A methods section or paper should detail your methods of research. When conducting your research, you made a series of deliberate choices about what data to use, how to collect that data, and why it would be important. Here is where you finally get to explain that! Normally, the methods section of a research paper is what helps bring validity to the research presented because the methods section details how your research was conducted. By doing this, the research is presented in such a way that it could easily be peer reviewed or replicated to further prove the original research findings.
Writing a methods section might differ field to field, so this is a broad overview that can be adapted.
A methods section or paper should do a few things:
- Describe actions taken to explore research question
- Describe reasoning for specific procedures or techniques utilized to identify and analyze data
- Allow reader to critically determine the validity of the research
Things to Avoid
- Extra unneeded information. If the information doesn’t relate to the problem at hand, leave it out! When conducting research, you will often run into information that is interesting or important for another line of questioning, however, this information might not actually need to be presented with your research. Maybe it detracts or seems out of place when juxtaposed with your research.
- Unless you use a unique, or unheard of technique, your methods section can leave out the basics of your method. This section needs to be detailed but it shouldn’t constitute a how-to guide.
- If there are problems with your research, don’t ignore it! Offer suggestions and reasons for gaps in data or unforeseen issues. This will help round out your research and add validity.
- This isn’t a literature review, but be sure to mention any important sources that ground your methodology. That said, this section should complement, rather than be, a list of sources.
To open your methods section, or paper, it is helpful to restate your research question. This helps acclimate the reader once again to the goal at hand. Then, mention and address any underlying ideas or assumptions that might accompany your work. The next step is to explain the methodological framework utilized. Normally, your specific field should have a variety of common frameworks and standards to follow. If you decide to branch out with an unfamiliar methodology for your field, be sure to explain that in your introduction.
The next couple of paragraphs should explain decisions that were made while analyzing or collecting data, tools and methods, how relevant variables were determined and analyzed, how data was processed, and specific tools or strategies employed to study the research question or hypothesis.
Other important points to keep in mind:
- Make sure to introduce the overarching methodological approach of your research. Is your research qualitative, quantitative, both (mixed-methods), or maybe something completely new?
- Be sure to explain how your specific approach applies to your individual question. What makes this approach suitable and appropriate for your specific research question? Why is this approach better than another approach?
- Describe your specific modes of data collection and why they are important to your specific research question.
- Explain how data was analyzed, or how you intend to analyze your data.
- Explain any unfamiliar methodological frameworks or practices your reader might be unfamiliar with. Did you find a cool idea out of left field? Great! Explain it!
- Be as clear and logical as possible.
Wrapping Things Up
In concluding your methods paper, or section, be sure to present limitations and rationale. Justify as much as you can: data, analysis techniques, findings. However, do not be afraid to explain limitations you faced and what could have been done better!
Need an example to help you start brainstorming? Here’s a helpful source for that.
How to Write the Methods Section of your Research Paper | Kolabtree Blog
How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper | Research Gate
How to Write an APA Methods Section | Scribbr
How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper | PubMed
How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper | Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center
Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper | USC Libraries
Writing Studio Consultant