and a skill, and knowing how to write the methods section of a research paper is the first crucial step in mastering scientific writing. If, like the majority of early career researchers, you believe that the methods section is the simplest to write and needs little in the way of careful consideration or thought, this article will help you understand it is not 1 .
We have all probably asked our supervisors, coworkers, or search engines “ how to write a methods section of a research paper ” at some point in our scientific careers, so you are not alone if that’s how you ended up here. Even for seasoned researchers, selecting what to include in the methods section from a wealth of experimental information can occasionally be a source of distress and perplexity.
Additionally, journal specifications, in some cases, may make it more of a requirement rather than a choice to provide a selective yet descriptive account of the experimental procedure. Hence, knowing these nuances of how to write the methods section of a research paper is critical to its success. The methods section of the research paper is not supposed to be a detailed heavy, dull section that some researchers tend to write; rather, it should be the central component of the study that justifies the validity and reliability of the research.
Are you still unsure of how the methods section of a research paper forms the basis of every investigation? Consider the last article you read but ignore the methods section and concentrate on the other parts of the paper . Now think whether you could repeat the study and be sure of the credibility of the findings despite knowing the literature review and even having the data in front of you. You have the answer!
Having established the importance of the methods section , the next question is how to write the methods section of a research paper that unifies the overall study. The purpose of the methods section , which was earlier called as Materials and Methods , is to describe how the authors went about answering the “research question” at hand. Here, the objective is to tell a coherent story that gives a detailed account of how the study was conducted, the rationale behind specific experimental procedures, the experimental setup, objects (variables) involved, the research protocol employed, tools utilized to measure, calculations and measurements, and the analysis of the collected data 2 .
In this article, we will take a deep dive into this topic and provide a detailed overview of how to write the methods section of a research paper . For the sake of clarity, we have separated the subject into various sections with corresponding subheadings.
Table of Contents
What is the methods section of a research paper ?
The methods section is a fundamental section of any paper since it typically discusses the ‘ what ’, ‘ how ’, ‘ which ’, and ‘ why ’ of the study, which is necessary to arrive at the final conclusions. In a research article, the introduction, which serves to set the foundation for comprehending the background and results is usually followed by the methods section, which precedes the result and discussion sections. The methods section must explicitly state what was done, how it was done, which equipment, tools and techniques were utilized, how were the measurements/calculations taken, and why specific research protocols, software, and analytical methods were employed.
Why is the methods section important?
The primary goal of the methods section is to provide pertinent details about the experimental approach so that the reader may put the results in perspective and, if necessary, replicate the findings 3 . This section offers readers the chance to evaluate the reliability and validity of any study. In short, it also serves as the study’s blueprint, assisting researchers who might be unsure about any other portion in establishing the study’s context and validity. The methods plays a rather crucial role in determining the fate of the article; an incomplete and unreliable methods section can frequently result in early rejections and may lead to numerous rounds of modifications during the publication process. This means that the reviewers also often use methods section to assess the reliability and validity of the research protocol and the data analysis employed to address the research topic. In other words, the purpose of the methods section is to demonstrate the research acumen and subject-matter expertise of the author(s) in their field.
Structure of methods section of a research paper
Similar to the research paper, the methods section also follows a defined structure; this may be dictated by the guidelines of a specific journal or can be presented in a chronological or thematic manner based on the study type. When writing the methods section , authors should keep in mind that they are telling a story about how the research was conducted. They should only report relevant information to avoid confusing the reader and include details that would aid in connecting various aspects of the entire research activity together. It is generally advisable to present experiments in the order in which they were conducted. This facilitates the logical flow of the research and allows readers to follow the progression of the study design.
It is also essential to clearly state the rationale behind each experiment and how the findings of earlier experiments informed the design or interpretation of later experiments. This allows the readers to understand the overall purpose of the study design and the significance of each experiment within that context. However, depending on the particular research question and method, it may make sense to present information in a different order; therefore, authors must select the best structure and strategy for their individual studies.
