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- What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips
What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips
Published on 25 February 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 10 October 2022.
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.
It should include:
- The type of research you conducted
- How you collected and analysed your data
- Any tools or materials you used in the research
- Why you chose these methods
- Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
- Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
- Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).
Table of contents
How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, frequently asked questions about methodology.
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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 ?
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 generalisable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.
Here, explain how you operationalised your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion/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 4–8 July 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.
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 analyse?
- How did you select them?
In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness shop’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.
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 here.
Next, you should indicate how you processed and analysed 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 analysing 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 : Categorising 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 behaviours, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
- Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalised 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 generalisable.
Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.
1. Focus on your objectives and research questions
The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .
2. Cite relevant sources
Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:
- Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
- Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
- Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature
3. Write for your audience
Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.
Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.
Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research. Developing your methodology involves studying the research methods used in your field and the theories or principles that underpin them, in order to choose the approach that best matches your objectives.
Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyse data (e.g. interviews, experiments , surveys , statistical tests ).
In a dissertation or scientific paper, the methodology chapter or methods section comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion .
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 test a hypothesis by systematically collecting and analysing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.
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.
Statistical sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population. There are various sampling methods you can use to ensure that your sample is representative of the population as a whole.
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Writing a Methodology for your Dissertation | Complete Guide & Steps
What is a methodology.
The methodology is perhaps the most challenging and laborious part of the dissertation . Essentially, the methodology helps in understanding the broad, philosophical approach behind the methods of research you chose to employ in your study. The research methodology elaborates on the ‘how’ part of your research.
This means that your methodology chapter should clearly state whether you chose to use quantitative or qualitative data collection techniques or a mix of both.
Your research methodology should explain the following:
- What was the purpose of your research?
- What type of research method was used?
- What were the data-collecting methods?
- How did you analyse the data?
- What kind of resources were used in your research?
- Why did you choose these methods?
You will be required to provide justifications as to why you preferred a certain method over the others. If you are trying to figure out exactly how to write methodology or the structure of a methodology for a dissertation, this article will point you in the right direction.
Students must be sure of why they chose a certain research method over another. “I figured out” or “In my opinion” statements will not be an acceptable justification. So, you will need to come up with concrete academic reasons for your selection of research methods.
What are the Standard Contents of a Research Methodology?
The methodology generally acts as a guideline or plan for exactly how you intend to carry out your research. This is especially true for students who must submit their methodology chapter before carrying out the research.
Your methodology should link back to the literature review and clearly state why you chose certain data collection and analysis methods for your research/dissertation project.
The methodology chapter consists of the following:
- Research Design
- Philosophical Approach
- Data Collection Methods
- Research Limitations
- Ethical Considerations (If Any)
- Data Analysis Methods
For those who are submitting their dissertation as a single paper, their methodology should also touch on any modifications they had to make as their work progressed.
However, it is essential to provide academic justifications for all choices made by the researcher.
How to Choose your Dissertation Methodology and Research Design?
The theme of your research methodology chapter should be related to your literature review and research question (s).
You can visit your college or university library to find textbooks and articles that provide information about the commonly employed research methods .
An intensive reading of such books can help you devise your research philosophy and choose the appropriate methods. Any limitations or weaknesses of your chosen research approach should also be explained, as well as the strategies to overcome them.
To research well, you should read well! Read as many research articles (from reputed journals) as you can. Seeing how other researchers use methods in their studies and why will help you justify, in the long run, your own research method(s).
Regardless of the chosen research approach, you will find researchers who either support it or don’t. Use the arguments for and against articulated in the literature to clarify why you decided to choose the selected research design and why the research limitations are irrelevant to your research.
How to Structure your Dissertation Methodology?
The typical structure of the methodology chapter is as follows:
- Research Design And Strategy
- Methods Of Data Collection And Data Analysis
- Ethical Considerations, Reliability , Limitations And Generalisability
In research jargon, generalisability is termed external validity . It means how generalisable your research findings are to other contexts, places, times, people, etc. External validity is expected to be significantly high, especially in quantitative studies.
According to USC-Research Guides (2017) , a research design’s primary function is to enable the researcher to answer the research questions through evidence effectively. Generally, this section will shed light on how you collected your data.
The researcher will have to justify their choice of data collection methods, such as the one that was reviewed, the use of data tools (interviews, phone surveys, questionnaires, observation, online surveys , etc.) and the like.
Moreover, data sampling choice should also be clearly explained with a focus on how you chose the ethnicity, group, profession and age of the participants.
- What type of questions do you intend to ask the respondents?
- How will they help to answer your research questions ?
- How will they help to test the hypothesis of the dissertation?
It is recommended to prepare these questions at the start of your research. You should develop your research problem and questions. This approach can allow the room to change or modify research questions if your data collection methods do not give the desired results.
It’s a good practice to keep referring to your research questions whilst planning or writing the research design section. This will help your reader recall what the research is about; why you have done what you did. Even though this technique is recommended to be applied at the start of every section within a dissertation, it’s especially beneficial in the methodology section.
In short, you will need to make sure that the data you are going to collect relates to the topic you are exploring. The complexity and length of the research design section will vary depending on your academic subject and the scope of your research, but a well-written research design will have the following characteristics:
- It sheds light on alternative research design options and justifies why your chosen design is the best to address the research problem.
- Clearly specifies the research questions that the research aims to address or the hypothesis to validate.
- Explain how the collected data will help address the research problem and discusses your research methodology to collect the data.
Philosophical Approach Behind Writing a Methodology
This will discuss your chosen philosophy to strengthen your research and the research model. Commonly employed philosophies in academia are
There are several other research philosophies that you could adopt.
The choice of philosophy will depend on many factors, including your academic subject and the type and complexity of the research study. Regardless of which philosophy is used, you will be required to make different assumptions about the world.
Once you have chosen your research philosophy, the next step will describe your research context to answer all the questions, including when, where, why, how and what of your research.
Essentially, as a researcher, you will be required to decide whether you will be using a qualitative method, a quantitative method or a mix of both.
Did you know?
Using both qualitative and quantitative methods leads to the use of a mixed-methods approach. This approach also goes by another seldom-used name: eclectic approach.
The process of data collection is different for each method. Typically, you would want to decide whether you will adopt the positivist approach, defining your hypothesis and testing it against reality.
If this is the case, you will be required to take the quantitative approach, collecting numerical data at a large scale (from 30 or more respondents) and testing your hypotheses with this data.
Collecting data from at least 30 respondents/participants ensures reliable statistical analysis . This is especially true for quantitative studies. If the data contains less than 30 responses, it won’t be enough to carry out reliable statistical analyses on such data.
The other option for you would be to base your research on a qualitative approach, which will point you in a direction where you will be investigating broader areas by identifying people’s emotions and perceptions of a subject.
With a qualitative approach, you will have to collect responses from respondents and look at them in all their richness to develop theories about the field you are exploring.
Finally, you can also use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods (which is becoming increasingly popular among researchers these days). This method is beneficial if you are interested in putting quantitative data into a real-world context or reflecting different perspectives on a subject.
Research philosophy in the ‘research onion.’
Methods of Data Collection and Data Analysis
This section will require you to clearly specify how you gathered the data and briefly discuss the tools you used to analyse it. For example, you may choose to conduct surveys and/or interviews as part of the data collection process.
Similarly, if you used software such as Excel or SPSS to process the data , you will have to justify your software choice. In this section of your methodology chapter , you will also have to explain how you arrived at your findings and how reliable they are.
It is important to note that your readers or supervisor would want to see a correlation between your findings and the hypothesis/research questions you based your study on at the very beginning.
Your supervisor or dissertation research assistant can play a key role in helping you write the methodology chapter according to established research standards. So, keep your supervisor in the loop to get their contributions and recommendations throughout the process.
In this section, you should briefly describe the methods you’ve used to analyse the data you’ve collected.
The qualitative method includes analysing language, images, audio, videos, or any textual data (textual analysis). The following types of methods are used in textual analysis .
Discourse analysis is an essential aspect of studying a language and its uses in day-to-day life.
It is a method of studying and retrieving meaningful information from documents Thematic analysis:
It’s a method of identifying patterns of themes in the collected information, such as face-to-face interviews, texts, and transcripts.
Example: After collecting the data, it was checked thoroughly to find the missing information. The interviews were transcribed, and textual analysis was conducted. The repetitions of the text, types of colours displayed, and the tone of the speakers was measured.
Quantitative data analysis is used for analysing numerical data. Include the following points:
- The methods of preparing data before analysing it.
- Which statistical test you have used? (one-ended test, two-ended test)
- The type of software you’ve used.
Ethical Considerations, Reliability and Limitations of a Dissertation Methodology
Other important sections of your methodology are:
Always consider how your research will influence other individuals who are beyond the scope of the study. This is especially true for human subjects. As a researcher, you are always expected to make sure that your research and ideas do not harm anyone in any way.Discussion concerning data protection, data handling and data confidentiality will also be included in this brief segment.
- How did you ensure your participants’/respondents’ anonymity and/or confidentiality?
- Did you remove any identifiable markers after conducting the study (post-test stage) so that readers wouldn’t be able to guess the identity of the participant/respondent?
- Was personal information collected according to the purpose of the research? (For instance, asking respondents their age when it wasn’t even relevant in the study). All such ethical considerations need to be mentioned.
Even though there is no established rule to include ethical considerations and limitations within the methodology section, it’s generally recommended to include it in this section, as it makes more sense than including it, say, after the discussions section or within the conclusion.
This is mainly because limitations almost always occur in the methodology stage of research. And ethical considerations need to be taken while sampling, an important aspect of the research methodology.
Here are some examples of ethical issues that you should be mindful of
- Does your research involve participants recalling episodes of suffering and pain?
- Are you trying to find answers to questions considered culturally sensitive either by participants or the readers?
- Are your research, analysis and findings based on a specific location or a group of people?
All such issues should be categorically addressed and a justification provided for your chosen research methodology by highlighting the study’s benefits.
Is your research study and findings reliable for other researchers in your field of work? To establish yourself as a reliable researcher, your study should be both authentic and reliable.
Reliability means the extent to which your research can yield similar results if it was replicated in another setting, at a different time, or under different circumstances. If replication occurs and different findings come to light, your (original) research would be deemed unreliable.
Good dissertation writers will always acknowledge the limitations of their research study. Limitations in data sampling can decrease your results’ reliability.
A classic example of research limitation is collecting responses from people of a certain age group when you could have targeted a more representative cross-section of the population.Be humble and admit to your own study’s limitations. Doing so makes your referees, editors, supervisors, readers and anyone else involved in the research enterprise aware that you were also aware of the things that limited your study.
Limitations are NOT the same as implications. Sometimes, the two can be confused. Limitations lead to implications, that is, due to a certain factor being absent in the study (limitation) for instance, future research could be carried out in a setting where that factor is present (implication).
Dissertation Methodology Example
At this point, you might have a basic understanding of how to craft a well-written, organised, accurate methodology section for your dissertation. An example might help bring all the aforementioned points home. Here is a dissertation methodology example in pdf to better understand how to write methodology for a dissertation.
Sample Dissertation Methodology
Does your Research Methodology Have the Following?
- Great Research/Sources
- Perfect Language
- Accurate Sources
If not, we can help. Our panel of experts makes sure to keep the 3 pillars of Research Methodology strong.
