For academic writing help, focus on these criteria and tips on how to write a great research methodology for your academic article
This article is part of an ongoing series on academic writing help of scholarly articles. Previous parts explored how to write an introduction for a research paper and a literature review outline and format.
The Methodology section portrays the reasoning for the application of certain techniques and methods in the context of the study.
For your academic article, when you describe and explain your chosen methods it is very important to correlate them to your research questions and/or hypotheses. The description of the methods used should include enough details so that the study can be replicated by other Researchers, or at least repeated in a similar situation or framework.
Every stage of your research needs to be explained and justified with clear information on why you chose those particular methods, and how they help you answer your research question or purpose.
As the Authors, in this section you get to explain the rationale of your article for other Researchers. You should focus on answering the following questions:
- How did you collect the data or how did you generate the data?
- Which research methods did you use?
- Why did you choose these methods and techniques?
- How did you use these methods for analyzing the research question or problem?
The responses to these questions should be clear and precise, and the answers should be written in past tense.
First off, let’s establish the differences between research methods and research methodology.
Research Methods and Research Methodology
As an Academic and Author of valuable research papers, it’s important not to confuse these two terms.
Research Methodology Definition
Research Methodology refers the discussion regarding the specific methods chosen and used in a research paper. This discussion also encompasses the theoretical concepts that further provide information about the methods selection and application.
In other words, you should highlight how these theoretical concepts are connected with these methods in a larger knowledge framework and explain their relevance in examining the purpose, problem and questions of your study. Thus, the discussion that forms your academic article’s research methodology also incorporates an extensive literature review about similar methods, used by other Authors to examine a certain research subject.
Research Method Definition
A Research Method represents the technical steps involved in conducting the research. Details about the methods focus on characterizing and defining them, but also explaining your chosen techniques, and providing a full account on the procedures used for selecting, collecting and analyzing the data.
Important Tips for a Good Methodology Section
The methodology section is very important for the credibility of your article and for a professional academic writing style.
Data Collection or Generation for Your Academic Article
Readers, academics and other researchers need to know how the information used in your academic article was collected. The research methods used for collecting or generating data will influence the discoveries and, by extension, how you will interpret them and explain their contribution to general knowledge.
The most basic methods for data collection are:
Secondary data are data that have been previously collected or gathered for other purposes than the aim of the academic article’s study. This type of data is already available, in different forms, from a variety of sources.
Secondary data collection could lead to Internal or External secondary data research.
Internal secondary data research
– particularly related to a company or organization, internal sources (such as sales data, financial data, operations-related data, etc.) can be easily attained and re-purposed to explore research questions about different aspects.
External secondary data research
– represents a study that uses existing data on a certain research subject from government statistics, published market research reports from different organizations, international agencies (such as IMF, World Bank, etc.), and so on.
Primary data represent data originated for the specific purpose of the study, with its research questions. The methods vary on how Authors and Researchers conduct an experiment, survey or study, but, in general, it uses a particular scientific method.
Primary data collection could lead to Quantitative and Qualitative research.
or empirical-analytical research focuses on a certain research purpose, with its complementary research questions and operational definitions of the variables to be measured. This type of study uses deductive reasoning and established theories as a foundation for the hypotheses that will be tested and explained.
or interpretative research focuses on analytically disclosing certain practices or behaviors, and then showing how these behaviors or practices can be grouped or clustered to lead to observable outcomes. This type of research is more subjective in nature, and requires careful interpretation of the variables.
Readers need to understand how the information was gathered or generated in a way that is consistent with research practices in a field of study. For instance, if you are using a multiple choice survey, the readers need to know which questionnaire items you have examined in your primary quantitative research. Similarly, if your academic article involves secondary data from FED or Eurostat it is important to mention the variables used in your study, their values, and their time-frame.
For primary research, that involve surveys, experiments or observations, for a valuable academic article, Authors should provide information about:
- Study participants or group participants,
- Inclusion or exclusion criteria
Selecting and Applying Research Methods
Establishing the main premises of methodology is pivotal for any research because a method or technique that is not reliable for a certain study context will lead to unreliable results, and the outcomes’ interpretation (and overall academic article) will not be valuable.
In most cases, there is a wide variety of methods and procedures that you can use to explore a research topic in your academic article. The methods section should fully explain the reasons for choosing a specific methodology or technique.