In cases where there is a lot of information, divide the sections into subheadings to cover the pertinent details. If the journal guidelines pose restrictions on the word limit , additional important information can be supplied in the supplementary files. A simple rule of thumb for sectioning the method section is to begin by explaining the methodological approach ( what was done ), describing the data collection methods ( how it was done ), providing the analysis method ( how the data was analyzed ), and explaining the rationale for choosing the methodological strategy. This is described in detail in the upcoming sections.
How to write the methods section of a research paper
Contrary to widespread assumption, the methods section of a research paper should be prepared once the study is complete to prevent missing any key parameter. Hence, please make sure that all relevant experiments are done before you start writing a methods section . The next step for authors is to look up any applicable academic style manuals or journal-specific standards to ensure that the methods section is formatted correctly. The methods section of a research paper typically constitutes materials and methods; while writing this section, authors usually arrange the information under each category.
The materials category describes the samples, materials, treatments, and instruments, while experimental design, sample preparation, data collection, and data analysis are a part of the method category. According to the nature of the study, authors should include additional subsections within the methods section, such as ethical considerations like the declaration of Helsinki (for studies involving human subjects), demographic information of the participants, and any other crucial information that can affect the output of the study. Simply put, the methods section has two major components: content and format. Here is an easy checklist for you to consider if you are struggling with how to write the methods section of a research paper .
- Explain the research design, subjects, and sample details
- Include information on inclusion and exclusion criteria
- Mention ethical or any other permission required for the study
- Include information about materials, experimental setup, tools, and software
- Add details of data collection and analysis methods
- Incorporate how research biases were avoided or confounding variables were controlled
- Evaluate and justify the experimental procedure selected to address the research question
- Provide precise and clear details of each experiment
- Flowcharts, infographics, or tables can be used to present complex information
- Use past tense to show that the experiments have been done
- Follow academic style guides (such as APA or MLA ) to structure the content
- Citations should be included as per standard protocols in the field
Now that you know how to write the methods section of a research paper , let’s address another challenge researchers face while writing the methods section —what to include in the methods section . How much information is too much is not always obvious when it comes to trying to include data in the methods section of a paper. In the next section, we examine this issue and explore potential solutions.
What to include in the methods section of a research paper
The technical nature of the methods section occasionally makes it harder to present the information clearly and concisely while staying within the study context. Many young researchers tend to veer off subject significantly, and they frequently commit the sin of becoming bogged down in itty bitty details, making the text harder to read and impairing its overall flow. However, the best way to write the methods section is to start with crucial components of the experiments. If you have trouble deciding which elements are essential, think about leaving out those that would make it more challenging to comprehend the context or replicate the results. The top-down approach helps to ensure all relevant information is incorporated and vital information is not lost in technicalities. Next, remember to add details that are significant to assess the validity and reliability of the study. Here is a simple checklist for you to follow ( bonus tip: you can also make a checklist for your own study to avoid missing any critical information while writing the methods section ).
- Structuring the methods section : Authors should diligently follow journal guidelines and adhere to the specific author instructions provided when writing the methods section . Journals typically have specific guidelines for formatting the methods section ; for example, Frontiers in Plant Sciences advises arranging the materials and methods section by subheading and citing relevant literature. There are several standardized checklists available for different study types in the biomedical field, including CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) for randomized clinical trials, PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis) for systematic reviews and meta-analysis, and STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology) for cohort, case-control, cross-sectional studies. Before starting the methods section , check the checklist available in your field that can function as a guide.
- Organizing different sections to tell a story : Once you are sure of the format required for structuring the methods section , the next is to present the sections in a logical manner; as mentioned earlier, the sections can be organized according to the chronology or themes. In the chronological arrangement, you should discuss the methods in accordance with how the experiments were carried out. An example of the method section of a research paper of an animal study should first ideally include information about the species, weight, sex, strain, and age. Next, the number of animals, their initial conditions, and their living and housing conditions should also be mentioned. Second, how the groups are assigned and the intervention (drug treatment, stress, or other) given to each group, and finally, the details of tools and techniques used to measure, collect, and analyze the data. Experiments involving animal or human subjects should additionally state an ethics approval statement. It is best to arrange the section using the thematic approach when discussing distinct experiments not following a sequential order.