Types of Methodologies
A scientific or lab-based study.
A methodology section for a scientific study will need to elaborate on reproducibility and meticulousness more than anything else. If your methods have obvious flaws, the readers are not going to be impressed. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your chosen research methodology is vigorous in nature.
Any information related to the procedure, setup and equipment should be clearly stated so other researchers in your field of study can work with the same method in the future if needed.
Variables that are likely to falsify your data must be taken into the equation to avoid ambiguities. It is recommended to present a comprehensive strategy to deal with these variables when gathering and analysing the data and drawing conclusions.
Statistical models employed as part of your scientific study will have to be justified, and so your methodology should include details of those statistical models.
Another scholar in the future might use any aspect of your methodology as the starting point for their research. For example, they might base their research on your methodology but analyse the data using other statistical models. Hence, this is something you should be mindful of.
Behavioural or Social Sciences-Based Dissertation
Like scientific or lab-based research, a behavioural and social sciences methodology needs to be built along the same lines. The chosen methodology should demonstrate reproducibility and firmness so other scholars can use your whole dissertation methodology or a part of it based on their research needs.
But there are additional issues that the researcher must take into consideration when working with human subjects. As a starting point, you will need to decide whether your analysis will be based on qualitative data, quantitative data or mixed-method of research, where qualitative data is used to provide contextual background to quantitative data or the other way around.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
- Will you observe the participants undertaking some activity, ask them to fill out a questionnaire, or record their responses during the interviews ?
- Will you base your research on existing evidence and datasets and avoid working with human subjects?
- What are the length, width, and reach of your data? Define its scope.
- Is the data highly explicit to the location or cultural setting you carried your study in, or can it be generalised to other situations and frameworks (reliability)? What are your reasons and justifications?
While you will be required to demonstrate that you have taken care of the above questions, it is equally important to make sure that you address your research study’s ethical issues side-by-side.
Of course, the first step in that regard will be to obtain formal approval for your research design from the ethics bodies (such as IRBs – institutional review boards), but still, there will be many more issues that could trigger a sense of grief and discomfort among some of the readers.
Humanities and Arts Dissertation Project
The rigour and dependability of the methods of research employed remain undisputed and unquestionable for humanities and arts-based dissertations as well. However, the way you convince your readers of your dissertation’s thoroughness is slightly different.
Unlike social science dissertation or a scientific study, the methodology of dissertations in arts and humanities subjects needs to be directly linked to the literature review regardless of how innovative your dissertation’s topic might be.
For example, you could demonstrate the relationship between A and B to discover a new theoretical background or use existing theories in a new framework.
The methodology section of humanities and arts-based dissertations is less complex, so there might be no need to justify it in detail. Students can achieve a seamless transition from the literature review to the analysis section.
However, like with every other type of research methodology, it is important to provide a detailed justification of your chosen methodology and relate it to the research problem.
Failing to do so could leave some readers unconvinced of your theoretical foundations’ suitability, which could potentially jeopardise your whole research.
Make sure that you are paying attention to and giving enough information about the social and historical background of the theoretical frameworks your research methodology is based on. This is especially important if there is an essential difference of opinion between your research and the research done on the subject in the past.
A justification of why opposing schools of thought disagree and why you still went ahead to use aspects of these schools of thought in your methodology should be clearly presented for the readers to understand how they would support your readings.
A Dissertation in Creative Arts
Some degree programs in the arts allow students to undertake a portfolio of artworks or creative writing rather than produce an extended dissertation research project.However, in practice, your creative research will be required to be submitted along with a comprehensive evaluative paper, including background information and an explanation that hypothesises your innovative exercise.
While this might seem like an easy thing to do, critical evaluation of someone’s work is highly complex and notorious in nature. This further reinforces the argument of developing a rigorous methodology and adhering to it.
As a scholar, you will be expected to showcase the ability to critically analyse your methodology and show that you are capable of critically evaluating your own creative work.Such an approach will help you justify your method of creating the work, which will give the readers the impression that your research is grounded in theory.
What to Avoid in Methodology?
All chapters of a dissertation paper are interconnected. This means that there will undoubtedly be some information that would overlap between the different chapters of the dissertation .
For example, some of the text material may seem appropriate to both the literature review and methodology sections; you might even end up moving information from pillar to post between different chapters as you edit and improve your dissertation .
However, make sure that you are not making the following a part of your dissertation methodology, even though it may seem appropriate to fit them in there:
A Long Review of Methods Employed by Previous Researchers
It might seem relevant to include details of the models your dissertation methodology is based on. However, a detailed review of models and precedents used by other scholars and theorists will better fit in the literature review chapter, which you can link back to. This will help the readers understand why you decided to go in favour of or against a certain tactic.
Unnecessary Details Readers Might Not be Interested In
There is absolutely no need to provide extensive details of things like lab equipment and experiment procedures. Having such information in the methodology chapter would discourage some readers who might not be interested in your equipment, setup, lab environment, etc.
Your aim as the author of the document will be to retain the readers’ interest and make the methodology chapter as readable as possible.
While it is important to get all the information relating to how others can reproduce your experiment, it is equally important to ensure your methodology section isn’t unnecessarily long. Again, additional information is better to be placed within the appendices chapter.
The methodology is not the section to provide raw data, even if you are only discussing the data collection process. All such information should be moved to the appendices section.
Even if you feel some finding or numerical data is crucial to be presented within the methodology section, you can, at most, make brief comments about such data. Its discussion, however, is only allowed in the discussions section .
What Makes your Methodology Stand Out?
The factors which can determine if your dissertation methodology is ‘great’ depend on many factors, including the level of study you are currently enrolled in.
Undergraduate dissertations are, of course, less complex and less demanding. At most universities in the UK, undergraduate students are required to exhibit the ability to conduct thorough research as they engage for the first time with theoretical and conceptual frameworks in their chosen research area.
As an undergraduate student, you will be expected to showcase the capacity to reproduce what you have learnt from theorists in your academic subject, transform your leanings into a methodology that would help you address the research problem, and test the research hypothesis, as mentioned in the introduction chapter.
A great undergraduate-level dissertation will incorporate different schools of thought and make a valuable contribution to existing knowledge. However, in general, undergraduate-level dissertations’ focus should be to show thorough desk-based and independent research skills.
Postgraduate dissertation papers are much more compound and challenging because they are expected to make a substantial contribution to existing knowledge.
Depending on the academic institute, some postgraduate students are even required to develop a project published by leading academic journals as an approval of their research skills.
It is important to recognise the importance of a postgraduate dissertation towards building your professional career, especially if your work is considered impactful in your area of study and receives citations from multiple scholars, enhancing your reputation in academic communities.
Even if some academics cite your literature review and conclusion in their own work, it is a well-known fact that your methodology framework will result in many more citations regardless of your academic subject.
Other scholars and researchers in your area of study are likely to give much more value to a well-crafted methodology, especially one they can use as the starting point for their own research.
Of course, they can alter, refine and enhance your methodology in one way or another. They can even apply your methodological framework to a new data set or apply it in a completely new situation that is irrelevant to your work.
Finally, postgraduate dissertations are expected to be highly convincing and demonstrate in-depth engagement. They should be reproducible and show rigour, so the findings and conclusions can be regarded as authentic and reliable among scientific and academic communities.
The methodology is the door to success when it comes to dissertation projects. An original methodology that takes into consideration all aspects of research is likely to have an impact on the field of study.
As a postgraduate student, you should ask yourself, Is my dissertation methodology reproducible and transferable? Producing a methodology that others can reproduce in the future is as important as answering research questions .
The methodology chapter can either make or break the grade of your research/dissertation paper. It’s one of the research elements that leave a memorable impression on your readers. So, it would help if you took your time when it comes to choosing the right design and philosophical approach for your research.
Always use authentic academic sources and discuss your plans in detail with your supervisor if you believe your research design or approach has flaws in it.
Did this article help you learn how to write a dissertation methodology and how to structure a dissertation methodology? Let us know in your comments.
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- How to Write Your Methods
Ensure understanding, reproducibility and replicability
What should you include in your methods section, and how much detail is appropriate?
Why Methods Matter
The methods section was once the most likely part of a paper to be unfairly abbreviated, overly summarized, or even relegated to hard-to-find sections of a publisher’s website. While some journals may responsibly include more detailed elements of methods in supplementary sections, the movement for increased reproducibility and rigor in science has reinstated the importance of the methods section. Methods are now viewed as a key element in establishing the credibility of the research being reported, alongside the open availability of data and results.
A clear methods section impacts editorial evaluation and readers’ understanding, and is also the backbone of transparency and replicability.
For example, the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology project set out in 2013 to replicate experiments from 50 high profile cancer papers, but revised their target to 18 papers once they understood how much methodological detail was not contained in the original papers.
What to include in your methods section
What you include in your methods sections depends on what field you are in and what experiments you are performing. However, the general principle in place at the majority of journals is summarized well by the guidelines at PLOS ONE : “The Materials and Methods section should provide enough detail to allow suitably skilled investigators to fully replicate your study. ” The emphases here are deliberate: the methods should enable readers to understand your paper, and replicate your study. However, there is no need to go into the level of detail that a lay-person would require—the focus is on the reader who is also trained in your field, with the suitable skills and knowledge to attempt a replication.
A constant principle of rigorous science
A methods section that enables other researchers to understand and replicate your results is a constant principle of rigorous, transparent, and Open Science. Aim to be thorough, even if a particular journal doesn’t require the same level of detail . Reproducibility is all of our responsibility. You cannot create any problems by exceeding a minimum standard of information. If a journal still has word-limits—either for the overall article or specific sections—and requires some methodological details to be in a supplemental section, that is OK as long as the extra details are searchable and findable .
Imagine replicating your own work, years in the future
As part of PLOS’ presentation on Reproducibility and Open Publishing (part of UCSF’s Reproducibility Series ) we recommend planning the level of detail in your methods section by imagining you are writing for your future self, replicating your own work. When you consider that you might be at a different institution, with different account logins, applications, resources, and access levels—you can help yourself imagine the level of specificity that you yourself would require to redo the exact experiment. Consider:
- Which details would you need to be reminded of?
- Which cell line, or antibody, or software, or reagent did you use, and does it have a Research Resource ID (RRID) that you can cite?
- Which version of a questionnaire did you use in your survey?
- Exactly which visual stimulus did you show participants, and is it publicly available?
- What participants did you decide to exclude?
- What process did you adjust, during your work?
Tip: Be sure to capture any changes to your protocols
You yourself would want to know about any adjustments, if you ever replicate the work, so you can surmise that anyone else would want to as well. Even if a necessary adjustment you made was not ideal, transparency is the key to ensuring this is not regarded as an issue in the future. It is far better to transparently convey any non-optimal methods, or methodological constraints, than to conceal them, which could result in reproducibility or ethical issues downstream.
Visual aids for methods help when reading the whole paper
Consider whether a visual representation of your methods could be appropriate or aid understanding your process. A visual reference readers can easily return to, like a flow-diagram, decision-tree, or checklist, can help readers to better understand the complete article, not just the methods section.
In addition to describing what you did, it is just as important to assure readers that you also followed all relevant ethical guidelines when conducting your research. While ethical standards and reporting guidelines are often presented in a separate section of a paper, ensure that your methods and protocols actually follow these guidelines. Read more about ethics .
