The method section captures the methods and procedures that you undertook to answer the research questions and resolve the study’s hypothesis. The section explains the procedures used to collect data as well as the techniques for data analysis, among others. In other words, the methods section explains the ways which the researcher used to identify, collect, process, and analyze data/information for their paper. A cogent explanation of these procedures and techniques is necessary because it allows readers to critically examine the overall validity and reliability of the empirical findings of the paper. Likewise, it helps other researchers who wish to reproduce the results that you obtained.
The following tips should help shed more light on how to write the methods section for a research paper
Write according to your field of study
Research methods vary according to field or discipline of study. For example, methods in the natural sciences are largely experimental and rely on laboratory data unlike the social sciences where a variety of other methods are used. Therefore, every researcher must contextualize their research methods within the norms of their field of study. You select a research design and organize your methods according to the framework of that design.
If you decide to use methods that are not within the scope of your discipline, be sure to explain such methods thoroughly and also offer your reasons for using them in addition to narrating how they help solve the research problem.
You have to be able to argue for why your research method is appropriate for solving your research questions or hypotheses.
Ensure that your approaches are suitable for the research problem
A serious setback in many research papers is the inappropriateness of the adopted research methods to help meet the study’s objectives. To avoid this, try and ensure that your data collection and analysis methods and your research design as a whole revolve around the identified research problem.
For those working with primary data, one way of achieving this, especially when writing a dissertation, is through the use of pilot studies. If you are using secondary data for regression analysis, you can try several iterations using regression software until you arrive at suitable research methods. Note that you need to specify at least one model when using regression analysis.
Explain your methodological and data collection approaches in detail
There are several different types of research and they can be classified in a number of ways. Thus, you have to clearly explain the approach or approaches you adopted for your paper. For example, is your research quantitative, qualitative, or mixed? Did you use primary data or secondary data? Did you collect data via observation, interviews, surveys, questionnaires? Was the data collected personally by you or posted/mailed? Did you work with research assistants? What problems did you face during the data collection process? All the procedures you passed through to ensure that you collected valid data should be stated. If you used secondary data, specify the nature of the data and the sources you collected the data from.
Rationalize your sample size/techniques
If you are collecting primary data through fieldwork, then the sampling procedure is very important. First, you have to briefly discuss the target population that you have identified for your study. After this, you then talk about the sampling technique you wish to draw your subjects from. You may also have to indicate the size of the sample and why you decided to settle for that size. Note that the larger the sample size the better your chances of correctly predicting the characteristics of your target population. Hence, it is more ideal to select a large sample so as to ensure that it is representative enough of the entire population.
Elaborate on your data analysis techniques
After the you have completed the task of collecting data, you must then comprehensively describe the techniques through which you intend to measure and subsequently analyze the data. For example, if it is quantitative analysis, you’ll likely opt for statistical software such as ANOVA, regression, etc, and the use of computer software such as SPSS, Eviews, and others.
If it is qualitative analysis, try to provide an elaborate explanation of the techniques and software used, e.g., the computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) which can help various forms of qualitative research analysis such as grounded theory methodology, transcription analysis, coding, and text interpretation, discourse analysis, and recursive abstraction, among others.
Explain the steps you took to ensure validity and reliability
Validity and reliability are very important concepts in research that any researcher must not take for granted. It, therefore, follows that you must elucidate on the measures you took to ensure that your methods are valid and reliable. Validity and reliability procedures vary with the type of research used. For instance, if you conducted experiments, then you’ll be more concerned about internal and external validity while you will be concerned with things like face and construct validity, among others, if you administered questionnaires on your subjects.
Some adopt a ad-hoc approach when articulating the methods section of their research paper. This can lead to all sorts of problems, including data collection problems. Hence, having a good understanding of how to write this vital section can save you time, energy, expenses and most importantly ensure the paper succeeds in achieving whatever purpose it set out to fulfill.
Because research methods vary according to field of study, you need to have a very clear understanding of the modus operandi in your faculty or department of study.