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ry student is unique, and methods of teaching need to be customised.

I try
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Believe in simpfying things to help understand, one step at a time and gradually
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Research Guides
Ask a Librarian

1. University of Southern California

2. Research Guides

3. Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

4. 6. The Methodology
Search this Guide Search

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: 6. The


Methodology
This guide provides advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social
and behavioral sciences.

 Purpose of Guide
 Types of Research DesignsToggle Dropdown
 1. Choosing a Research ProblemToggle Dropdown
 2. Preparing to WriteToggle Dropdown
 3. The AbstractToggle Dropdown
 4. The IntroductionToggle Dropdown
 5. The Literature ReviewToggle Dropdown
 6. The MethodologyToggle Dropdown
 7. The ResultsToggle Dropdown
 8. The DiscussionToggle Dropdown
 9. The ConclusionToggle Dropdown
 10. Proofreading Your PaperToggle Dropdown
 11. Citing SourcesToggle Dropdown
 Annotated Bibliography
 Giving an Oral PresentationToggle Dropdown
 Grading Someone Else's Paper
 How to Manage Group ProjectsToggle Dropdown
 Writing a Book ReviewToggle Dropdown
 Writing a Case Study
 Writing a Field ReportToggle Dropdown
 Writing a Policy Memo
 Writing a Research Proposal
 AcknowledgementsToggle Dropdown
Definition

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

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

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

 Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the
results and, by extension, how you interpreted their significance.
 Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces
unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your interpretations of the
findings.

 In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a
research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons
why you chose a particular procedure or technique.

 The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent
with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice
questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of
answers to choose from.

 The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you
need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make
recommendations based upon the findings.

 The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to
prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in
which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your
interpretation of the findings.

 In the social and behavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to
allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly
important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an existing method
is utilized.

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

I. Groups of Research Methods


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

1. The empirical-analytical group approaches the study of social sciences in a similar


manner that researchers study the natural sciences. This type of research focuses on
objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational
definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive
reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be
tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
2. The interpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a
comprehensive, holistic way. Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the
meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do
what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate
observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the
phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful
examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.
II. Content
The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research
problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the
methods you will use to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your
field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the
method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature
demonstrates that the method is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of
methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior
studies.

The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:

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

In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:

 Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research


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

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

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

YET ANOTHER NOTE: If your study involves interviews, observations, or other qualitative
techniques involving human subjects, you may be required to obtain approval from your
Institutional Review Board before beginning your research. If this is the case, you must include a
statement in your methods section that you received official endorsement and adequate informed
consent from the IRB and that there was a clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants
and to the university. This statement informs the reader that your study was conducted in an ethical
and responsible manner. In some cases, the IRB approval notice is included as an appendix to your
paper.

III. Problems to Avoid


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

Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures


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

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

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

It’s More than Sources of Information!


A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of
information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an
explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology
complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information
emanating from those sources.
Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa
de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate
Thesis or Dissertation, Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin,
Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010;
Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard
H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-
1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for
Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods
Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik
and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your
Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications,
2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of
Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The
OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-
Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.
Writing Tip

Statistical Designs and Tests? Do Not Fear Them!


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

To locate data and statistics,GO HERE.


Another Writing Tip

Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods


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

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

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

Yet Another Writing Tip

Methods and the Methodology


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

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

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

 Last Updated: Jan 15, 2019 1:49 PM


 URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide
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 Understanding different research perspectives
 8 Research methodology
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Introduction


Learning outcomes


1 Objective and subjective research perspectives


2 The researcher as an outsider or an insider

3 Deciding what to research


4 Research ethics


5 Developing research questions


6 Research strategy


7 Research design

 Current section:
8 Research methodology


9 Further development of your research questions


10 Research hypotheses


Conclusion


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References


Acknowledgements

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8 Research methodology
The most important methodological choice researchers make is based on the distinction
between qualitative and quantitative data. As mentioned previously, qualitative data
takes the form of descriptions based on language or images, while quantitative data
takes the form of numbers.
Qualitative data is richer and is generally grounded in a subjective and interpretivist
perspective. However, while this is generally the case, it is not always so. Qualitative
research supports an in-depth understanding of the situation investigated and, due to
time constraints, it generally involves a small sample of participants. For this reason the
findings are limited to the sample studied and cannot be generalised to other contexts
or to the wider population. Popular methods based on qualitative data include semi-
structured or unstructured interviews, participant observations and document analysis.
Qualitative analysis is generally more time-consuming than quantitative analysis.
Quantitative data, on the other hand, might be easier to collect and analyse and it is
based on a large sample of participants. Quantitative methods are based on data that
can be ‘objectively’ measured with numbers. The data is analysed through numerical
comparisons and statistical analysis. For this reason it appears more ‘scientific’ and
may appeal to people who seek clear answers to specific causal questions. Quantitative
analysis is often quicker to carry out as it involves the use of software. Owing to the
large number of respondents it allows generalisation to a wider group than the research
sample. Popular methods based on quantitative data include questionnaires and
organisational statistical records among others.
The choice of which methodology to use will depend on your research questions, the
formulation of which is consequently informed by your research perspective. Generally,
unstructured or semi-structured interviews produce qualitative data and questionnaires
produce quantitative data, but such a distinction is not always applicable. In fact,
language-based data can often be translated into numbers; for example, by reporting
the frequency of certain key words. Questionnaires can produce quantitative as well as
qualitative data; for example, multiple choice questions produce quantitative data, while
open questions produce qualitative data.

Activity 8
About 90 minutes

Go back to the two papers you started reading in Activity 1 and read the methodology
sections (they may be called methods or something similar) of both papers.
Now answer the following questions.
 What type of method(s) have the author/s in article 1 used to collect data?
 What method of analysis have these author/s used?
 What type of method(s) have the author/s in article 2 used to collect data?
 What methods of analysis have these author/s used?
 How do you think the methods used in both papers address the initial research aims or
questions?
 Why do you think the methods used in both papers are appropriate to address these initial
research aims or questions?
You can type text here, but this facility requires a free OU account. Sign in or register.
This course so far has given you an overview of the research strategy, design and
possible methodologies for collecting data. What you have learned should be enough
for you to have developed a clear idea of the general research strategy you want to
adopt before you move on to develop your methodology for collecting data and review
the methods in detail so that you are clear about the benefits and limitations of each
before you collect your data.

Previous 7 Research design

Next 9 Further development of your research questions

B865_1

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