Existing standards, checklists, guidelines, partners
While the level of detail contained in a methods section should be guided by the universal principles of rigorous science outlined above, various disciplines, fields, and projects have worked hard to design and develop consistent standards, guidelines, and tools to help with reporting all types of experiment. Below, you’ll find some of the key initiatives. Ensure you read the submission guidelines for the specific journal you are submitting to, in order to discover any further journal- or field-specific policies to follow, or initiatives/tools to utilize.
Tip: Keep your paper moving forward by providing the proper paperwork up front
Be sure to check the journal guidelines and provide the necessary documents with your manuscript submission. Collecting the necessary documentation can greatly slow the first round of peer review, or cause delays when you submit your revision.
Randomized Controlled Trials – CONSORT The Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) project covers various initiatives intended to prevent the problems of inadequate reporting of randomized controlled trials. The primary initiative is an evidence-based minimum set of recommendations for reporting randomized trials known as the CONSORT Statement .
Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses – PRISMA The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses ( PRISMA ) is an evidence-based minimum set of items focusing on the reporting of reviews evaluating randomized trials and other types of research.
Research using Animals – ARRIVE The Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments ( ARRIVE ) guidelines encourage maximizing the information reported in research using animals thereby minimizing unnecessary studies. (Original study and proposal , and updated guidelines , in PLOS Biology .)
Laboratory Protocols Protocols.io has developed a platform specifically for the sharing and updating of laboratory protocols , which are assigned their own DOI and can be linked from methods sections of papers to enhance reproducibility. Contextualize your protocol and improve discovery with an accompanying Lab Protocol article in PLOS ONE .
Consistent reporting of Materials, Design, and Analysis – the MDAR checklist A cross-publisher group of editors and experts have developed, tested, and rolled out a checklist to help establish and harmonize reporting standards in the Life Sciences . The checklist , which is available for use by authors to compile their methods, and editors/reviewers to check methods, establishes a minimum set of requirements in transparent reporting and is adaptable to any discipline within the Life Sciences, by covering a breadth of potentially relevant methodological items and considerations. If you are in the Life Sciences and writing up your methods section, try working through the MDAR checklist and see whether it helps you include all relevant details into your methods, and whether it reminded you of anything you might have missed otherwise.
Summary Writing tips
The main challenge you may find when writing your methods is keeping it readable AND covering all the details needed for reproducibility and replicability. While this is difficult, do not compromise on rigorous standards for credibility!
- Keep in mind future replicability, alongside understanding and readability.
- Follow checklists, and field- and journal-specific guidelines.
- Consider a commitment to rigorous and transparent science a personal responsibility, and not just adhering to journal guidelines.
- Establish whether there are persistent identifiers for any research resources you use that can be specifically cited in your methods section.
- Deposit your laboratory protocols in Protocols.io, establishing a permanent link to them. You can update your protocols later if you improve on them, as can future scientists who follow your protocols.
- Consider visual aids like flow-diagrams, lists, to help with reading other sections of the paper.
- Be specific about all decisions made during the experiments that someone reproducing your work would need to know.
- Summarize or abbreviate methods without giving full details in a discoverable supplemental section.
- Presume you will always be able to remember how you performed the experiments, or have access to private or institutional notebooks and resources.
- Attempt to hide constraints or non-optimal decisions you had to make–transparency is the key to ensuring the credibility of your research.
- How to Write a Great Title
- How to Write an Abstract
- How to Report Statistics
- How to Write Discussions and Conclusions
- How to Edit Your Work
The contents of the Peer Review Center are also available as a live, interactive training session, complete with slides, talking points, and activities. …
The contents of the Writing Center are also available as a live, interactive training session, complete with slides, talking points, and activities. …
There’s a lot to consider when deciding where to submit your work. Learn how to choose a journal that will help your study reach its audience, while reflecting your values as a researcher…
Writing the Research Methodology Section of Your Thesis
This article explains the meaning of research methodology and the purpose and importance of writing a research methodology section or chapter for your thesis paper. It discusses what to include and not include in a research methodology section, the different approaches to research methodology that can be used, and the steps involved in writing a robust research methodology section.
What is a thesis research methodology?
A thesis research methodology explains the type of research performed, justifies the methods that you chose by linking back to the literature review , and describes the data collection and analysis procedures. It is included in your thesis after the Introduction section . Most importantly, this is the section where the readers of your study evaluate its validity and reliability.
What should the research methodology section in your thesis include?
- The aim of your thesis
- An outline of the research methods chosen (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods)
- Background and rationale for the methods chosen, explaining why one method was chosen over another
- Methods used for data collection and data analysis
- Materials and equipment used—keep this brief
- Difficulties encountered during data collection and analysis. It is expected that problems will occur during your research process. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities by explaining how you overcame all obstacles. This builds your readers’ confidence in your study findings.
- A brief evaluation of your research explaining whether your results were conclusive and whether your choice of methodology was effective in practice
What should not be included in the research methodology section of your thesis?
- Irrelevant details, for example, an extensive review of methodologies (this belongs in the literature review section) or information that does not contribute to the readers’ understanding of your chosen methods
- A description of basic procedures
- Excessive details about materials and equipment used. If an extremely long and detailed list is necessary, add it as an appendix
Types of methodological approaches
The choice of which methodological approach to use depends on your field of research and your thesis question. Your methodology should establish a clear relationship with your thesis question and must also be supported by your literature review . Types of methodological approaches include quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.
Quantitative studies generate data in the form of numbers to count, classify, measure, or identify relationships or patterns. Information may be collected by performing experiments and tests, conducting surveys, or using existing data. The data are analyzed using statistical tests and presented as charts or graphs. Quantitative data are typically used in the Sciences domain.
For example, analyzing the effect of a change, such as alterations in electricity consumption by municipalities after installing LED streetlights.
The raw data will need to be prepared for statistical analysis by identifying variables and checking for missing data and outliers. Details of the statistical software program used (name of the package, version number, and supplier name and location) must also be mentioned.
Qualitative studies gather non-numerical data using, for example, observations, focus groups, and in-depth interviews. Open-ended questions are often posed. This yields rich, detailed, and descriptive results. Qualitative studies are usually subjective and are helpful for investigating social and cultural phenomena, which are difficult to quantify. Qualitative studies are typically used in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) domain.
For example, determining customer perceptions on the extension of a range of baking utensils to include silicone muffin trays.
The raw data will need to be prepared for analysis by coding and categorizing ideas and themes to interpret the meaning behind the responses given.
Mixed methods use a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches to present multiple findings about a single phenomenon. T his enables triangulation: verification of the data from two or more sources.
Explain the rationale behind the sampling procedure you have chosen. This could involve probability sampling (a random sample from the study population) or non-probability sampling (does not use a random sample).
For quantitative studies, describe the sampling procedure and whether statistical tests were used to determine the sample size .
Following our example of analyzing the changes in electricity consumption by municipalities after installing LED streetlights, you will need to determine which municipal areas will be sampled and how the information will be gathered (e.g., a physical survey of the streetlights or reviewing purchase orders).
For qualitative research, describe how the participants were chosen and how the data is going to be collected.
Following our example about determining customer perceptions on the extension of a range of baking utensils to include silicone muffin trays, you will need to decide the criteria for inclusion as a study participant (e.g., women aged 20–70 years, bakeries, and bakery supply shops) and how the information will be collected (e.g., interviews, focus groups, online or in-person questionnaires, or video recordings) .
For quantitative research, describe what tests you plan to perform and why you have chosen them. Popular data analysis methods in quantitative research include:
- Descriptive statistics (e.g., means, medians, modes)
- Inferential statistics (e.g., correlation, regression, structural equation modeling)
For qualitative research, describe how the data is going to be analyzed and justify your choice. Popular data analysis methods in qualitative research include:
- Qualitative content analysis
- Thematic analysis
- Discourse analysis
- Narrative analysis
- Grounded theory
- Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)
Evaluate and justify your methodological choices
You need to convince the reader that you have made the correct methodological choices. Once again, this ties back to your thesis question and literature review . Write using a persuasive tone, and use rhetoric to convince the reader of the quality, reliability, and validity of your research.
- The young researcher should maintain objectivity at all times
- All participants have the right to privacy and anonymity
- Research participation must be voluntary
- All subjects have the right to withdraw from the research at any time
- Consent must be obtained from all participants before starting the research
- Confidentiality of data provided by individuals must be maintained
- Consider how the interpretation and reporting of the data will affect the participants
Tips for writing a robust thesis research methodology
- Determine what kind of knowledge you are trying to uncover. For example, subjective or objective, experimental or interpretive.
- A thorough literature review is the best starting point for choosing your methods.
- Ensure that there is continuity throughout the research process. The authenticity of your research depends upon the validity of the research data, the reliability of your data measurements, and the time taken to conduct the analysis.
- Choose a research method that is achievable. Consider the time and funds available, feasibility, ethics, and access and availability of equipment to measure the phenomenon or answer your thesis question correctly.
- If you are struggling with a concept, ask for help from your supervisor, academic staff members, or fellow students.
A thesis methodology justifies why you have chosen a specific approach to address your thesis question. It explains how you will collect the data and analyze it. Above all, it allows the readers of your study to evaluate its validity and reliability.
A thesis is the most crucial document that you will write during your academic studies. For professional thesis editing and thesis proofreading services, visit Enago Thesis Editing for more information.
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Introduce your methodological approach , for example, quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.
Explain why your chosen approach is relevant to the overall research design and how it links with your thesis question.
Justify your chosen method and why it is more appropriate than others.
Provide background information on methods that may be unfamiliar to readers of your thesis.
Introduce the tools that you will use for data collection , and explain how you plan to use them (e.g., surveys, interviews, experiments, or existing data).
Explain how you will analyze your results. The type of analysis used depends on the methods you chose. For example, exploring theoretical perspectives to support your explanation of observed behaviors in a qualitative study or using statistical analyses in a quantitative study.
Mention any research limitations. All studies are expected to have limitations, such as the sample size, data collection method, or equipment. Discussing the limitations justifies your choice of methodology despite the risks. It also explains under which conditions the results should be interpreted and shows that you have taken a holistic approach to your study.
What is the difference between methodology and methods? +
Methodology refers to the overall rationale and strategy of your thesis project. It involves studying the theories or principles behind the methods used in your field so that you can explain why you chose a particular method for your research approach. Methods , on the other hand, refer to how the data were collected and analyzed (e.g., experiments, surveys, observations, interviews, and statistical tests).
What is the difference between reliability and validity? +
Reliability refers to whether a measurement is consistent (i.e., the results can be reproduced under the same conditions). Validity refers to whether a measurement is accurate (i.e., the results represent what was supposed to be measured). For example, when investigating linguistic and cultural guidelines for administration of the Preschool Language Scales, Fifth Edition (PLS5) in Arab-American preschool children, the normative sample curves should show the same distribution as a monolingual population, which would indicate that the test is valid. The test would be considered reliable if the results obtained were consistent across different sampling sites.
What tense is used to write the methods section? +
The methods section is written in the past tense because it describes what was done.
What software programs are recommended for statistical analysis? +
Recommended programs include Statistical Analysis Software (SAS) , Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) , JMP , R software, MATLAB , Microsoft Excel, GraphPad Prism , and Minitab .