- Define and explain the objects and procedure: Experimental procedure should clearly be stated in the methods section . Samples, necessary preparations (samples, treatment, and drug), and methods for manipulation need to be included. All variables (control, dependent, independent, and confounding) must be clearly defined, particularly if the confounding variables can affect the outcome of the study.
- Match the order of the methods section with the order of results: Though not mandatory, organizing the manuscript in a logical and coherent manner can improve the readability and clarity of the paper. This can be done by following a consistent structure throughout the manuscript; readers can easily navigate through the different sections and understand the methods and results in relation to each other. Using experiment names as headings for both the methods and results sections can also make it simpler for readers to locate specific information and corroborate it if needed.
- Relevant information must always be included: The methods section should have information on all experiments conducted and their details clearly mentioned. Ask the journal whether there is a way to offer more information in the supplemental files or external repositories if your target journal has strict word limitations. For example, Nature communications encourages authors to deposit their step-by-step protocols in an open-resource depository, Protocol Exchange which allows the protocols to be linked with the manuscript upon publication. Providing access to detailed protocols also helps to increase the transparency and reproducibility of the research.
- It’s all in the details: The methods section should meticulously list all the materials, tools, instruments, and software used for different experiments. Specify the testing equipment on which data was obtained, together with its manufacturer’s information, location, city, and state or any other stimuli used to manipulate the variables. Provide specifics on the research process you employed; if it was a standard protocol, cite previous studies that also used the protocol. Include any protocol modifications that were made, as well as any other factors that were taken into account when planning the study or gathering data. Any new or modified techniques should be explained by the authors. Typically, readers evaluate the reliability and validity of the procedures using the cited literature, and a widely accepted checklist helps to support the credibility of the methodology. Note: Authors should include a statement on sample size estimation (if applicable), which is often missed. It enables the reader to determine how many subjects will be required to detect the expected change in the outcome variables within a given confidence interval.
- Write for the audience: While explaining the details in the methods section , authors should be mindful of their target audience, as some of the rationale or assumptions on which specific procedures are based might not always be obvious to the audience, particularly for a general audience. Therefore, when in doubt, the objective of a procedure should be specified either in relation to the research question or to the entire protocol.
- Data interpretation and analysis : Information on data processing, statistical testing, levels of significance, and analysis tools and software should be added. Mention if the recommendations and expertise of an experienced statistician were followed. Also, evaluate and justify the preferred statistical method used in the study and its significance.
What NOT to include in the methods section of a research paper
To address “ how to write the methods section of a research paper ”, authors should not only pay careful attention to what to include but also what not to include in the methods section of a research paper . Here is a list of do not’s when writing the methods section :
- Do not elaborate on specifics of standard methods/procedures: You should refrain from adding unnecessary details of experiments and practices that are well established and cited previously. Instead, simply cite relevant literature or mention if the manufacturer’s protocol was followed.
- Do not add unnecessary details : Do not include minute details of the experimental procedure and materials/instruments used that are not significant for the outcome of the experiment. For example, there is no need to mention the brand name of the water bath used for incubation.
- Do not discuss the results: The methods section is not to discuss the results or refer to the tables and figures; save it for the results and discussion section. Also, focus on the methods selected to conduct the study and avoid diverting to other methods or commenting on their pros or cons.
- Do not make the section bulky : For extensive methods and protocols, provide the essential details and share the rest of the information in the supplemental files. The writing should be clear yet concise to maintain the flow of the section.
We hope that by this point, you understand how crucial it is to write a thoughtful and precise methods section and the ins and outs of how to write the methods section of a research paper . To restate, the entire purpose of the methods section is to enable others to reproduce the results or verify the research. We sincerely hope that this post has cleared up any confusion and given you a fresh perspective on the methods section .
