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Research and Scholarship

A guide for capstone and thesis students

The methods section of the thesis describes the rationale for the application of specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, and analyze information applied to understanding the research problem, thereby, allowing the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability.

The methodology section of an article answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed?

Source: USC

Additional Resources

Explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:

  • Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the findings and, by extension, how you likely interpreted them.
  • Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your interpretations of the findings.
  • In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you chose a particular procedure or technique.
  • The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
  • The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
  • The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
  • In the social and bahavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an exisiting method is utilized.

Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; 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.

Source: USC

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 should have a clear connection with 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 analzying existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom.
  • 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 statistics 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.

Source: USC

Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods

There can be multiple meaning associated with the term "theories" and the term "methods" in social sciences research. A helpful way to delineate between them is to understand "theories" as representing different ways of characterizing the social world when you research it and "methods" as representing different ways of generating and analyzing data about that social world. Framed in this way, all empirical social sciences research involves theories and methods, whether they are stated explicitly or not. However, while theories and methods are often related, it is important that as a researcher, you deliberately separate them in order to avoid your theories playing a disproportionate role in shaping what outcomes your chosen methods produce.

Introspectively engage in an ongoing dialectic between the application of theories and methods to help enable you to use the outcomes from your methods to interrogate and develop new theories, or ways of framing conceptually the research problem. This is how scholarship grows and branches out into new intellectual territory.

Reynolds, R. Larry. Ways of Knowing. Alternative Microeconomics. Part 1, Chapter 3. Boise State University; The Theory-Method Relationship. S-Cool Revision. United Kingdom.

Source: USC

The scientific method is a process for experimentation that is used to explore observations and answer questions. Does this mean all scientists follow exactly this process? No. Some areas of science can be more easily tested than others. For example, scientists studying how stars change as they age or how dinosaurs digested their food cannot fast-forward a star's life by a million years or run medical exams on feeding dinosaurs to test their hypotheses. When direct experimentation is not possible, scientists modify the scientific method. In fact, there are probably as many versions of the scientific method as there are scientists! But even when modified, the goal remains the same: to discover cause and effect relationships by asking questions, carefully gathering and examining the evidence, and seeing if all the available information can be combined in to a logical answer.

Even though we show the scientific method as a series of steps, keep in mind that new information or thinking might cause a scientist to back up and repeat steps at any point during the process. A process like the scientific method that involves such backing up and repeating is called an iterative process.

Whether you are doing a science fair project, a classroom science activity, independent research, or any other hands-on science inquiry understanding the steps of the scientific method will help you focus your scientific question and work through your observations and data to answer the question as well as possible.

Steps of the Scientific Method

Source: Science Buddies

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