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- Knowledge Base
Research Methods | Definitions, Types, Examples
Research methods are specific procedures for collecting and analyzing data. Developing your research methods is an integral part of your research design . When planning your methods, there are two key decisions you will make.
First, decide how you will collect data . Your methods depend on what type of data you need to answer your research question :
- Qualitative vs. quantitative : Will your data take the form of words or numbers?
- Primary vs. secondary : Will you collect original data yourself, or will you use data that has already been collected by someone else?
- Descriptive vs. experimental : Will you take measurements of something as it is, or will you perform an experiment?
Second, decide how you will analyze the data .
- For quantitative data, you can use statistical analysis methods to test relationships between variables.
- For qualitative data, you can use methods such as thematic analysis to interpret patterns and meanings in the data.
Table of contents
Methods for collecting data, examples of data collection methods, methods for analyzing data, examples of data analysis methods, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research methods.
Data is the information that you collect for the purposes of answering your research question . The type of data you need depends on the aims of your research.
Qualitative vs. quantitative data
Your choice of qualitative or quantitative data collection depends on the type of knowledge you want to develop.
For questions about ideas, experiences and meanings, or to study something that can’t be described numerically, collect qualitative data .
If you want to develop a more mechanistic understanding of a topic, or your research involves hypothesis testing , collect quantitative data .
You can also take a mixed methods approach , where you use both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Primary vs. secondary research
Primary research is any original data that you collect yourself for the purposes of answering your research question (e.g. through surveys , observations and experiments ). Secondary research is data that has already been collected by other researchers (e.g. in a government census or previous scientific studies).
If you are exploring a novel research question, you’ll probably need to collect primary data . But if you want to synthesize existing knowledge, analyze historical trends, or identify patterns on a large scale, secondary data might be a better choice.
Descriptive vs. experimental data
In descriptive research , you collect data about your study subject without intervening. The validity of your research will depend on your sampling method .
In experimental research , you systematically intervene in a process and measure the outcome. The validity of your research will depend on your experimental design .
To conduct an experiment, you need to be able to vary your independent variable , precisely measure your dependent variable, and control for confounding variables . If it’s practically and ethically possible, this method is the best choice for answering questions about cause and effect.
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Your data analysis methods will depend on the type of data you collect and how you prepare it for analysis.
Data can often be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. For example, survey responses could be analyzed qualitatively by studying the meanings of responses or quantitatively by studying the frequencies of responses.
Qualitative analysis methods
Qualitative analysis is used to understand words, ideas, and experiences. You can use it to interpret data that was collected:
- From open-ended surveys and interviews , literature reviews , case studies , ethnographies , and other sources that use text rather than numbers.
- Using non-probability sampling methods .
Qualitative analysis tends to be quite flexible and relies on the researcher’s judgement, so you have to reflect carefully on your choices and assumptions and be careful to avoid research bias .
Quantitative analysis methods
Quantitative analysis uses numbers and statistics to understand frequencies, averages and correlations (in descriptive studies) or cause-and-effect relationships (in experiments).
You can use quantitative analysis to interpret data that was collected either:
- During an experiment .
- Using probability sampling methods .
Because the data is collected and analyzed in a statistically valid way, the results of quantitative analysis can be easily standardized and shared among researchers.
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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.
- Chi square test of independence
- Statistical power
- Descriptive statistics
- Degrees of freedom
- Pearson correlation
- Null hypothesis
- Double-blind study
- Case-control study
- Research ethics
- Data collection
- Hypothesis testing
- Structured interviews
- Hawthorne effect
- Unconscious bias
- Recall bias
- Halo effect
- Self-serving bias
- Information bias
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.
In mixed methods research , you use both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods to answer your research question .
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.
The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .
- If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
- If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
- If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.
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.
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Dissertations 4: methodology: methods.
- Introduction & Philosophy
Primary & Secondary Sources, Primary & Secondary Data
When describing your research methods, you can start by stating what kind of secondary and, if applicable, primary sources you used in your research. Explain why you chose such sources, how well they served your research, and identify possible issues encountered using these sources.
There is some confusion on the use of the terms primary and secondary sources, and primary and secondary data. The confusion is also due to disciplinary differences (Lombard 2010). Whilst you are advised to consult the research methods literature in your field, we can generalise as follows:
Secondary sources normally include the literature (books and articles) with the experts' findings, analysis and discussions on a certain topic (Cottrell, 2014, p123). Secondary sources often interpret primary sources.
Primary sources are "first-hand" information such as raw data, statistics, interviews, surveys, law statutes and law cases. Even literary texts, pictures and films can be primary sources if they are the object of research (rather than, for example, documentaries reporting on something else, in which case they would be secondary sources). The distinction between primary and secondary sources sometimes lies on the use you make of them (Cottrell, 2014, p123).
Primary data are data (primary sources) you directly obtained through your empirical work (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p316).
Secondary data are data (primary sources) that were originally collected by someone else (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p316).
Comparison between primary and secondary data
Virtually all research will use secondary sources, at least as background information.
Often, especially at the postgraduate level, it will also use primary sources - secondary and/or primary data. The engagement with primary sources is generally appreciated, as less reliant on others' interpretations, and closer to 'facts'.
The use of primary data, as opposed to secondary data, demonstrates the researcher's effort to do empirical work and find evidence to answer her specific research question and fulfill her specific research objectives. Thus, primary data contribute to the originality of the research.
Ultimately, you should state in this section of the methodology:
What sources and data you are using and why (how are they going to help you answer the research question and/or test the hypothesis.
If using primary data, why you employed certain strategies to collect them.
What the advantages and disadvantages of your strategies to collect the data (also refer to the research in you field and research methods literature).
Quantitative, Qualitative & Mixed Methods
The methodology chapter should reference your use of quantitative research, qualitative research and/or mixed methods. The following is a description of each along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Quantitative research uses numerical data (quantities) deriving, for example, from experiments, closed questions in surveys, questionnaires, structured interviews or published data sets (Cottrell, 2014, p93). It normally processes and analyses this data using quantitative analysis techniques like tables, graphs and statistics to explore, present and examine relationships and trends within the data (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015, p496).
Qualitative research is generally undertaken to study human behaviour and psyche. It uses methods like in-depth case studies, open-ended survey questions, unstructured interviews, focus groups, or unstructured observations (Cottrell, 2014, p93). The nature of the data is subjective, and also the analysis of the researcher involves a degree of subjective interpretation. Subjectivity can be controlled for in the research design, or has to be acknowledged as a feature of the research. Subject-specific books on (qualitative) research methods offer guidance on such research designs.
Mixed-method approaches combine both qualitative and quantitative methods, and therefore combine the strengths of both types of research. Mixed methods have gained popularity in recent years.
When undertaking mixed-methods research you can collect the qualitative and quantitative data either concurrently or sequentially. If sequentially, you can for example, start with a few semi-structured interviews, providing qualitative insights, and then design a questionnaire to obtain quantitative evidence that your qualitative findings can also apply to a wider population (Specht, 2019, p138).
Ultimately, your methodology chapter should state:
Whether you used quantitative research, qualitative research or mixed methods.
Why you chose such methods (and refer to research method sources).
Why you rejected other methods.
How well the method served your research.
The problems or limitations you encountered.
Doug Specht, Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication, explains mixed methods research in the following video:
LinkedIn Learning Video on Academic Research Foundations: Quantitative
The video covers the characteristics of quantitative research, and explains how to approach different parts of the research process, such as creating a solid research question and developing a literature review. He goes over the elements of a study, explains how to collect and analyze data, and shows how to present your data in written and numeric form.
Link to quantitative research video
Some Types of Methods
There are several methods you can use to get primary data. To reiterate, the choice of the methods should depend on your research question/hypothesis.
Whatever methods you will use, you will need to consider:
why did you choose one technique over another? What were the advantages and disadvantages of the technique you chose?
what was the size of your sample? Who made up your sample? How did you select your sample population? Why did you choose that particular sampling strategy?)
ethical considerations (see also tab...)
procedure of the research (see box procedural method...).
Check Stella Cottrell's book Dissertations and Project Reports: A Step by Step Guide for some succinct yet comprehensive information on most methods (the following account draws mostly on her work). Check a research methods book in your discipline for more specific guidance.
Experiments are useful to investigate cause and effect, when the variables can be tightly controlled. They can test a theory or hypothesis in controlled conditions. Experiments do not prove or disprove an hypothesis, instead they support or not support an hypothesis. When using the empirical and inductive method it is not possible to achieve conclusive results. The results may only be valid until falsified by other experiments and observations.
For more information on Scientific Method, click here .
Observational methods are useful for in-depth analyses of behaviours in people, animals, organisations, events or phenomena. They can test a theory or products in real life or simulated settings. They generally a qualitative research method.
Questionnaires and surveys
Questionnaires and surveys are useful to gain opinions, attitudes, preferences, understandings on certain matters. They can provide quantitative data that can be collated systematically; qualitative data, if they include opportunities for open-ended responses; or both qualitative and quantitative elements.
Interviews are useful to gain rich, qualitative information about individuals' experiences, attitudes or perspectives. With interviews you can follow up immediately on responses for clarification or further details. There are three main types of interviews: structured (following a strict pattern of questions, which expect short answers), semi-structured (following a list of questions, with the opportunity to follow up the answers with improvised questions), and unstructured (following a short list of broad questions, where the respondent can lead more the conversation) (Specht, 2019, p142).
This short video on qualitative interviews discusses best practices and covers qualitative interview design, preparation and data collection methods.
In this case, a group of people (normally, 4-12) is gathered for an interview where the interviewer asks questions to such group of participants. Group interactions and discussions can be highly productive, but the researcher has to beware of the group effect, whereby certain participants and views dominate the interview (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p419). The researcher can try to minimise this by encouraging involvement of all participants and promoting a multiplicity of views.
This video focuses on strategies for conducting research using focus groups.
Check out the guidance on online focus groups by Aliaksandr Herasimenka, which is attached at the bottom of this text box.
Case studies are often a convenient way to narrow the focus of your research by studying how a theory or literature fares with regard to a specific person, group, organisation, event or other type of entity or phenomenon you identify. Case studies can be researched using other methods, including those described in this section. Case studies give in-depth insights on the particular reality that has been examined, but may not be representative of what happens in general, they may not be generalisable, and may not be relevant to other contexts. These limitations have to be acknowledged by the researcher.
Content analysis consists in the study of words or images within a text. In its broad definition, texts include books, articles, essays, historical documents, speeches, conversations, advertising, interviews, social media posts, films, theatre, paintings or other visuals. Content analysis can be quantitative (e.g. word frequency) or qualitative (e.g. analysing intention and implications of the communication). It can detect propaganda, identify intentions of writers, and can see differences in types of communication (Specht, 2019, p146). Check this page on collecting, cleaning and visualising Twitter data.
Extra links and resources:
A clear and comprehensive overview of research methods by Emerald Publishing. It includes: crowdsourcing as a research tool; mixed methods research; case study; discourse analysis; ground theory; repertory grid; ethnographic method and participant observation; interviews; focus group; action research; analysis of qualitative data; survey design; questionnaires; statistics; experiments; empirical research; literature review; secondary data and archival materials; data collection.