Also, it’s essential that you describe the specific research methods of data collection you are going to use, whether they are primary or secondary data collection.
For primary research methods, describe the surveys, interviews, observation methods, etc.
For secondary research methods, describe how the data was originally created, gathered and which institution created and published it.
Reasons for Choosing Specific Research Methods
For this aspect that characterizes a good research methodology, indicate how the research approach fits with the general study, considering the literature review outline and format, and the following sections.
The methods you choose should have a clear connection with the overall research approach and you need to explain the reasons for choosing the research techniques in your study, and how they help you towards understanding your study’s purpose.
A common limitation of academic articles found in research papers is that the premises of the methodology are not backed by reasons on how they help achieve the aims of the article.
Data Analysis Methods
This section should also focus on information on how you intend to analyze your results.
Describe how you plan and intend to achieve an accurate assessment of the hypotheses, relationships, patterns, trends, distributions associated with your data and research purpose.
The data type, how it was measured, and which statistical tests were conducted and performed, should be detailed and reported in an accurate manner.
For explaining the data analysis methods, you should aim to answer questions, such as:
- Will your research be based on statistical analysis?
- Will you use theoretical frameworks to help you (and your Readers) analyze a set of hypotheses or relationships?
- Which data analysis methods will you choose?
- Which other Authors or studies have used the same methods and should be cited in your academic article?
Issues to Avoid
There are certain aspects that you need to pay extra attention in relation to your research methodology section. The most common issues to avoid are:
- Irrelevant details and complicated background information that provides too information and does not provide accurate understanding for Readers
- Unnecessary description and explanations of basic or well-known procedures, for an academic audience who is already has a basin understanding of the study
- For unconventional research approaches, it is important to provide accurate details and explain why your innovative method contributes to general knowledge (save more details for your Discussion/ Conclusion section in which you can highlight your contributions)
- Research limitations and obstacles should be described in a separate section (Research Limitations)
- The methodology should include sources and references that support your choice of methods and procedures, compared to the literature review that provides a general outlook and framework for your study.
Which aspects are you generally focusing on when writing your academic article’s research methodology section?
This blog series focuses on useful academic writing tips. Next, we discuss empirical analysis and results.
A key part of your dissertation or thesis is the methodology. This is not quite the same as ‘methods’.
The methodology describes the broad philosophical underpinning to your chosen research methods, including whether you are using qualitative or quantitative methods, or a mixture of both, and why.
You should be clear about the academic basis for all the choices of research methods that you have made. 'I was interested' or 'I thought...' is not enough; there must be good academic reasons for your choice.
What to Include in your Methodology
If you are submitting your dissertation in sections, with the methodology submitted before you actually undertake the research, you should use this section to set out exactly what you plan to do.
The methodology should be linked back to the literature to explain why you are using certain methods, and the academic basis of your choice.
If you are submitting as a single thesis, then the Methodology should explain what you did, with any refinements that you made as your work progressed. Again, it should have a clear academic justification of all the choices that you made and be linked back to the literature.
Common Research Methods for the Social Sciences
There are numerous research methods that can be used when researching scientific subjects, you should discuss which are the most appropriate for your research with your supervisor.
The following research methods are commonly used in social science, involving human subjects:
One of the most flexible and widely used methods for gaining qualitative information about people’s experiences, views and feelings is the interview.
An interview can be thought of as a guided conversation between a researcher (you) and somebody from whom you wish to learn something (often referred to as the ‘informant’).
The level of structure in an interview can vary, but most commonly interviewers follow a semi-structured format. This means that the interviewer will develop a guide to the topics that he or she wishes to cover in the conversation, and may even write out a number of questions to ask.
However, the interviewer is free to follow different paths of conversation that emerge over the course of the interview, or to prompt the informant to clarify and expand on certain points. Therefore, interviews are particularly good tools for gaining detailed information where the research question is open-ended in terms of the range of possible answers.
Interviews are not particularly well suited for gaining information from large numbers of people. Interviews are time-consuming, and so careful attention needs to be given to selecting informants who will have the knowledge or experiences necessary to answer the research question.
See our page: Interviews for Research for more information.
If a researcher wants to know what people do under certain circumstances, the most straightforward way to get this information is sometimes simply to watch them under those circumstances.
