How to write a research methodology

In your thesis or dissertation, you will have to discuss the methods you used to do your research. The methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research. It should include:

The methodology section should generally be written in the past tense.

Step 1: Explain your methodological approach

Begin by introducing your overall approach to the research.

What research problem or question did you investigate? For example, did you aim to systematically describe the characteristics of something, to explore an under-researched topic, or to establish a cause-and-effect relationship? And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Did you need quantitative data (expressed in numbers) or qualitative data (expressed in words)?
  • Did you need to collect primary data yourself, or did you use secondary data that was collected by someone else?
  • Did you gather experimental data by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data by gathering observations without intervening?

Depending on your discipline and approach, you might also begin with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology.

  • Why is this the most suitable approach to answering your research questions?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical or philosophical considerations?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research?
In a quantitative experimental study, you might aim to produce generalizable knowledge about the causes of a phenomenon. Valid research requires a carefully designed study under controlled conditions that can be replicated by other researchers.
In a qualitative ethnography, you might aim to produce contextual real-world knowledge about the behaviors, social structures and shared beliefs of a specific group of people. As this methodology is less controlled and more interpretive, you will need to reflect on your position as researcher, taking into account how your participation and perception might have influenced the results.

Step 2: Describe your methods of data collection

Once you have introduced your overall methodological approach, you should give full details of your data collection methods.

Quantitative methods

In quantitative research, for valid generalizable results, you should describe your methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Explain how you operationalized concepts and measured your variables; your sampling method or inclusion/exclusion criteria; and any tools, procedures and materials you used to gather data.

Surveys
Describe where, when and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questions and what form did they take (e.g. multiple choice, Likert scale)?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • Did you conduct surveys by phone, mail, online or in person, and how long did participants have to respond?
  • What was the sample size and response rate?

You might want to include the full questionnaire as an appendix so that your reader can see exactly what data was collected.

Experiments
Give full details of the tools, techniques and procedures you used to conduct the experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables?
  • What tools or technologies did you use in the experiment?

In experimental research, it is especially important to give enough detail for another researcher to reproduce your results.

Existing data
Explain how you gathered and selected material (such as publications or archival data) for inclusion 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)?
Quantitative methods example
The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions that were measured on a 7-point Likert scale. The aim was to conduct the survey with 350 customers of Company X on the company premises in The Hague from 4-8 July 2017 between 11:00 and 15:00. A customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from Company X on the day of questioning. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously, and 408 customers responded. Because not all surveys were fully completed, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research, since methods are often more flexible and subjective, it’s important to reflect on the approach you took and explain the choices you made.

Discuss the criteria you used to select participants or sources, the context in which the research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting the 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 people took part?
  • What form did the interviews take (structured, semi-structured, unstructured)?
  • How long were the interviews and how were they recorded?

Participant observation
Describe where, when and how you conducted the observation or ethnography.

  • What group or community did you observe and how did you gain access to them?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research and where was it located?
  • What role did you play in the community?
  • How did you record your data (e.g. audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data
Explain how you selected case study materials (such as texts or images) for the focus of your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyze?
  • How did you collect and select them?
Qualitative methods example
In order to gain a better insight into the possibilities for improvement of the product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers from the main target group of Company X. A returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from Company X. The surveys were used to select participants who belonged to the target group (20-45 years old). 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.

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Step 3: Describe your methods of analysis

Next, you should indicate how you processed and analyzed the data. Avoid going into too much detailyou should not start presenting or discussing any of your results at this stage.

Quantitative methods

In quantitative research, your analysis will be based on numbers. In the methods section you might include:

  • How you prepared the data before analyzing it (e.g. checking for missing data, removing outliers, transforming variables)
  • Which software you used to analyze the data (e.g. SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g. two-tailed t-test, simple linear regression)
Quantitative methods example
Before analysis the gathered data was prepared. The dataset was checked for missing data and outliers. For this the “outlier labeling rule” was used. All values outside the calculated range were considered outliers (Hoaglin & Iglewicz, 1987). The data was then analyzed using statistical software SPSS.