As a parting gift, we’re leaving you with a handy checklist that will help you understand how to write the methods section of a research paper . Feel free to download this checklist and use or share this with those who you think may benefit from it.
- Bhattacharya, D. How to write the Methods section of a research paper. Editage Insights, 2018. https://www.editage.com/insights/how-to-write-the-methods-section-of-a-research-paper (2018).
- Kallet, R. H. How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper. Respiratory Care 49, 1229–1232 (2004). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15447808/
- Grindstaff, T. L. & Saliba, S. A. AVOIDING MANUSCRIPT MISTAKES. Int J Sports Phys Ther 7, 518–524 (2012). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3474299/
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How to Write the Methods Section of a Scientific Article
What Is the Methods Section of a Research Paper?
The Methods section of a research article includes an explanation of the procedures used to conduct the experiment. For authors of scientific research papers , the objective is to present their findings clearly and concisely and to provide enough information so that the experiment can be duplicated.
Research articles contain very specific sections, usually dictated by either the target journal or specific style guides. For example, in the social and behavioral sciences, the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide is used to gather information on how the manuscript should be arranged . As with most styles, APA’s objectives are to ensure that manuscripts are written with minimum distractions to the reader. Every research article should include a detailed Methods section after the Introduction.
Why is the Methods Section Important?
The Methods section (also referred to as “Materials and Methods”) is important because it provides the reader enough information to judge whether the study is valid and reproducible.
Structure of the Methods Section in a Research Paper
While designing a research study, authors typically decide on the key points that they’re trying to prove or the “ cause-and-effect relationship ” between objects of the study. Very simply, the study is designed to meet the objective. According to APA, a Methods section comprises of the following three subsections: participants, apparatus, and procedure.
How do You Write a Method Section in Biology?
In biological sciences, the Methods section might be more detailed, but the objectives are the same—to present the study clearly and concisely so that it is understandable and can be duplicated.
If animals (including human subjects) were used in the study, authors should ensure to include statements that they were treated according to the protocols outlined to ensure that treatment is as humane as possible.
- The Declaration of Helsinki is a set of ethical principles developed by The World Medical Association to provide guidance to scientists and physicians in medical research involving human subjects.
Research conducted at an institution using human participants is overseen by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) with which it is affiliated. IRB is an administrative body whose purpose is to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects during their participation in the study.
Literature searches are performed to gather as much information as relevant from previous studies. They are important for providing evidence on the topic and help validate the research. Most are accomplished using keywords or phrases to search relevant databases. For example, both MEDLINE and PubMed provide information on biomedical literature. Google Scholar, according to APA, is “one of the best sources available to an individual beginning a literature search.” APA also suggests using PsycINFO and refers to it as “the premier database for locating articles in psychological science and related literature.”
Authors must make sure to have a set of keywords (usually taken from the objective statement) to stay focused and to avoid having the search move far from the original objective. Authors will benefit by setting limiting parameters, such as date ranges, and avoiding getting pulled into the trap of using non-valid resources, such as social media, conversations with people in the same discipline, or similar non-valid sources, as references.
Related: Ready with your methods section and looking forward to manuscript submission ? Check these journal selection guidelines now!
What Should be Included in the Methods Section of a Research Paper?
One commonly misused term in research papers is “methodology.” Methodology refers to a branch of the Philosophy of Science which deals with scientific methods, not to the methods themselves, so authors should avoid using it. Here is the list of main subsections that should be included in the Methods section of a research paper ; authors might use subheadings more clearly to describe their research.
- Literature search : Authors should cite any sources that helped with their choice of methods. Authors should indicate timeframes of past studies and their particular parameters.
- Study participants : Authors should cite the source from where they received any non-human subjects. The number of animals used, the ages, sex, their initial conditions, and how they were housed and cared for, should be listed. In case of human subjects, authors should provide the characteristics, such as geographical location; their age ranges, sex, and medical history (if relevant); and the number of subjects. In case hospital records were used, authors should include the subjects’ basic health information and vital statistics at the beginning of the study. Authors should also state that written informed consent was provided by each subject.
