Writing the methods section for your thesis sounds like a daunting task, but don’t worry – we’ve all been there.
The good news is that once you learn how to break your methodology down into specific steps, the whole writing process will become much easier.
Let’s unpack the purpose of a methods section, the elements it ought to comprise, and some of our top tips!
The Goal of a Methods Section
While a literature review provides an overview of the current knowledge in the field, a methodology chapter is where you explain how you went about researching your topic and why.
Methodology is a fundamental part of your thesis for three reasons:
- It shows how you procured your findings in detail, which gives your research credibility
- It makes your study replicable so that other researchers can compare their own findings to yours using the same process
- It displays your knowledge of research methods
What’s more, the methods section is where you get to point out any limitations to the study (for example, you may be working with a smaller sampler than would be preferable) and explain why your research matters in spite of these limitations.
How to Write a Methods Section: Checklist
Now that you know what the purpose of your methodology chapter is, it’s time to figure out what the best way to write it is.
First of all, let’s do a quick run through a checklist of all the essentials. No matter what type of research you’re conducting, your methods section should ideally include:
- The aim of your research (what you are hoping to achieve)
- An explanation of your research method and why you’ve picked it for this particular topic (this can be a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method)
- A detailed description of your chosen research method (for example, interviews or focus groups for qualitative research, and surveys or experiments for quantitative research)
- A summary of all the equipment you used and how you went about collecting your data and analyzing it
- A section on your respondents, participants, or samples (where you found them, why you chose them – what criteria you based your decisions on – and how many there were)
- Limitations of the study (which difficulties you encountered, in which ways your study is limited, and why your conclusions are important to take into consideration nonetheless)
When writing your methods section, try to avoid adding unnecessary information. Any extra materials (such as a lot of detailed images) can go in the appendix, and your results belong in the results section, not here. In a great thesis, everything has its place.
How to Write a Methods Section: 4 Steps
That’s our checklist ticked off! Now comes the next question. In what order should you organize all this information?
While some methods chapters differ from others, there are essentially four steps you can follow:
- Describe your methodological approach and dive into the specifics of why and how you picked this approach (this is where you talk about research methods and the specific type of research you conducted, such as an experiment or a survey)
- Explain how you collected your data (if you collected it through a survey, how did you design the survey? What kinds of questions did you choose and in what form? How did you select and look for respondents? How many were there?)
- Show how you analyzed your data (again, if you created a survey, how did you go about turning your respondents’ answers into a statistical graph? Which software did you use?)
- Justify your choices (discuss why your research method was the right choice for the topic and acknowledge any limitations)
4 Extra Tips
Before we part for today, here are a few more tips that will help you make your methods section the best it can be:
- Write in the past tense (“I collected my data…”)
- If relevant, reference other credible sources that help show your knowledge of the field (but don’t go into too much detail – that’s what your literature review is for)
- Always keep the aim of the study in mind (the methodology section shows how you went about solving your primary problem, so don’t stray too far from it)
- Write for your reader, not for yourself (what would a complete outsider to the study need to hear in order to grasp all your concepts? Which information would be irrelevant or redundant?)
The methods section isn’t so scary after all, right? All you need to do is adhere to a checklist of all the essentials and organize your information in a logical order.
And if you still struggle with your methodology chapter, don’t worry – the dedicated team of subject matter experts and PhD editors at FirstEditing is here to help.