Qualitative methods

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: categorizing 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
Qualitative methods example
The interviews were transcribed and thematic analysis was conducted. This involved coding all the data before identifying and reviewing six key themes. Each theme was examined to gain an understanding of participants’ perceptions and motivations.

Step 4: Evaluate and justify your methodological choices

Your methodology should make the case for why you chose these particular methods, especially if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. Discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

You can acknowledge limitations or weaknesses in the approach you chose, but justify why these were outweighed by the strengths.

Lab-based experiments can’t always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviors, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables.
Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalized beyond the sample group, but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations and emotions.

Tips for writing a strong methodology

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them and to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted.

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. Throughout the section, relate your choices back to the central purpose of your dissertation.

Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by reference to existing research in the field, either to:

  • Confirm that you followed established practices for this type of research
  • Discuss how you evaluated different methodologies and decided on your approach
  • Show that you took a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

Our free citation generators can help you to create MLA citations and APA citations.

Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and don’t go into unnecessary detail. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give lots of background or justification. But if you take an approach that is less common in your field, you might need to explain and justify your methodological choices.

In either case, 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.

Discuss obstacles

If you encountered difficulties in collecting or analyzing data, explain how you dealt with them. Show how you minimized the impact of any unexpected obstacles. Pre-empt any major critiques of your approach and demonstrate that you made the research as rigorous as possible.

Frequently asked questions about methodology

What’s the difference between method and methodology?

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.

Where does the methodology section go in a research paper?

In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results, discussion and conclusion. The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation, or research proposal.

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

What’s the difference between quantitative and qualitative methods?

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 analyzing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.

What’s the difference between reliability and validity?

Reliability and validity are both about how well a method measures something:

  • Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure (whether the results can be reproduced under the same conditions).
  • Validity refers to the accuracy of a measure (whether the results really do represent what they are supposed to measure).

If you are doing experimental research, you also have to consider the internal and external validity of your experiment.

What is sampling?

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.

Is this article helpful?
Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

75 comments

Einar
October 22, 2020 at 1:50 AM

very useful thank you so much!

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BANGUE Benoît Sangnole
October 14, 2020 at 2:49 PM

Hi
Thank you very much for sharing about reseach methodology. All the information is meaningful and I wish you the best so that you can keep on doing it. God bless!

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M Hodshon
July 28, 2020 at 5:48 AM

Thanks so much, I just read in my assignment that I needed to do a research methodology - didn't even know what it was cos this is my first uni course!! thanks for the overview. M

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Sampi
July 4, 2020 at 9:20 AM

Very helpful, thank you

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Rowshan
May 9, 2020 at 11:22 AM

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visham
June 9, 2020 at 10:49 PM

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Emmanuel Binwell
April 9, 2020 at 4:34 PM

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge

It's so helpful

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fola
April 8, 2020 at 12:23 AM

In a QUALITATIVE STUDY, must one use the three analysis discussed , content, thematic and discourse for analysis

Or Any will suffice in your analysis

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Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
April 9, 2020 at 8:21 PM

Hi,

No, these are just three examples of methods you could use to analyze qualitative data; you can choose between these approaches (among others).

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Brenda jon
October 21, 2020 at 9:51 PM

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Temika R Moe
March 27, 2020 at 9:57 PM

This article is indeed helpful. My problem is the fact that I am not gathering my own raw data and I am using information from past studies. I find it difficult to piece together a methodology based on this.

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Dharel Mallari
March 23, 2020 at 6:08 PM

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Harvey
March 19, 2020 at 12:25 PM

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March 10, 2020 at 7:37 AM

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February 26, 2020 at 8:25 PM

Methodology made very easy to understand. very interesting piece.

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February 26, 2020 at 5:21 PM

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February 8, 2020 at 6:33 AM

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Christian Akaayar
February 21, 2020 at 10:42 PM

21st February,2020,

I came across your research methods, after reading it thoroughly, my difficulty in writing research methods was solved with ease.