- Inclusion/exclusion criteria : Authors should describe their inclusion and exclusion criteria, how they were determined, and how many subjects were eliminated.
- Group characteristics (could be combined with “Study participants”) : Authors should describe how the chosen group was divided into subgroups and their characteristics, including the control. Authors should also describe any specific equipment used, such as housing needs and feed (usually for animal studies). If patient records are reviewed and assessed, authors should mention whether the reviewers were blinded to them.
- Procedures : Authors should describe their study design. Any necessary preparations (e.g., tissue samples, drugs) and instruments must be explained. Authors should describe how the subjects were “ manipulated to answer the experimental question .” Timeframes should be included to ensure that the procedures are clear (e.g., “Rats were given XX drug for 14 d”). For animals sacrificed, the methods used and the protocols followed should be outlined.
- Statistical analyses: The type of data, how they were measured, and which statistical tests were performed, should be described. (Note: This is not the “results” section; any relevant tables and figures should be referenced later.) Specific software used must be cited.
What Should not be Included in Your Methods Section?
Common pitfalls can make the manuscript cumbersome to read or might make the readers question the validity of the research. The University of Southern California provides some guidelines .
- Background information that is not helpful must be avoided.
- Authors must avoid providing a lot of detail.
- Authors should focus more on how their method was used to meet their objective and less on mechanics .
- Any obstacles faced and how they were overcome should be described (often in your “Study Limitations”). This will help validate the results.
According to the University of Richmond , authors must avoid including extensive details or an exhaustive list of equipment that have been used as readers could quickly lose attention. These unnecessary details add nothing to validate the research and do not help the reader understand how the objective was satisfied. A well-thought-out Methods section is one of the most important parts of the manuscript. Authors must make a note to always prepare a draft that lists all parts, allow others to review it, and revise it to remove any superfluous information.
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How to Write a Methods Section for a Psychology Paper
Tips and Examples of an APA Methods Section
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
The methods 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.
Method refers to the procedure that was used in a research study. It included a precise description of how the experiments were performed and why particular procedures were selected. While the APA technically refers to this section as the 'method section,' it is also often known as a 'methods section.'
The methods section ensures the experiment's reproducibility and the assessment of alternative methods that might produce different results. It also allows researchers to replicate the experiment and judge the study's validity.
This article discusses how to write a methods section for a psychology paper, including important elements to include and tips that can help.
What to Include in a Method Section
So what exactly do you need to include when writing your method section? You should provide detailed information on the following:
- Research design
- Participant behavior
The method section should provide enough information to allow other researchers to replicate your experiment or study.
Components of a Method Section
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
- Any restrictions on your pool of participants
- How many participants were assigned to each condition and how they were assigned to each group (i.e., randomly assignment , another selection method, etc.)
- Why participants took part in your research (i.e., the study was advertised at a college or hospital, they received some type of incentive, etc.)
Information about 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.
In this part of the method section, you should describe the materials, measures, equipment, or stimuli used in the experiment. This may include:
- Testing instruments
- Technical equipment
- Any psychological assessments that were used
- Any special equipment that was used
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.
Specialized equipment should be given greater detail, especially if it is complex or created for a niche purpose. In some instances, such as if you created a special material or apparatus for your study, you might need to include an illustration of the item in the appendix of your paper.
In this part of your method section, describe the type of design used in the experiment. Specify the variables as well as the levels of these variables. Identify:
- The independent variables
- Dependent variables
- Control variables
- Any extraneous variables that might influence your results.
Also, explain whether your experiment uses a within-groups or between-groups design.
For example: "The experiment used a 3x2 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. Your procedures should explain:
- What the participants did
- How data was collected
- 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.