Doing your dissertation during the COVID-19 pandemic
Resources providing guidance on doing dissertation research during the pandemic: Online research methods; Secondary data sources; Webinars, conferences and podcasts;
- Virtual Focus Groups Guidance on managing virtual focus groups
5 Minute Methods Videos
The following are a series of useful videos that introduce research methods in five minutes. These resources have been produced by lecturers and students with the University of Westminster's School of Media and Communication.
Case Study Research
Quantitative Content Analysis
Qualitative Content Analysis
Social Media Research
Mixed Method Research
In this part, provide an accurate, detailed account of the methods and procedures that were used in the study or the experiment (if applicable!).
Include specifics about participants, sample, materials, design and methods.
If the research involves human subjects, then include a detailed description of who and how many participated along with how the participants were selected.
Describe all materials used for the study, including equipment, written materials and testing instruments.
Identify the study's design and any variables or controls employed.
Write out the steps in the order that they were completed.
Indicate what participants were asked to do, how measurements were taken and any calculations made to raw data collected.
Specify statistical techniques applied to the data to reach your conclusions.
Provide evidence that you incorporated rigor into your research. This is the quality of being thorough and accurate and considers the logic behind your research design.
Highlight any drawbacks that may have limited your ability to conduct your research thoroughly.
You have to provide details to allow others to replicate the experiment and/or verify the data, to test the validity of the research.
Cottrell, S. (2014). Dissertations and project reports: a step by step guide. Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lombard, E. (2010). Primary and secondary sources. The Journal of Academic Librarianship , 36(3), 250-253
Saunders, M.N.K., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2015). Research Methods for Business Students. New York: Pearson Education.
Specht, D. (2019). The Media And Communications Study Skills Student Guide . London: University of Westminster Press.
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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
- 6. The Methodology
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The methods section describes actions taken to investigate a research problem and the rationale for the application of specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information applied to understanding the problem, thereby, allowing the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability. The methodology section of a research paper answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed? The writing should be direct and precise and always written in the past tense.
Kallet, Richard H. "How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004): 1229-1232.
Importance of a Good Methodology Section
You must explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:
- Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the results and, by extension, how you interpreted their significance in the discussion section of your paper.
- Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your analysis of the findings.
- In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you have chosen a particular procedure or technique.
- The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
- The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
- The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
- In the social and behavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an existing method is utilized.
Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects . 5th edition. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Groups of Research Methods
There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:
- The e mpirical-analytical group approaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences . This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
- The i nterpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way . Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.
The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you used to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that the method is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.
The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:
- Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
- Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
- The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
- The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.
In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:
- Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem . Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
- Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design . Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
- Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use , such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
- Explain how you intend to analyze your results . Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
- Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers . Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
- Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure . For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
- Provide a justification for case study selection . A common method of analyzing research problems in the social sciences is to analyze specific cases. These can be a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis that are either examined as a singular topic of in-depth investigation or multiple topics of investigation studied for the purpose of comparing or contrasting findings. In either method, you should explain why a case or cases were chosen and how they specifically relate to the research problem.
- Describe potential limitations . Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.
NOTE : Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. If necessary, consider using appendices for raw data.
ANOTHER NOTE : If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem , the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data [e.g., through interviews or observations], the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.
YET ANOTHER NOTE : If your study involves interviews, observations, or other qualitative techniques involving human subjects , you may be required to obtain approval from the university's Office for the Protection of Research Subjects before beginning your research. This is not a common procedure for most undergraduate level student research assignments. However, i f your professor states you need approval, you must include a statement in your methods section that you received official endorsement and adequate informed consent from the office and that there was a clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants and to the university. This statement informs the reader that your study was conducted in an ethical and responsible manner. In some cases, the approval notice is included as an appendix to your paper.
III. Problems to Avoid
Irrelevant Detail The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but concise. Do not provide any background information that does not directly help the reader understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how the data was analyzed in relation to the research problem [note: analyzed, not interpreted! Save how you interpreted the findings for the discussion section]. With this in mind, the page length of your methods section will generally be less than any other section of your paper except the conclusion.
Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method , not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.
Problem Blindness It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.
Literature Review Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].
It’s More than Sources of Information! A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.
Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation , Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process . (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.
Statistical Designs and Tests? Do Not Fear Them!
Don't avoid using a quantitative approach to analyzing your research problem just because you fear the idea of applying statistical designs and tests. A qualitative approach, such as conducting interviews or content analysis of archival texts, can yield exciting new insights about a research problem, but it should not be undertaken simply because you have a disdain for running a simple regression. A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in very clear and direct ways, whereas, a similar study of a qualitative nature usually requires considerable time to analyze large volumes of data and a tremendous burden to create new paths for analysis where previously no path associated with your research problem had existed.
To locate data and statistics, GO HERE .
Another Writing Tip
Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods
There can be multiple meaning associated with the term "theories" and the term "methods" in social sciences research. A helpful way to delineate between them is to understand "theories" as representing different ways of characterizing the social world when you research it and "methods" as representing different ways of generating and analyzing data about that social world. Framed in this way, all empirical social sciences research involves theories and methods, whether they are stated explicitly or not. However, while theories and methods are often related, it is important that, as a researcher, you deliberately separate them in order to avoid your theories playing a disproportionate role in shaping what outcomes your chosen methods produce.
Introspectively engage in an ongoing dialectic between the application of theories and methods to help enable you to use the outcomes from your methods to interrogate and develop new theories, or ways of framing conceptually the research problem. This is how scholarship grows and branches out into new intellectual territory.
Reynolds, R. Larry. Ways of Knowing. Alternative Microeconomics . Part 1, Chapter 3. Boise State University; The Theory-Method Relationship. S-Cool Revision. United Kingdom.
Yet Another Writing Tip
Methods and the Methodology
Do not confuse the terms "methods" and "methodology." As Schneider notes, a method refers to the technical steps taken to do research . Descriptions of methods usually include defining and stating why you have chosen specific techniques to investigate a research problem, followed by an outline of the procedures you used to systematically select, gather, and process the data [remember to always save the interpretation of data for the discussion section of your paper].
The methodology refers to a discussion of the underlying reasoning why particular methods were used . This discussion includes describing the theoretical concepts that inform the choice of methods to be applied, placing the choice of methods within the more general nature of academic work, and reviewing its relevance to examining the research problem. The methodology section also includes a thorough review of the methods other scholars have used to study the topic.
Bryman, Alan. "Of Methods and Methodology." Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 3 (2008): 159-168; Schneider, Florian. “What's in a Methodology: The Difference between Method, Methodology, and Theory…and How to Get the Balance Right?” PoliticsEastAsia.com. Chinese Department, University of Leiden, Netherlands.
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How to Write the Methodology for a Dissertation
The ‘methodology’ chapter tells the reader exactly how the research was carried out. So, it needs to be accurate.
After all, the benchmark of a ‘good methodology’ is whether or not the reader feels confident enough to replicate it. To inspire that level of confidence in your reader, you’ll need to be clear and precise.
But how do you write a clear and precise methodology chapter? Well, begin by identifying the key elements of a research methodology.
What should a methodology include?
Methodology chapters do vary, so it’s difficult to provide an exhaustive checklist. Having said that, most good methodologies tend to include:
- An outline of the research design-including how it will answer the research question(s)
- A description of the research philosophy
- A description of the research approach
- An outline of the research strategy
- A description of the research methods: This may include sub-sections such as: Sampling, Procedure, Data Collection, Data Analysis, Validity & Reliability, Ethics, etc., – this largely depends on the degree you are studying.
Each element can be quite tricky to get your head around, so let’s explore them in a bit more depth.
1. An overview of the research design
Before writing your methodology, you should know which research design you are using. Broadly speaking, there are three types of Research Design : Experimental, Descriptive, and Review. Under these headings, there are various sub-types, as shown in the table:
Most methodology chapters begin with a description of the research design. Then, with reference to the research question(s), they explain why the research design was a suitable choice.
2. Define the research philosophy
Secondly, you should clearly describe which research philosophy (or epistemology) you adopted.
This might seem like a waste of time, but it’s not!
If you clearly communicate your research philosophy to the reader, they’ll be able to understand what assumptions you made whilst conducting your research. This will not only make your research simpler to understand, but it’ll also make it easier for someone to replicate.
According to Saunders et al., (2009) , there are, broadly speaking, 5 philosophical approaches:
You should be clear about which ‘world view’ you adopted when you carried out your research. Importantly, this can help you to consider the strengths and weaknesses of your research. It’s this kind of critical thinking that’ll earn you the best grades!
3. Define the research approach
Next, you should explain whether your dissertation took a ‘deductive’ or ‘inductive’ approach. What’s the difference? Well,
- Deductive research tests a specific theory, often in a novel setting or with a novel population group. It is most compatible with a positivist philosophy, but it works with other philosophies, too.
- Inductive research explores a particular phenomenon and uses the findings to shape new theory. It is most compatible with interpretivism or post-modernism.
It’s best to thinking of deductive research as a “top-down” or “theory-led” approach, and inductive research as a “bottom up” or “findings-led” approach.
If you are not sure, ask yourself whether you formulated a hypothesis or not. If you have a hypothesis, your research is probably deductive.
4. Name the research strategy
The methodology should also define your chosen research strategy (quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods). In brief:
A quantitative strategy collects numerical data, which is then analysed through statistical methods. In contrast, a qualitative strategy collects textual data, perhaps from interviews or media sources, and analyses it through a qualitative method such as thematic analysis. Finally, there’s the mixed-methods approach that combines both strategies in one dissertation.
When it comes to choosing a research strategy, there’s no ‘one best way’ as it really depends on the aims of your research. If you need help choosing a research strategy, one of our PhD Experts would be glad to assist.
5. Research methods in focus
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to get down the ‘nitty-gritty’. Indeed, most methodologies will cover some or all of the following:
- Sampling – Clearly explain your sampling method.
- Procedure – You should provide a clear description of how/where/when/ the research took place.
- Data collection – How was the data collected and stored?
- Data analysis – Provide a clear description of how you analysed the data. If you used a qualitative method like ‘thematic analysis’ (TA), make sure you cite which researcher’s TA method you followed.
- Validity – Consider, did the results really measure what you intended them to? How did you make sure of this?
- Reliability – Also, if this study was replicated, would similar results be produced?
- Ethics – You should discuss the ethical implications of you research, put any Ethics forms in the Appendix, and then refer to these in the methodology.
Often, it helps to use these as subheadings to organise your ideas. But, bear in mind that some of the above headings might not be relevant to your dissertation.
How should I structure my methodology?
One of the most common questions students ask is ‘How do I structure the methodology for my dissertation?’ . It’s quite difficult to advise on this because each dissertation varies.
However, as mentioned, most methodologies begin with an overview of the research design and a re-iteration of the research question(s). Then, a description of the research philosophy, approach, and strategy are provided. Finally, once all that is out of the way, the procedure, sampling, data collection/analysis, validity and reliability, and ethics etc., are usually discussed.
For further guidance, it’s advisable to:
- Check your university’s dissertation guide
- Speak to your supervisor
- Take a look at dissertation examples from previous years
- Consult your referencing style guidance (e.g. APA, Harvard) for any specific requirements.
Do all dissertations have a methodology?
If you are studying Natural Sciences, Computer Sciences, Psychology, Business/Management, or a Health-related degree, chances are your dissertation will need a ‘Methodology’ chapter. On the other hand, if you are studying a Humanities or Arts degree, you probably won’t need to include a ‘Methodology’ chapter.
