How to Write a Research Methodology

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Methodology is the process used to gather and analyze data needed to answer the research questions guiding a study. Strive for clarity and accuracy when describing each step of the methods you used when conducting your research and explain why you chose certain methods over others. A detailed methodology is critical to other researchers who may wish to replicate your work or expand upon it. Ensure you write the methodology section in past tense when submitting your final paper.

1 Identify Your Research Paradigm

Specify whether you used a quantitative approach to measure data, a qualitative approach to describe phenomenon or both methods to frame your study. Explain how the framework chosen aligned with your research questions. For example, if you studied whether a new behavior modification program in the school district reduced disruptive classroom behavior, mention that you used a quantitative approach to explore a cause and effect relationship between the intervention and frequency of student misconduct.

2 Describe Data Collection Procedures

Indicate how you collected original data or retrieved archival information. If your study involved human subjects or animals, state how and when you obtained permission from your school’s institutional review board. In a quantitative study, you would also explain what experiments, tests or surveys were administered, including a subsection on sampling procedures. Also cite the reliability and validity of data-collection instruments. If you conducted a qualitative study, explain how data were acquired through inquiry techniques such as case studies, participant observation, journal analysis or focus groups. Use references to add credibility to your writing.

3 Discuss Data Analysis

Summarize the strategies used to analyze empirical data or make meaning out of subjective reports gathered during the course of the study. For example, if you investigated whether students who work under 20 hours per week have higher GPAs than students who work 20 hours or more, you might write about using a chi-squared test to compare the GPAs of the two groups. If describing the analysis of qualitative findings, reveal any personal biases that affected your interpretation and mention use of software tools such as NVivo, a computer program that identifies themes and trends in narratives.

4 Note Potential Limitations

Disclose any weaknesses in the study that might have confounded the results. Examples of limitations include: low survey return rate, small sample size, interjection of unforeseen variables or poorly attended focus groups. Comment on how the limitations could have skewed the data or the conclusions. Acknowledging limitations doesn't necessarily affect the validity of the paper. Instead, it acts as a way to identify areas for further research and study.

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.