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.
You are now ready to plan and compose the second piece of your proposal, the methodologysection. In it you will describe what you plan to accomplish, why you want to do it and how you are going to do it. This process is very important; to a reviewer, your research investigation is only as a good as your proposal methodology. Generally, a research proposal should contain all thekey elements involved in theresearch process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study. An ill-conceived proposal dooms the project, even if it somehow is approved, because your methods are not carefully thought out in advance.
The methodology section should describe how each specific objective will be achieved, with enough detail to enable an independent and informed assessment of the proposal. This section should include:
- Restatement of research tasks:hypothesis or research questions;
- Studypopulationandsampling: description of study areas, populations and the procedures for their selection;
- Data collection: description of the tools and methods used to collect information, and identification of variables;
- Data analysis: description of data processing and analyzing procedures;
- Laboratory procedures: descriptions of standardized procedures and protocols and new or unique procedures; and
- The specific tools that will be used to study each research objective.
First, review the two types of research, qualitative and quantitative, in order to make a decision about your own methodology's procedures pathway.
In a series of steps in aplanning guide, you will outline yourmethodologysection and craft yourproposal.
Deciding My Own Approach
Start planning and writing by clicking on each of the elements in research proposal's methodology section
What type of overall study design is best for my investigation and research?
There are two types of information gathering—qualitativeandquantitative. Both designs, quantitative and qualitative, are said to be systematic, meaning that they have a system or follow a process. Each type of design, however has different approaches to methods of reasoning, step-by-stepprocedures, and researchtoolsandstrategies. Although deciding that an investigation is qualitative or quantitative directs the researcher toward a certain path, depending on what research questions still need to be answered as the investigation unfolds a combination of approaches can be used in the specific research tools used.
Now you will determineoverall project design; that decision will help you to frame out your basic methodology and determine whether you will need to use inductive or deductive reasoning in making your conclusion.
Complete Crafting a Research Proposal: II. Approach to Research Design in order to decide which approach will best suit your research. To answer some of the questions there, you may need to review your Reflection Journal and the material introduced earlier about methodology located on this web site.
When you are done, select the approach that you think will work best for your research and follow the pathway for your particular approach
Design My Project
Now that you know which design best suits your investigation, you will need to follow a specific pathway for the following research proposal elements in order to follow the specific reasoning and concerns of your approach. You will also need to download and save the planning guide for your approach to methodology to your computer.
Crafting the Proposal: III. The Methodology (Qualitative)
Crafting the Proposal: III. The Methodology (Quantitative)
Different Pathways for Different Research Design Approaches
After you have downloaded and saved the file, you will need to complete Step 1 : Designing Research Methodology. Use the links below to help you to make decisions as you complete your planning guide.
Qualitative Approach Pathway
Role of the Researcher in Qualitative Design
Researchers usually prefer fairly lengthy and deep involvement in the natural setting. Social life is complex in its range and variability, and operates at different levels. It has many layers of meaning and the researcher has to lift veils to discover the innermost meanings. In order to gain access to deeper levels, the researcher needs to develop a certain rapport with the subjects of the study, and to win their trust.
There are some key ideas to consider as you plan for your role in your research design.
Quantitative Approach Pathway
Role of the Researcher in Quantitative Design
The quantitative researcher is detached and objective. Explain whether you will be an unobtrusive observer, a participant observer, or a collaborator. Evaluate how your own bias may affect the methodology, outcomes, and analysis of findings.
Many times this element of the research proposal will be affected by ethics. In addition, this section is often interwoven in a narrative design explanation with other elements of the proposal. Review sample proposals to see how other researchers with similar designs to yours have explained their roles in the research investigation.
Complete this section on your planning guide.
When you have completed Step 1 on your planning sheet, move on to Step 2: Refining My Quantitative(or Qualitative) Investigation with Specific Methods, Tools, and Procedures.
You will need to make decisions in Step 2 for the following topics. Use the links below, your reflection journal, and the Elements of the Proposal section of the web site to assist you as you complete this portion of your planning guide.