In that case, you’ll probably explain your research design in the Introduction of your dissertation . As always, it’s best to check with your supervisor if you are unsure.
Tips for writing a robust methodology
Here are some final pointers by our dissertation writing service to keep in mind when writing your methodology chapter:
- A common mistake students make is that they write too many words for the methodology chapter. Generally speaking, the methodology should account for around 15% of the full dissertation . Don’t make the mistake of spending too long evaluating every possible philosophy, design or strategy that you could have chosen. Instead, provide clear and succinct reasoning for the choices you’ve made, and this will allow your critical thinking skills to shine through. If you’re struggling to achieve this, our academic editors can show you how to write in a critical yet concise manner.
- Use sub-headings as these help to make the methodology much more readable. However, make sure you observe any conventions from your dissertation handbook.
- Write in the past tense. In a dissertation proposal , the methodology is written in the future tense (e.g. “The research design will be…”). However, when you come to write the methodology for the dissertation, this research has already been completed, so the methodology should be written in the past tense (e.g. “The research design was …”).
- Don’t fill up your methodology with resources that belong in the Appendices. For example, if you’ve used a questionnaire as part of your research, this should go in the Appendices. When you refer to the questionnaire in the methodology, this can be followed by: “(See Appendix X)”.
Writing the methodology isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest parts of the dissertation. But if you take it step-by-step and seek regular feedback from your supervisor, you’ll find it a lot easier.
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What Is a Dissertation Methodology?
How to choose your methodology, final thoughts, how to write your dissertation methodology.
Updated September 30, 2021
Due to the complexities of the different research methods, writing your dissertation methodology can often be the most challenging and time-consuming part of your postgraduate dissertation .
This article focuses on the importance of writing a good PhD or master's dissertation methodology – and how to achieve this.
A postgraduate dissertation (or thesis) is usually formed of several detailed sections, including:
Abstract – A summary of your research topic.
Introduction – Provides background information on your topic, putting it into context. You will also confirm the main focus of your study, explain why it will add value to your area of interest and specify your key objectives.
Literature Review – A critical review of literature that relates to your chosen research topic. You will also need to identify which gap in the literature your study aims to address.
Methodology – Focuses on the research methods used within your research.
Results – Used to report on your main findings and how these relate to your research question.
Conclusion – Used to confirm the answer to your main research question, reflect on the research process and offer recommendations on future research.
The dissertation methodology forms the skeleton of any research project. It provides the reader with a clear outline of the methods you decided to use when carrying out your research.
By studying your dissertation methodology, the reader will be able to assess your research in terms of its validity and reliability.
In line with the outline given above, the methodology chapter usually appears after the literature review . Your methodology should be closely linked to the research that you conducted as part of this review, as well as the questions you aim to answer through your research and analysis.
Taking the time to find out about the different types of research available to you will allow you to identify any potential drawbacks to the method you have chosen to use. You should then be able to make allowances or adjustments to address these when it comes to carrying out your research.
Choosing your methodology will largely depend on the discipline of the qualification you are studying for and the question your dissertation will seek to answer. In most cases, you will use quantitative or qualitative research methods, although some projects will benefit from using a combination of both.
Quantitative research methods are used to gather numerical information. This research method is particularly useful if you are seeking to count, categorise, measure or identify patterns in data. To collect quantitative data, you might choose to conduct experiments, tests or surveys.
Qualitative research methods are used to gather non-statistical data. Instead of using numbers to create charts or graphs, you will need to categorise the information according to identifiers. This research method is most useful if you are seeking to develop a hypothesis. To collect qualitative data, you might choose to conduct focus groups, interviews or observations.
What to Include in Your Dissertation Methodology
Below is a dissertation methodology example to show you what information to include:
You will need to reiterate your research topic or question and give an overview of how you plan to investigate this. If there were any ethical or philosophical considerations to be made, give details.
For example, you may have sought informed consent from the people taking part in interviews or surveys.
Outline of the Methods Chosen
Confirm whether you have chosen to use quantitative research, qualitative research or a combination of both.
When choosing between qualitative and quantitative research methods, you will need to carry out initial literature and textbook research to establish the standard research methods that are normally used within your chosen area of research.
If you are not sure where to start, you could visit the library at your college or university and ask one of the librarians to help you to identify the most relevant texts.
Explanation of the Methods Chosen
Explain your rationale for selecting your chosen research methods. You should also give an overview of why these were more appropriate than using another research method.
Think about where and when the research took place and who was involved. For example, this might include information on the venue used for interviews or focus groups, dates and timescales, and whether participants were part of a particular demographic group.
Here are some examples of the type of information you may wish to include:
Qualitative Research Methods
Personal observations – Where and when did you conduct the observations? Who did you observe? Were they part of a particular community or group? How long did each observation take? How did you record your findings – did you collect audio recordings, video footage or written observations?
Focus groups – Where and when did the focus group take place? Who was involved? How were they selected? How many people took part? Were the questions asked structured, unstructured or semi-structured? Remember to include a copy of the questions that were used as an appendix.
Interviews – Where and when did the interviews take place? Who took part? How did you select the participants? What type of questions did you ask? How did you record your findings? Remember to include a copy of the questions that were used as an appendix.
The researcher’s objective was to find out customer perceptions on improving the product range currently offered by Company Y. Semi-structured interviews were held with 15 returning customers from the key target demographic for Company Y (18- to 35-year-olds). For research purposes, a returning customer was defined as somebody who purchased products from Company Y at least two times per week during the past three months. The interviews were held in an office in the staff area of the retail premises. Each interview lasted approximately 25 minutes. Responses were recorded through note-taking as none of the respondents wished to give their consent to be filmed.
Quantitative Research Methods
Existing information or data – What were the sources of the material used? How did you select material? Did you only use data published within a particular time frame?
Experiments – What tools or equipment did you use? What techniques were required? Note that when conducting experiments, it is particularly important to provide enough information to allow another researcher to conduct the experiment and obtain the same results.
Surveys – Were respondents asked to answer multiple-choice questions or complete free-text fields? How many questions were used? How long were people given to answer all of the questions? What were the demographics of the participants? Remember to include a copy of the survey in the appendices.
The survey was made up of 10 multiple-choice questions and 5 questions to be rated using a 5-point Lickert scale. The objective was to have 250 customers of Company Z complete the survey at the Company Z HQ between 1st and 5th February 2019, between the hours of 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. For research purposes, a customer was defined as any person who had purchased a product from Company Z during 2018. Customers completing the survey were allowed a maximum of 10 minutes to answer all of the questions. 200 customers responded, however not all of the surveys were completed in full, so only 150 survey results were able to be used in the data analysis.
How Was the Data Analysed?
If you have chosen to use quantitative research methods, you will need to prepare the data before analysing it – for example, you will need to check for variables, missing data and outliers. If you have used computer software to aid with analysis, information on this should also be included.
For qualitative data, you will need to categorise and code the ideas and themes that are identified from the raw data. You may also need to use techniques such as narrative analysis or discourse analysis to interpret the meaning behind responses given.
What Materials and Equipment Were Used During the Research?
This could include anything from laboratory equipment used in a scientific experiment to computer software used to analyse the results.
Were There Any Hurdles or Difficulties Faced During the Research?
If so, what were they and how did you manage to overcome them? This could be anything from difficulties in finding participants, problems obtaining consent or a shortage of the required resources needed to conduct a scientific experiment.
This paragraph should be used to evaluate the research you have conducted and justify your reasons for choosing this approach.
You do not need to go into great detail, as you will present and discuss your results in-depth within your dissertation’s ‘Results’ section.
You will need to briefly explain whether your results were conclusive, whether there were any variables and whether your choice of methodology was effective in practice.
Tips for Writing Your Dissertation Methodology
The objective for the methodology is not only to describe the methods that you used for your research. You will also need to demonstrate why you chose to use them and how you applied them.
The key point is to show that your research was conducted meticulously.
Try to keep your writing style concise and clear; this will ensure that it is easy for the reader to understand and digest.
Here are five top tips to consider when writing your dissertation methodology:
1. Look at Other Methodology Sections
Ask your supervisor to provide you with a few different examples of previously written dissertations. Reading through methodologies that have been written by past students will give you a good idea of what your finished methodology section should look like.
2. Plan Your Structure
Whichever research methods you have chosen to use, your dissertation methodology should be a clearly structured, well written section that gives a strong and justified argument for your chosen research methods.
You may wish to use headings such as:
- Research methods
- Explanation of research methods chosen
- Data analysis and references
Once you have drafted an outline, ask your supervisor for advice on whether there is anything you have missed and whether your structure looks logical.
3. Consider Your Audience
When writing your methodology, have regard for the people who are likely to be reading it. For example, if you have chosen to use research methods that are commonly chosen within your area of research or discipline, there is no need to give a great deal of justification or background information.
If you decide to use a less popular approach, it is advisable to give much more detailed information on how and why you chose to use this method.
4. Remain Focused on Your Aims and Research Questions
Your dissertation methodology should give a clear indication as to why the research methods you have chosen are suitable for the aims of your research.
When writing your dissertation methodology, ensure that you link your research choices back to the overall aims and objectives of your dissertation. To help you to remain focused, it can be helpful to include a clear definition of the question you are aiming to answer at the start of your methodology section.
5. Refer to Any Obstacles or Difficulties That You Dealt With
If you faced any problems during the data collection or analysis phases, use the methodology section to talk about what you did to address these issues and minimise the impact.
Whether you are completing a PhD or master's degree, writing your thesis or dissertation methodology is often considered to be the most difficult and time-consuming part of completing your major research project.
The key to success when writing a methodology section is to have a clear structure. Remember, the purpose of the methodology section of your research project is to ensure that the reader has a full understanding of the methods you have chosen.
You should use your methodology section to provide clear justification as to why you have chosen a particular research method instead of other potential methods. Avoid referring to your personal opinions, thoughts or interests within your methodology; keep the information that you include factual and ensure that everything is backed up by appropriate academic references.
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Writing your Dissertation: Methodology
A key part of your dissertation or thesis is the methodology. This is not quite the same as ‘methods’.
The methodology describes the broad philosophical underpinning to your chosen research methods, including whether you are using qualitative or quantitative methods, or a mixture of both, and why.
You should be clear about the academic basis for all the choices of research methods that you have made. ' I was interested ' or ' I thought... ' is not enough; there must be good academic reasons for your choice.
What to Include in your Methodology
If you are submitting your dissertation in sections, with the methodology submitted before you actually undertake the research, you should use this section to set out exactly what you plan to do.
The methodology should be linked back to the literature to explain why you are using certain methods, and the academic basis of your choice.
If you are submitting as a single thesis, then the Methodology should explain what you did, with any refinements that you made as your work progressed. Again, it should have a clear academic justification of all the choices that you made and be linked back to the literature.
Common Research Methods for the Social Sciences
There are numerous research methods that can be used when researching scientific subjects, you should discuss which are the most appropriate for your research with your supervisor.
The following research methods are commonly used in social science, involving human subjects:
One of the most flexible and widely used methods for gaining qualitative information about people’s experiences, views and feelings is the interview.
An interview can be thought of as a guided conversation between a researcher (you) and somebody from whom you wish to learn something (often referred to as the ‘informant’).
