I. Groups of Research Methods
There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:
- The empirical-analytical groupapproaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences. This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
- The interpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way. Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.
The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you will use to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that it is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.
The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:
- Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
- Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
- The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
- The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.
In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:
- Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem. Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
- Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design. Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
- Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use, such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
- Explain how you intend to analyze your results. Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
- Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers. Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
- Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure. For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
- Describe potential limitations. Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.
NOTE: Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic.
ANOTHER NOTE: If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem, the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data, the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.
III. Problems to Avoid
The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but to the point. Do not provide any background information that doesn’t directly help the reader to understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how it was analyzed.
Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures
Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method, not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.
It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.
Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].
It’s More than Sources of Information!
A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.
Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation, Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.
The importance of explaining the methodology in a research paper or an essay is that it imparts clarity. Methodology is just between you and your sources, it is the approach adopted in preparing the paper. Though essays are generally shorter and less elaborate in their content than research papers, they also require a methodology description. Short methodology overview will help you to avoid a lot of questions, like “Why did you use only these sources?”, or “Why didn’t you consider Mr. X’s research on the relevant topic”. This page was designed with the aim to explain you on examples how to write your essay methodology.
Navigation through Methodology Example page
Download a Methodology Example
Essay methodology examples may be easily accessible on the net. However, trying to adapt an essay methodology example from the net for your essay may become messy if care is not exercised. Even if the subject of the example and your assignment are similar, not necessarily the same approach is used in then. Therefore, though choosing the right methodology that suits your assignment is important.
How to introduce Methodology in the Essay?
Though preparing an essay involves defined methods, it is seldom revealed within the essay. But it does not mean that you cannot include essay methodology in your essay. While writing a Frankenstein essay or a Macbeth essay, you definitely would have used some method to collect, research, and organize your information. Try to reflect on that in the essay and it will provide your reader with a guideline to your essay.
For example an essay on Macbeth can be written very differently, depending on your essay question and your methodology.
- Since 17th century a lot of scholars were trying to provide there interpretation of Macbeth. You may choose several interpretations and compare them. But then you need to explain why you choose such topic and these very interpretations. The answer to these questions will be your methodology description.
- Macbeth is covered with superstitions, why not to study them? The topic is very interesting. But how are you going to approach it? Are you going to rely on some studies in your essay or do the research of your own? What sources are you going to use? Perhaps, you’ll decide to use articles from press, as it’s a great means of transition of gossips. Or perhaps, you’d like to take an interview with an actor from a local theater and ask him about that.
- It is known that Shakespeare based his play on some other sources. So your essay may address the question how these sources were used in Macbeth.
- You may be interested how customs and manners (including the attitude to witchcraft) are described in Macbeth, and reflect whether these attitudes were common in Shakespeare’s time.
Research methodology involves the collection and analysis of materials relevant to the study. Thus, in all of these cases there are 4 basic ways to deal with the essay methodology:
– identify data collecting methods
– identify data analysis methods
– adopt the approach of some scholar
– describe what are you doing and why
The type of research method that you follow will be much determined by the type of study. Depending on the purpose, your research method may take different forms. Some of the examples of research methods are: experimental, expository, action, pure, and applied research. Also, based on the source of materials for the research and study, you may have primary research and secondary research. But how do you know which research methods should you use? Decide your purpose of research first; then the purpose itself decides the method. The type of research method that you follow is determined by the type of study. Depending on the purpose, your research method may take different forms. Some of the examples of research methods are: experimental, expository, action, pure, and applied research. Also, based on the source of materials for the research and study, you may have primary research and secondary research. But how do you know which research methods should you use? Decide your purpose of research first; then the purpose itself decides the method.
Data Collecting Methodology
Data collecting methods may be different. If you’ve done something special to get your information, you definitely need to mention it. For example, you may mention that:
- you conducted an interview. In this case you should specify how many people you have interviewed, what did you ask them, and who these people were.
- prepared a questionnaire. If you have a questionnaire you need to specify which type of questions did you use, who your respondents were and how did you distribute it.
- searched archive. Though we live in the information age, not all information is available on-line. So, when you are doing a research paper on history a visit to an archive will provide you with unique material for analysis.
- decided to base your essay on observation.
Data collecting methodology also includes the explanation of your choice of sources. Even if in the essay you compare two articles that were given to you at class, your essay will benefit if you’ll try to explain these choice. For instance, that the authors held different views on the same issue because of their different professional background.
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Data Analysis Methodology (Click on Image to Enlarge)
Data analysis methods may be divided into quantitative and qualitative. For instance you may either conduct a number of interviews for quantitative analysis, or have just a couple of them for case studies.
Quantitative methods are used when you can rely on some reliable statistics. Mostly these are used in the essays connected with economics, where descriptive method can be applied. Quantitative methods are also widely used in social sciences and humanities. It’s hardly possible to imagine a sociological discussion that will not appeal to some statistics. Content analysis is a popular quantitative method used in philology, political science and history. Due to content analysis you may count how often certain topics are connected together in speeches of politics, and arrive at some interesting conclusion.
Qualitative methods are widely used in different research areas. The most popular qualitative method is case study, though context analysis, and surveys are also popular.
Adopting an Approach
You may also follow the methodology of some author in your analysis.
For instance, try to apply the approach of Edward Said to the analysis of some book that deals with foreign lands. Or try to find the similarities of description of ceremonies connected with presidential post with the ceremonies of the king’s court as described by Mark Bloch.
Though such methodologies don’t have names of their own, it is possible to apply them in your essay.
Describing Your Methodology
If you fail to identify your methods, you can always just describe steps of your research. If you keep notes on how you engaged in the research, you will have enough material to prop up a methodology segment in your essay. Ensure that you have data on
- The means used in research, such as digital library, books and publications, internet, etc.
- The sources of information, such as particular publications, books, websites, etc.
- The reason you chose those sources of information. The authenticity of the website like encyclopedia.com or the popularity of the publication, say National geographic.
- The steps you used to confirm the veracity of the information, namely how you have crosschecked the information at another authentic site or publication.
Project Methodology Examples
A project methodology gives an idea about how the project is carried out and an interpretation of the results. It may be related to entirely new activities, like a project, to bring out a new product or to existing activities like discovering problems and developing solutions. The following is an example of a project methodology for problem solving:
- Developing the problem statement
- Detecting the causes
- Recognizing the alternative solutions
- Deciding the best solution
- Implementation of the solution
- Review and feed back
A correct project methodology is a precondition to the successful execution of projects, as it gives the project required degree of consistency.
Research Methods Examples
A research methodology section will inform the reader about:
- Scope of the Study – This lets the reader know your scope of study.
- Sources of Data and Information – Whether it is primary and secondary.
- Tools for Analysis- such as mathematical models, tables, graphs, etc.
- Limitation of the Study
Research methodology is the main body of any research, thus it deserves good effort and endeavor from the students.
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