Tips for How to Write a Methods Section
In addition to following the basic structure of an APA method section, there are also certain things you should remember when writing this section of your paper. Consider the following tips when writing this section:
- 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 an academic tone : Use formal language and avoid slang or colloquial expressions. Word choice is also important. Refer to the people in your experiment or study as "participants" rather than "subjects."
- Use APA format : Keep a style guide on hand as you write your method section. 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.
After writing a draft of your method section, be sure to get a second opinion. You can often 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
While the subsections can vary, the three components that should be included are sections on the participants, the materials, and the procedures.
- Describe who the participants were in the study and how they were selected.
- Define and describe the materials that were used including any equipment, tests, or assessments
- Describe how the data was collected
To write your methods section in APA format, describe your participants, materials, study design, and procedures. Keep this section succinct, and always write in the past tense. The main heading of this section should be labeled "Method" and it should be centered, bolded, and capitalized. Each subheading within this section should be bolded, left-aligned and in title case.
The purpose of the methods section is to describe what you did in your experiment. It should be brief, but include enough detail that someone could replicate your experiment based on this information. Your methods section should detail what you did to answer your research question. Describe how the study was conducted, the study design that was used and why it was chosen, and how you collected the data and analyzed the results.
Erdemir F. How to write a materials and methods section of a scientific article ? Turk J Urol . 2013;39(Suppl 1):10-5. doi:10.5152/tud.2013.047
Kallet RH. How to write the methods section of a research paper . Respir Care . 2004;49(10):1229-32. PMID: 15447808.
American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2019.
American Psychological Association. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards . Published 2020.
By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
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- Charlesworth Author Services
- 12 March, 2021
- Academic Writing Skills
The methods section is very straightforward to write, but it does require a lot of technical detail, so writing this section can be time-intensive. In this section, you describe how you conducted your study, and making sure that this section is clear and complete is of utmost importance to readers and reviewers. Journal reviewers will weigh this section heavily during the peer-review process, as will journal editors. Readers will also need assurance about how you conducted your study in order to have confidence in what you found. In other words, the information you provide in your methods section is what other researchers will use to determine the validity of your results and conclusions.
Elements of a Methods Section
research design ..
You should describe the research design you chose. Connect this choice to the aims of the research project and describe why you chose this design and how it will facilitate meeting the objectives of your study. For example, Crawford and Loprinzi (2019) describe their design in an article published in Psych.
A counterbalanced, randomized controlled, within-subject design was employed. The three counterbalanced visits included a control visit, moderate-intensity exercise (50% of HRR; heart rate reserve) and vigorous-intensity exercise (80% of HRR). (p. 292)
Describe who the participants were for your study. You should include information about any demographics that are relevant for your study. For example, if age is a factor in your study, provide information about the distribution of participants across different age groups. Tables can be very useful for displaying demographic information. Did you utilize random sampling, a selected sample, or a sample of convenience? State why the sampling technique you used is appropriate for the study and how it is aligned with your research questions. For example, Holm et al. (2020) use a table to display important demographic information about participants in their study ‘Big-fish-little-pond effect on achievement emotions in relation to mathematics performance and gender’.
(Holms et al. (2020), p.4)
Intervention study designs are ones that investigate the outcomes of a specific Intervention. Examples of interventions are those that involve a new drug, therapy, or educational approach. You should describe the intervention in enough detail, so readers understand it.
Data Collection Methods and Procedures.
Describe the methods you used for collecting data. Also describe any measures used. You should include reliability and validity information on all your research instruments. Describe any materials that were used in the study. Finally, describe the procedure used in the order in which they occurred. You should always include details about any steps taken to minimize bias and reduce threats to the validity of the study.
Describe how you analyzed the data. Include statistical tests you used, and a description of any power analysis conducted. In the same paper referenced above, Crawford and Loprinzi (2019) describe their statistical analyses.