The level of structure in an interview can vary, but most commonly interviewers follow a semi-structured format. This means that the interviewer will develop a guide to the topics that he or she wishes to cover in the conversation, and may even write out a number of questions to ask.
However, the interviewer is free to follow different paths of conversation that emerge over the course of the interview, or to prompt the informant to clarify and expand on certain points. Therefore, interviews are particularly good tools for gaining detailed information where the research question is open-ended in terms of the range of possible answers.
Interviews are not particularly well suited for gaining information from large numbers of people. Interviews are time-consuming, and so careful attention needs to be given to selecting informants who will have the knowledge or experiences necessary to answer the research question.
See our page: Interviews for Research for more information.
If a researcher wants to know what people do under certain circumstances, the most straightforward way to get this information is sometimes simply to watch them under those circumstances.
Observations can form a part of either quantitative or qualitative research. For instance, if a researcher wants to determine whether the introduction of a traffic sign makes any difference to the number of cars slowing down at a dangerous curve, she or he could sit near the curve and count the number of cars that do and do not slow down. Because the data will be numbers of cars, this is an example of quantitative observation.
A researcher wanting to know how people react to a billboard advertisement might spend time watching and describing the reactions of the people. In this case, the data would be descriptive , and would therefore be qualitative.
There are a number of potential ethical concerns that can arise with an observation study. Do the people being studied know that they are under observation? Can they give their consent? If some people are unhappy with being observed, is it possible to ‘remove’ them from the study while still carrying out observations of the others around them?
See our page: Observational Research and Secondary Data for more information.
If your intended research question requires you to collect standardised (and therefore comparable) information from a number of people, then questionnaires may be the best method to use.
Questionnaires can be used to collect both quantitative and qualitative data, although you will not be able to get the level of detail in qualitative responses to a questionnaire that you could in an interview.
Questionnaires require a great deal of care in their design and delivery, but a well-developed questionnaire can be distributed to a much larger number of people than it would be possible to interview.
Questionnaires are particularly well suited for research seeking to measure some parameters for a group of people (e.g., average age, percentage agreeing with a proposition, level of awareness of an issue), or to make comparisons between groups of people (e.g., to determine whether members of different generations held the same or different views on immigration).
See our page: Surveys and Survey Design for more information.
Documentary analysis involves obtaining data from existing documents without having to question people through interview, questionnaires or observe their behaviour. Documentary analysis is the main way that historians obtain data about their research subjects, but it can also be a valuable tool for contemporary social scientists.
Documents are tangible materials in which facts or ideas have been recorded. Typically, we think of items written or produced on paper, such as newspaper articles, Government policy records, leaflets and minutes of meetings. Items in other media can also be the subject of documentary analysis, including films, songs, websites and photographs.
Documents can reveal a great deal about the people or organisation that produced them and the social context in which they emerged.
Some documents are part of the public domain and are freely accessible, whereas other documents may be classified, confidential or otherwise unavailable to public access. If such documents are used as data for research, the researcher must come to an agreement with the holder of the documents about how the contents can and cannot be used and how confidentiality will be preserved.
How to Choose your Methodology and Precise Research Methods
Your methodology should be linked back to your research questions and previous research.
Visit your university or college library and ask the librarians for help; they should be able to help you to identify the standard research method textbooks in your field. See also our section on Research Methods for some further ideas.
Such books will help you to identify your broad research philosophy, and then choose methods which relate to that. This section of your dissertation or thesis should set your research in the context of its theoretical underpinnings.
The methodology should also explain the weaknesses of your chosen approach and how you plan to avoid the worst pitfalls, perhaps by triangulating your data with other methods, or why you do not think the weakness is relevant.
For every philosophical underpinning, you will almost certainly be able to find researchers who support it and those who don’t.
Use the arguments for and against expressed in the literature to explain why you have chosen to use this methodology or why the weaknesses don’t matter here.
Structuring your Methodology
It is usually helpful to start your section on methodology by setting out the conceptual framework in which you plan to operate with reference to the key texts on that approach.
You should be clear throughout about the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen approach and how you plan to address them. You should also note any issues of which to be aware, for example in sample selection or to make your findings more relevant.
You should then move on to discuss your research questions, and how you plan to address each of them.
This is the point at which to set out your chosen research methods, including their theoretical basis, and the literature supporting them. You should make clear whether you think the method is ‘tried and tested’ or much more experimental, and what kind of reliance you could place on the results. You will also need to discuss this again in the discussion section.
Your research may even aim to test the research methods, to see if they work in certain circumstances.
You should conclude by summarising your research methods, the underpinning approach, and what you see as the key challenges that you will face in your research. Again, these are the areas that you will want to revisit in your discussion.
Your methodology, and the precise methods that you choose to use in your research, are crucial to its success.
It is worth spending plenty of time on this section to ensure that you get it right. As always, draw on the resources available to you, for example by discussing your plans in detail with your supervisor who may be able to suggest whether your approach has significant flaws which you could address in some way.
Continue to: Research Methods Designing Research
See Also: Dissertation: Results and Discussion Writing a Literature Review | Writing a Research Proposal Writing a Dissertation: The Introduction
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How to Create the Methodology Chapter for Dissertation?
Take time to practice your researching, writing, and editing skills. Don't forget to learn and read the following material constantly:
A Guide On Writing a Dissertation Introduction
Creating a Results Chapter in your Dissertation
How to Tackle the Discussion in Dissertation
Writing a Literature Review Chapter for Your Dissertation
The Methodology section is a part of a thesis or dissertation necessary to explain how you conducted the research. It should be very detailed - after familiarizing themselves with this section, the readers should be able to recreate all the work that you did. The people reading and evaluating your dissertation will be looking closely at the methods and materials you used to ensure the work is sound, so your task is to make this section clear and complete.
This section in sciences and engineering thoroughly explains experimental design. You need not just describe how your study was done but also why that particular experimental design was chosen. The writing should be detailed but concise. Don't include information that isn't required to repeat the experiment, and don't over-explain concepts or methods that will already be familiar to those in your field. Keep in mind the third person and past tense you must use.
When writing a methodology, make sure it contains the following elements:
Start by outlining the basic style of your research. Is it experimental? Is it correlational, causal-comparative, or a mixed design? What variables will you be looking at? How have you counted bias or uncontrollable variables? What about using randomization techniques? Also,\ address how the research design you chose is appropriate for the question you're trying to answer. No matter what field you're in, many study techniques will likely be used, so make sure the reader understands why you picked the techniques you did.
Setting and Materials.
Describe the methods and materials employed and the setting where it took place. For an experimental study in a field such as a biology, this section would include things like the lineage of plants, animals, or cells involved in the experiment, a description of laboratory or field conditions, and details of the equipment used. In the social sciences, this might mean a description of the population being studied as well as details on sample size - basically, anything the reader would need to know to recreate your work accurately.
Remember that you need to be very specific about your materials. For example, if you used animals in your study, you can't just say "mice." You need to include details like age, gender, and familiar relationship. If you conducted a survey, you need to specify the exact age, gender, and the number of subjects. Also, be specific about your equipment. If you used a particular software package or a lab apparatus, you'd better include its exact name. However, you won't usually need to include brand names unless that particular item varies significantly by manufacturer.
If you're doing work with animals or human subjects, you'll need to include a few paragraphs discussing how you addressed ethical considerations in your methods chapter. This will likely need to contain a statement that your institution's review board has approved your research protocols.
Often in the social sciences, instruments like surveys have to be tested for accuracy and usefulness before they can be used to answer the main research question. If your work includes this type of pilot study, you need to include that information in the Methodology chapter. For example, if a pilot study was used to develop a questionnaire, you would need to detail how you developed the questionnaire, discuss the ways it was tested and evaluated, and how that evaluation affected your use of the questionnaire later in your work.
Once you're discussed the materials used, you'll need to provide more details. Tell your readers how you carried out the experiment, and explain how you collected the data. Data collection is a key part of being able to recreate a study, so it's important to specify the how, where, when, and why you used these data collection methods. Much like in the materials section, you'll need to be very specific so the experiment can be recreated if necessary.
After the information was collected how was it analyzed? Include details of any statistical techniques used as well as your rationale for choosing particular methods of analysis. Everything that follows in your discussion will stem from the results; that's why your reader should know that the analysis is accurate. For example, if you transformed data, you need to explain why and how. If you calculated correlation or used other statistical tests, explain your threshold for significance.
Finish the Methodology section with a brief conclusion. Then, create it the way it will remind the research design to your readers and gradually lead them to the Results section.
Do you know how to check whether this chapter is complete? Ask yourself whether it answers these basic questions:
- What did you do to answer the research question?
- How did you do the work?
- Is your experimental design justified?
- How did you analyze the results?
If you need to write a dissertation on humanities, you need to know that the methodology chapter here is usually significantly shortened or left out altogether. When a methods section is included, it should be used to discuss your research techniques. It's okay to mention the theoretical approach you've taken in addressing your research question.
Research methods and techniques.
Outline how you performed any experiment or research included in your dissertation. For example, how did you locate and authenticate sources? How did you decide which works to include or leave out of your research? This section can be necessary if you're doing original research, but don't confuse this with the literature review - you discuss the process of carrying out research, but not the information you uncovered.
Describe the theoretical approach you've taken to address your research problem. For example, if you're writing a dissertation in literature, you might discuss texts in terms of a particular ideology, such as Marxism or post-structuralism. Similarly, a dissertation in history might use the chapter we discuss to highlight opposing interpretations of a primary source and to show why you've selected one approach over the other.
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Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019
So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.
To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .
*The Caveat *
In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).
So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.
Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis
- Acknowledgements page
- Abstract (or executive summary)
- Table of contents , list of figures and tables
- Chapter 1: Introduction
- Chapter 2: Literature review
- Chapter 3: Methodology
- Chapter 4: Results
- Chapter 5: Discussion
- Chapter 6: Conclusion
- Reference list
As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:
- The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
- The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
- The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
- The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .
In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.
To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.
Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.
The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:
- Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
- Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
- Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)
Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:
- The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
- The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
- Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or mixed methods ).
A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].
Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).
This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.
So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:
- Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
- Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
- Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
- Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).
There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.
Abstract or executive summary
The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .
For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):
- Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
- Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
- Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
- Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?
So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.
In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .
Need a helping hand?
Table of contents
This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:
If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.
Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…
It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:
- What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
- Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
- What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
- What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
- How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
- How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?
These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.
If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.
Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:
- What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
- Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
- How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
- How does your research contribute something original?
- How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?
Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.
Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.
Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…
In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:
- Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
- Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?
Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.
Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.
In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!
You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.
Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.
Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).
What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.
Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.
The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).
Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?
Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!
This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.
The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.
It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:
Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.
The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.
Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!
Time to recap…
And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:
- Acknowledgments page
Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).
I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog .
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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many thanks i found it very useful
Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.
Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!
what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much
Thanks so much this helped me a lot!
Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.
Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..
Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?
Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment
You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.
best ever benefit i got on right time thank you
Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .
I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these
You have given immense clarity from start to end.
Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?
Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!
Thanks ! so concise and valuable
This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.
Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.
Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times
Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.
Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills
Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear
That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!
My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!
Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?
It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂
Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!