Observations can form a part of either quantitative or qualitative research. For instance, if a researcher wants to determine whether the introduction of a traffic sign makes any difference to the number of cars slowing down at a dangerous curve, she or he could sit near the curve and count the number of cars that do and do not slow down. Because the data will be numbers of cars, this is an example of quantitative observation.
A researcher wanting to know how people react to a billboard advertisement might spend time watching and describing the reactions of the people. In this case, the data would be descriptive, and would therefore be qualitative.
There are a number of potential ethical concerns that can arise with an observation study. Do the people being studied know that they are under observation? Can they give their consent? If some people are unhappy with being observed, is it possible to ‘remove’ them from the study while still carrying out observations of the others around them?
See our page: Observational Research and Secondary Data for more information.
If your intended research question requires you to collect standardised (and therefore comparable) information from a number of people, then questionnaires may be the best method to use.
Questionnaires can be used to collect both quantitative and qualitative data, although you will not be able to get the level of detail in qualitative responses to a questionnaire that you could in an interview.
Questionnaires require a great deal of care in their design and delivery, but a well-developed questionnaire can be distributed to a much larger number of people than it would be possible to interview.
Questionnaires are particularly well suited for research seeking to measure some parameters for a group of people (e.g., average age, percentage agreeing with a proposition, level of awareness of an issue), or to make comparisons between groups of people (e.g., to determine whether members of different generations held the same or different views on immigration).
See our page: Surveys and Survey Design for more information.
Documentary analysis involves obtaining data from existing documents without having to question people through interview, questionnaires or observe their behaviour. Documentary analysis is the main way that historians obtain data about their research subjects, but it can also be a valuable tool for contemporary social scientists.
Documents are tangible materials in which facts or ideas have been recorded. Typically, we think of items written or produced on paper, such as newspaper articles, Government policy records, leaflets and minutes of meetings. Items in other media can also be the subject of documentary analysis, including films, songs, websites and photographs.
Documents can reveal a great deal about the people or organisation that produced them and the social context in which they emerged.
Some documents are part of the public domain and are freely accessible, whereas other documents may be classified, confidential or otherwise unavailable to public access. If such documents are used as data for research, the researcher must come to an agreement with the holder of the documents about how the contents can and cannot be used and how confidentiality will be preserved.
See our page: Observational Research and Secondary Data for more information.
How to Choose your Methodology and Precise Research Methods
Your methodology should be linked back to your research questions and previous research.
Visit your university or college library and ask the librarians for help; they should be able to help you to identify the standard research method textbooks in your field. See also our section on Research Methods for some further ideas.
Such books will help you to identify your broad research philosophy, and then choose methods which relate to that. This section of your dissertation or thesis should set your research in the context of its theoretical underpinnings.
The methodology should also explain the weaknesses of your chosen approach and how you plan to avoid the worst pitfalls, perhaps by triangulating your data with other methods, or why you do not think the weakness is relevant.
For every philosophical underpinning, you will almost certainly be able to find researchers who support it and those who don’t.
Use the arguments for and against expressed in the literature to explain why you have chosen to use this methodology or why the weaknesses don’t matter here.
Structuring your Methodology
It is usually helpful to start your section on methodology by setting out the conceptual framework in which you plan to operate with reference to the key texts on that approach.
You should be clear throughout about the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen approach and how you plan to address them. You should also note any issues of which to be aware, for example in sample selection or to make your findings more relevant.
You should then move on to discuss your research questions, and how you plan to address each of them.
This is the point at which to set out your chosen research methods, including their theoretical basis, and the literature supporting them. You should make clear whether you think the method is ‘tried and tested’ or much more experimental, and what kind of reliance you could place on the results. You will also need to discuss this again in the discussion section.
Your research may even aim to test the research methods, to see if they work in certain circumstances.
You should conclude by summarising your research methods, the underpinning approach, and what you see as the key challenges that you will face in your research. Again, these are the areas that you will want to revisit in your discussion.
Your methodology, and the precise methods that you choose to use in your research, are crucial to its success.
It is worth spending plenty of time on this section to ensure that you get it right. As always, draw on the resources available to you, for example by discussing your plans in detail with your supervisor who may be able to suggest whether your approach has significant flaws which you could address in some way.