All analyses were completed in SPSS (v. 23, IBM, SPSS, Armonk, NY, USA) or JASP (v. 0.9.1; Netherlands). Both frequentist and Bayesian analyses were computed. For the frequentist analyses, repeated measures analysis of variance (RM-ANOVA) was computed to examine the differences among memory outcomes between the control, moderate, and vigorous conditions. These frequentist analyses were supplemented with Bayesian RM-ANOVA analyses because Bayesian analyses do not assume large samples and typically smaller sample sizes can be analyzed without losing power while retaining precision [66,67]. For the Bayesian RM-ANOVA, Bayes Factors (BF) are reported, with a BF greater than 3.0 indicating substantial support for the alternative hypothesis . For the frequentist analyses, statistical significance was set at an a priori alpha level of 0.05. (p.295)
Quick Tips for Writing a Methods Section
1. A good tip for writing the methods section is to outline it, and add information to it, as you are conducting your research project. This way, you will have a strong start when you come to writing your academic paper. If your paper is the result of research for which you submitted a proposal, you can pull pieces for this section from the proposal and edit and update them as necessary.
2. The format of this section is very important. You want to make it easy to follow for reviewers and ultimately for readers. Read and understand all the formatting guidelines of the journal to which you are submitting. Use appropriate subheadings to divide the different sections. It can be helpful to look at the headings and subheadings used in other articles from your target journal.
3. Describe the methods in enough detail that the reader can follow the path you took to conduct your study. When writing an academic paper, you must find a balance between providing sufficient detail and being succinct. Ask colleagues to read this section of your draft paper and provide feedback on whether they feel there is enough detail and if they believe the section, as is it written, is rigorous.
4. Break up the text with appropriate visuals that help the reader to grasp the content. If your study included an intervention, you might include a graphic that illustrates what the intervention was or how the intervention took place. A table can also be used to explain activities that took place during the study, when they took place, and who the participants were. Academics often use a table to illustrate the alignment between research questions, data collected, and data analyses.
5. Seek feedback from those with expertise in the methods you are using. Technical expertise is invaluable, and colleagues can help ensure that your explanation of the methods is clear and accurate. They can also provide feedback on any central details they feel are missing from your paper. Reaching out to colleagues who have served as peer-reviewers for scientific journals is also a great way to get actionable feedback that can help you strengthen your paper.
6. Read, read, and read some more. You cannot read too many research articles. These can provide you with a wealth of ideas and inspiration. Seeing how academics, who have successfully published, approach the methods section of their papers will make your writing process so much smoother.
What to Avoid
If you are using methods that are well known in your field, you do not have to explain those in detail. However, do include citations for research articles where these methods have been used before. Not including reliability and validity information about measures used in the study is a common mistake and makes it difficult for readers to judge the validity of your results. Do not write the methods section in the present tense, it should always be written in the past tense. If you are copying and pasting a methods section from a grant proposal to an academic paper, don’t forget to change the future tense to the past tense. Additionally, remember to check whether there are any revisions you need to make based on changes that occurred as you conducted the study. Finally, check the revised excerpt you make sure it meets the formatting requirements of the journal.
In conclusion, the methods section of your paper will weigh heavily in the peer-review process. Dedicate the time needed to make this section as strong as it can be. Seek input from those who have expertise in your chosen methodology. Ask for feedback about the amount of technical information included in this section, as well as feedback on the coherence and flow of the section. And do not submit without proofreading your paper. As academics, we often run into a time crunch. However, submitting a paper with typos and errors is never a good idea. Seek out a professional service to help you with editing and proofreading your paper before you submit.
Finally, if at first you don’t succeed read carefully through any reviewer comments and start again.
Crawford L, Loprinzi P. Effects of Intensity-Specific Acute Exercise on Paired-Associative Memory and Memory Interference. Psych. 2019; 1(1):290-305. https://doi.org/10.3390/psych1010020. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Holm, M. E., Korhonen, J. Piia, A., Björn, M., Sakari Hannula, M. (2020). Big-fish-little-pond effect on achievement emotions in relation to mathematics performance and gender, International Journal of Educational Research, Volume 104, ISSN 0883-0355, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101692. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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