Great video; I appreciate that helpful information
It is so necessary or avital course
This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you
Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates
wow this is an amazing gain in my life
This is so good
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How to Write a Dissertation Methodology: Guide & Examples
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The dissertation methodology is a section that explains how the research was conducted, connecting various important aspects. It outlines the research design and approach used, providing the overall framework for the study. In this section, you should identify the research strategies, data collection methods, analysis tools and ethical considerations. A well-written dissertation methodology should provide an explanation of why certain decisions were made in order to ensure reliable results.
Dissertation methodology is necessary for writing a dissertation . Choosing suitable academic methods and applying them in a process is not an easy task. It is further complicated by the fact that each scientific area has its own applied methods. Below we will reveal how to write a dissertation methodology and discuss the instruments you used in a study.
What Is Methodology in Dissertation?
Methodology in dissertation is a general system of scientific knowledge methods. Students usually use them to achieve a research paper goal they set at the beginning of a work. We can say that this is an instrumental basis. How many words should a methodology be in a dissertation? We would say it should be around 20% of the whole work. You should develop research problems and explain solutions to the main issues. Selection of suitable methods starts at the stage of preparing a dissertation plan. This section should be placed in dissertation introduction . You should justify the choice of each method used in work. In the abstract, just list analysis of the main techniques that were used. Due to their huge number, there are different research methods classifications. Firstly, they are usually divided into two categories. The first category is applicable to all knowledge branches. The second has a narrower focus. It covers those methods that are applied strictly in a particular science area. We’ll consider quantitative and qualitative classifications in more detail.
Methodology Dissertation: Purpose
The main goal of methodology chapter dissertation is to study methods you have chosen. It helps to acquire and substantiate new findings in science. But, in addition to this main task, this section also studies:
- knowledge structure in general,
- cognitional place and role’s various forms,
- analytical methods,
- various systems of scientific knowledge.
So, the purpose is to study an object, process, or phenomenon. You should capture scientific principles’ basis in written form and introduce useful results into production. Note that our dissertation service includes help with methodology, too.
Methods vs Methodology Chapter: Dissertation
You might be confused with the difference between thesis and dissertation methods, but the answer is simple. Researchers use the first term to proceed with studying research problems. Literally, this is a description of all material and information that was used in work. Methodology is a broader term. It is a system with methods for learning how research should be done systematically. It ensures that conclusions drawn are valid and reliable.
What to Include in the Methodology Section of Dissertation?
Let’s consider what to include in a dissertation methodology . No matter what scientific area you’re working on, it should include the same chapters. We recommend you focus on specific methods for your studying. But a general outline is universal for each case.
Aims in Methodology of Dissertation
In the dissertation methodology chapter, you should describe research methods and organization. Briefly, list method aims and techniques used in study. It is necessary to indicate methods’ authors and publishing year. For example:
Following methods were used to solve tasks:
- Theoretical : analysis, synthesis, systematization, comparison, classification of scientific and psychological sources of information. They allow to generalize and systematize views of scientists on a problem being studied;
- Empirical: method of "Determining speed of mental process of junior high school students at time of transition to high school."
- Mathematical processing of research results: data processing and graphical presentation of results were carried out using spreadsheets MS Excel 2010.
Outline of Methods in Methodology Section: Dissertation
The dissertation methodology outline begins with a search. Find a subject area that can unite all gained empirical results. Some results often do not fit into a single structure and have to be discarded. But sometimes, necessary empirical results are lacking, so you should continue study's empirical part. Determine an appropriate outline to begin logical concept composition.
Explanation of Methods in Methodology for Dissertation
For the methodology section of the dissertation, you should determine the study base, respondents number, their age, gender. Explain your choice using specific arguments. Look at following example:
Study was conducted based on the municipal higher educational institution of the regional council. The study covered 105 first-year students (including 77 students of Department of Primary Education (base 9 classes), aged 15.5 years and 28 students of department "Preschool Education" (base 11 classes), aged 17.5 years).
Qualitative Methods of Methodology in Dissertation
Qualitative dissertation methodology is aimed at identifying statistical survey characteristics. So you can reveal various types of deep social processes and mechanisms. For example, analyze the media's influence on individual consciousness. Or examine informational perception of different population layers. The main application area of these methods is marketing and sociological research. Let's consider the most important group methods:
- In-depth interview. Here well-reasoned answers are required. Often, it is conducted in the free conversation form in an informal setting. Its purpose is to explore beliefs, values, and respondents’ motivations.
- Expert interview. Invited specialists express their valuable opinion.
- Focus group discussions. Here conversation takes place with a focus group. It can consider 10-15 respondents who are directly related to study. Participants share their personal experiences and perception on the topic during discussion. Based on their statements, a social group’s "portrait" to which the focus group belongs is compiled.
Quantitative Methods of Dissertation Research: Methodology
The second dissertation methodology is quantitativ methods . It helps to identify phenomena based on statistical methods. It aims at initially collecting questionnaires and then measuring them to investigate large-scale phenomena. It also allows you to study the structure and research development’s dynamics. This includes counting publications number made or content analysis. For example, determination of various sources’ volume citation. It is possible to track studied circulation and the usage degree. The research results using this method are information with minor deviations.
How Data Is Analyzed in Your Dissertation Methodology Section
In the practical section, analyze results of research methodology dissertation. Provide detailed data on subjects and different research methods. Pay attention to results' validity and their interpretation. Research results should not be limited to statements of received facts. Interpret their scientific explanation and obtain results.
Materials Used in Your Methodology Chapter in Dissertation
Methodology chapter in the dissertation should include suitable materials. Data selection, critical comprehension, and processing are essential. First, you need to introduce primary literature (textbooks, theoretical articles) and applied materials (methodological developments, instructional materials, articles). Include only carefully selected and purposefully analyzed elements. As illustrative material, you can add sample documents, tables, diagrams, charts. They can be placed throughout your study.
Tips on How to Write a Dissertation Methodology
We have prepared some tips on how to write a methodology for a dissertation. Hope they will ease your writing.
- Pose a problem that your method solves and justify its relevance.
- Complete analysis of literary background.
- Write it concise and clear.
- Apply only those research methods that you will manage to use.
- Make qualified interpretations and observations to obtain results.
- Create an independent, original approach to processing of material.
- Provide all answers to hypothetical questions before your readers can ask them.
Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Methodology for Dissertation
We collected and identified 10 common mistakes in writing a dissertation methodology. Avoid them to make this section excellent!
- Conduction too complicated research.
- Non-disclosing chosen method.
- Non-compliance with general requirements.
- Excessive volumes of sections.
- Faked background sources.
- Unrelated parts of description.
- Outdated methods.
- Grammatical errors.
- Weak impact on a scientific field.
Dissertation Methodology Example
We prepared a methodology example for your dissertation. Now you know all necessary information on how to write this chapter. We recommend you pay specific attention while writing. You can take our sample as a template.
Final Thoughts on Writing a Methodology for a Dissertation
Dissertation methodology occupies 20% of your text. It is significant for your scientific research. In this section you formulate provisions that determine the entire course of work. We recommend writing this section at the very beginning. So, research methods are steps that we take towards work goals. These are ways that our online dissertation help resolves study tasks.
Just order your work from our papers writing service ! In a few days, you’ll receive outstanding work with minimum energy wasted.
Joe Eckel is an expert on Dissertations writing. He makes sure that each student gets precious insights on composing A-grade academic writing.
House Republicans unveil their plan to avert a government shutdown next week
WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Saturday unveiled their stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown set to begin next weekend. But with just five legislative days left until the deadline, Congress has little room for error.
Just two and a half weeks into the job, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., opted to go with a two-step continuing resolution, or CR, over a more typical funding extension covering the entire federal government. The untested funding approach is aimed at appeasing far-right agitators in his GOP conference who despise CRs.
The House is expected to vote as early as Tuesday to give members 72 hours to read the text of the bill , according to two people familiar with matter. The plan does not include budget cuts or aid for Israel.
Under the two-step strategy — which Johnson and others have dubbed a “laddered CR” but which others have likened to a step stool — several spending bills needed to keep the government open would be extended until Jan. 19, while the remaining bills would go on a CR until Feb. 2.
GOP hard-liners had been pushing Johnson to include budget cuts as part of his two-tiered CR plan, a source involved in discussions said. One House Republican, Chip Roy of Texas, quickly voiced his opposition to the bill shortly after it was released.
“It’s a 100% clean . And I 100% oppose,” Roy tweeted. “ My opposition to the clean CR just announced by the Speaker to the @HouseGOP cannot be overstated. Funding Pelosi level spending & policies for 75 days — for future “promises.”
The plan is designed to avoid a messy showdown right before the holidays and buy Johnson and House Republicans more time to pass individual spending bills but also create a sense of urgency with staggered funding cliffs. But it remains to be seen whether the plan can pass the House, much less the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has dismissed the two-tiered approach.
“This two-step continuing resolution is a necessary bill to place House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative victories,” Johnson said in a statement after he announced the plan. “The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess.”
He added: “Separating out the CR from the supplemental funding debates places our conference in the best position to fight for fiscal responsibility, oversight over Ukraine aid, and meaningful policy changes at our Southern border.”
The laddered plan has the backing of Congress’ most conservative members, including Republicans who normally never vote for stopgap bills. If Johnson could get a temporary funding bill passed with only Republican votes, it would help him notch an early win among conservatives.
“I like the ladder approach,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. “I think if we try to pass some appropriations bills, we’re doing better than we’ve done in the past.”
But Democrats in both chambers have made it abundantly clear that they hate the idea, as does the White House — all of whom want a simple extension of government funding without any gimmicks. Democrats’ unified opposition to the laddered CR could mean the House will ultimately have to swallow whatever clean or relatively clean CR the Senate passes.
“I want a clean CR,” declared Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
After the release of the plan, however, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said Saturday: “It’s a good thing the speaker didn’t include unnecessary cuts and kept defense funding with the second group of programs." A source familiar with the matter added that Johnson moved in the direction of Democrats with his plan.
Still, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York all but ruled out the two-tiered approach when he was pressed Thursday. “A continuing resolution that is at the fiscal year 2023 levels is the only way forward, because that’s the status quo,” he said, advocating for a clean CR.
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., teed up a vote on a separate stopgap measure, setting the wheels in motion for action next week. The Democratic-led Senate is eyeing a clean continuing resolution that would run through mid-January, without additional funding for Ukraine, Israel and the border, according to two sources directly involved in the process.
But Schumer would most likely need a time agreement from all 100 senators to fund the government by Friday’s deadline, which Senate hard-liners will be reluctant to give.
“I implore Speaker Johnson and our House Republican colleagues and learn from the fiasco of a month ago. Hard-right proposals, hard-right slash and cuts, hard-right poison pills that have zero support from Democrats will only make a shutdown more likely,” Schumer said in a floor speech.
What’s clear is that after last month’s public GOP civil war over the speaker’s gavel, Republicans have little appetite for shutting down the government. Even some hard-core conservatives, like Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said they are willing to vote for a CR to keep the government open and don’t care how it’s structured.
“I’m open to supporting a CR, and if you’ve been following me, that’s a 180-degree turn,” said Bishop, a Freedom Caucus member who is running for North Carolina attorney general.
He said his wife recently asked what was happening in Congress this week. He replied: Figuring out “what the features of the CR are going to be.”
“I just don’t think that Americans care that much,” Bishop added.
Scott Wong is a senior congressional reporter for NBC News.
Julie Tsirkin is a correspondent covering Capitol Hill.