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 or methods section explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research. It should include:

  • The type of research you did
  • How you collected and/or selected your data
  • How you analyzed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • Your rationale for choosing these methods

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, and what kind of data did you need to answer it?

  • Quantitative methods (e.g. surveys) are best for measuring, ranking, categorizing, identifying patterns and making generalizations
  • Qualitative methods (e.g. interviews) are best for describing, interpreting, contextualizing, and gaining in-depth insight into specific concepts or phenomena
  • Mixed methods allow for a combination of numerical measurement and in-depth exploration

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

  • Was your aim to address a practical or a theoretical research problem?
  • 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 with a representative sample and controlled variables that can be replicated by other researchers.

In a qualitative ethnographic case study, 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 the methods you used to conduct the research. Outline the tools, procedures and materials you used to gather data, and the criteria you used to select participants or sources.

Quantitative methods

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, rating 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 (e.g. between-subjects or within-subjects)?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • 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 the respondents had to answer with 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

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.

  • 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?
  • 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 or Stata)
  • Which statistical methods you used (e.g. regression analysis)
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. 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
  • Narrative analysis: looking at storytelling structures and tropes and interpreting their meaning
  • 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.

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.

36 comments

Ahmad Shah Arian
October 15, 2019 at 10:55 AM

It was very PERFECT.
Thanks.

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James
October 9, 2019 at 8:22 PM

This was a great outline to use for my research paper. Thank you!

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Wada Emmanuel
October 7, 2019 at 12:11 PM

This was really a good guide to my research methodology and i really appreciate you.

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Sani Musa Dan Birni Fagge, Kano, Nigeria.
September 30, 2019 at 6:25 PM

As a student undergoing Masters programme and presently at Research stage, I really appreciate and found such your tip immensely useful and helpful!
Thanks!!
Keep up!!!

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Edimo Elvis
September 26, 2019 at 12:21 AM

I am currently working on my Doctoral Research Proposal.I really had some challenges with how to present the Section on Methodology and Design.But after reading through your presentation here am very confident to complete the section with better confidence. Please keep up the good works!
Thank you.

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Soura Djili
September 25, 2019 at 4:09 AM

I have learnt a lot through this article. Thanks a lot!

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Ali Abdi
September 15, 2019 at 2:15 PM

thanks to your good and advanced guiding articles to currently graduated students
also as I recently planning to write my defence book this gives me extra guiding and gain knowledge of written thesis
thank you

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Michelle Dee
September 10, 2019 at 3:59 AM

This was so helpful
Exactly what I was looking for
Thank you 🙏🏼

Reply

Biju S Punnooreth, PhD Fellow, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India
September 30, 2019 at 11:56 PM

Dear Team Scribbr,

Your articles on various contents of research is of great help. It always give an outstanding clarity on the issues , which a researcher has in his mind. Your articles are uptodate and an answer for the conflicting questions in the process of research study.
Thank you very much.
Best.

Reply

Arjay
September 8, 2019 at 7:27 AM

Thank You for all the detailed . Its help me a lot in doing my research study God Bless and More Power.

Reply

Hamidatu Suleman
September 4, 2019 at 11:49 AM

I have really enjoyed this article, is so educative and informative. We're looking forward to getting more of this.
Thanks great, Allah bless you🙏🙏🙏

Reply

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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Salisu
September 3, 2019 at 1:23 AM

This was very helpful in clearing many foggy things. I was trying to help someone and this came in handy. 5 stars for this!
I definitely would come back to this very soon in my thesis.

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Skeb
September 2, 2019 at 8:57 AM

Thanks so much, I needed this information.

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Jyoti Prakhar
September 1, 2019 at 10:17 PM

It was really helpful....

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Duncan minati
August 30, 2019 at 10:20 AM

Thanks for the incite it is well detailed

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Hasanatou Bajo
August 29, 2019 at 7:01 PM

It's helpful

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Tunde Morakinyo
August 29, 2019 at 11:42 AM

This is educative and insightful. Thank You.

Reply

Samaila Ignatius
August 28, 2019 at 10:13 AM

It is very educative.

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Abdulrashid Suleiman
August 25, 2019 at 3:27 PM

I have been looking this thank you so much

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Anne Davis
August 16, 2019 at 3:33 PM

I was completely stuck how to write my methodology, and this has been brilliant, thank you so much!

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Abubakar Aliyu Gombe
August 14, 2019 at 10:03 AM

Educative I really like the article, God bless you

Reply

Naswifu
August 12, 2019 at 4:23 PM

I have got all what i wanted

Reply

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.

Reply

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.

Reply

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.

Reply

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

Reply

Jethro
July 4, 2019 at 3:50 AM

this was helpful and very detailed
hat off to the one who did this.
lol...

Reply

Shivani mishra
June 29, 2019 at 10:50 PM

It was worth reading ❤️ So helpful 👍

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Thokoza Hadebe
June 26, 2019 at 7:30 PM

So informative and insightful

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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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