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Thanks

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March 21, 2020 at 3:14 PM

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January 31, 2020 at 1:21 PM

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January 24, 2020 at 11:12 AM

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Best wishes

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January 20, 2020 at 11:17 PM

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January 1, 2020 at 3:16 PM

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December 30, 2019 at 5:46 AM

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December 15, 2019 at 3:00 PM

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James Hiah Tugbe
December 13, 2019 at 9:19 AM

Thanks for this academic empowerment in research methodology. please keep on to explore the understanding of academicians. However, I would like to know about proposal writing methodology. again, thank you so much.

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Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
December 13, 2019 at 4:14 PM

Hi James, thanks for your question. You can learn more in our articles about creating a research design and writing a research proposal. Hope that helps!

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Omolola
December 9, 2019 at 12:50 PM

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December 8, 2019 at 9:18 AM

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Cheki Dorji
December 6, 2019 at 10:18 AM

How to create a research design

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Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
December 6, 2019 at 11:14 AM

Hi Cheki, you can learn about this in our guide to research design. Hope this helps!

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November 20, 2019 at 10:55 AM

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September 26, 2019 at 12:21 AM

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September 25, 2019 at 4:09 AM

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September 15, 2019 at 2:15 PM

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September 10, 2019 at 3:59 AM

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September 30, 2019 at 11:56 PM

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Arjay
September 8, 2019 at 7:27 AM

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September 4, 2019 at 11:49 AM

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adrian
September 3, 2019 at 7:51 AM

Where should I use empirical and theoretical research? what are really they are?

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September 3, 2019 at 1:23 AM

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September 2, 2019 at 8:57 AM

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September 1, 2019 at 10:17 PM

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August 30, 2019 at 10:20 AM

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August 29, 2019 at 7:01 PM

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August 29, 2019 at 11:42 AM

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August 28, 2019 at 10:13 AM

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August 25, 2019 at 3:27 PM

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Anne Davis
August 16, 2019 at 3:33 PM

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August 14, 2019 at 10:03 AM

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August 12, 2019 at 4:23 PM

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Iddrisu Shani
August 10, 2019 at 5:11 PM

Very helpful especially for beginners. Good job.

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Amina Bilal
August 10, 2019 at 4:15 PM

Thank you. Very helpful and well structured. Can you suggest any article helpful to evaluate different methodologies?

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Abdu sanjar
September 2, 2019 at 1:02 AM

Thank you before i study this guide it was impossible for me to write my thesis.bless you be successful.

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Nthabiseng Mobelo
August 8, 2019 at 11:10 AM

The article was very helpful, the steps in writing a methodology were very clear and they helped me avoid including things that should not be in the methodology.

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Elias
August 5, 2019 at 1:24 AM

This is article is very helpful and I have been using it as a guide for my dissertation. however, I have one question. Is it preferable to write the methodology in first person or third?
Thanks.

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Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
August 12, 2019 at 6:31 PM

Hi Elias, thanks for your question! The answer depends partly on the conventions of your discipline. Social scientists and humanities researchers sometimes use the first person, but scientific writing often requires you to avoid it. It's best to focus on consistency – if you have used the first person elsewhere in your dissertation, you should use it in this chapter too. If not, use the third person (as the examples in this article do).

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Sunny Breakthrough Nnamani
August 2, 2019 at 6:10 AM

Thank you for helping me to gain more insight on what research methodology is all about, and I would like to be receiving more tips on academic research writing from you. I appreciate your work, keep it on.

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Anne
July 30, 2019 at 2:23 PM

You've cleared up quite a few cobwebs. Simply brilliant. God bless you. xx

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Sela
July 24, 2019 at 3:19 AM

Very helpful

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Jethro
July 4, 2019 at 3:50 AM

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June 29, 2019 at 10:50 PM

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June 26, 2019 at 7:30 PM

So informative and insightful

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Esther
June 16, 2020 at 11:04 PM

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Hamza Mtarfi
May 22, 2019 at 5:07 AM

The methodology part was the only missing part of my research paper.
Thank you so much for this article.

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