After you have planned the elements above, there are a few more things to decide and plan. Use the list below and your planning guide to help youcomplete the rest of yourresearch proposal.
Other Elements in the Research Methodology
- Resources and Materials
- Limitations and Delimitations
- Final Product In the section, the researcher discusses the possible outcomes of the study, its relation to theory and literature, and its potential impact or application. A description of the possible forms of the final product, e.g., publishable manuscript, conference paper, invention, model, computer software, exhibit, performance, etc., should be outlined. Be specific about how you intend to share your results or project with others. Although all of these ideas may change in light of the research process or the final results, it is always good to plan with the end product in mind.
This section may also include an interpretation and explanation of results as related to your question; a discussion on or suggestions for further work that may help address the problem you are trying to solve; an analysis of the expected impact of the findings and product on the audience; or a discussion on any problems that could hinder your creative work.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- In what form will your findings be presented?
- How will you be disseminating your findings?
- To whom will you be disseminating your findings?
- How will you ensure anonymity in any publications?
- Will you need to create an abstract of your overall investigation?
- References Keep a running list of all references as you work through the proposal. You will need to have this list to avoid plagiarism and chances are you will need to go back to certain references throughout the entire research experience. This includes all textbooks, reference books, journal articles, Internet sources, etc.
See the references section from your Literature Review for a comprehensive guide to completing the reference section of your proposal. You do not need to duplicate the efforts of your Literature Review, but PLEASE remember to add any new references that you utilized for your methodology, data collection tools, etc. Spend some time reviewing the references to ensure that they are complete and accurate - names of all the authors, correct date, full and accurate title, complete publishing information (city of publication, publishing company for books, full journal title, volume and number and pages for journal articles). Use the appropriate citation forms for your field of study.Complete this section using the directions on your proposal planning guide.
- Appendices Adding a few appendices to the end of your proposal allows you to show how thoroughly you have prepared your research project without obliging the reader to wade through all the details. The purpose of an appendix is to display documents which are relevant to main text, but whose presence in the text would disturb rather than enhance the flow of the argument or writing. Results of the literature search, pilot data, data collection forms, patient information sheets, and consent forms can all be added as appendices to include documents, pilot study material, questions for interviews, survey instruments, explanatory statement to participants,etc.
Some likely parts to incorporate in the appendices are:
- Distribution Plan - A part of the proposal which is the plan for distributing of information about the project to the audience. It can also include financial statements for the funding agencies which want to see financial standing of the project. This section may include radio broadcasts, training programs, workshops, printed handouts, newsletters, presentations, etc.
- Cooperating Agency Information – If references of different cooperating agencies are given, then try to give some detail about these agencies in appendices like name and address, services or product, names of important personals, etc.
- Evaluation Tools – It is good to include the copy of evaluation tools planed to use which are used in information gathering like questionnaires, survey, interview, etc.
Appendices have a format:
- Pagination: Each Appendix begins on a separate page.
- Heading:If there is only one appendix, "Appendix" is centered on the first line below the manuscript page header. If there is more than one appendix, use Appendix A (or B or C, etc.). Double-space and type the appendix title (centered in uppercase and lowercase letters).
- Format: Indent the first line 5-7 spaces.
- Example of APA-formatted Appendix:
Most of the items that you include in your appendix will only need a Copy-Paste to be added to your proposal. It could also be possible that they would need to be converted into a graphic or a .PDF file if they are web-based.
Complete this section following the directions on your proposal planning guide.
After you make your decisions for above, you will have completed Sections 2, 3, 4, and 5 of your planning guide. You now will need to write your methodology draft. Use this sample methodology section as an example for explanations, language, and phrasing for this part of your proposal.
Sample Description of Methodology
Data Gathering Plans – The two instruments and a simple instruction sheet that also asks subjects their age and gender, will be delivered to an administrator in each setting who has agreed to distribute and collect the completed instruments. Prior to their distribution an introductory letter from both the researcher and the respective administrators will be placed in each selected subject’s mailbox or mail slot asking for their cooperation. The letters will describe the research and its importance and the support of the administrator. They also will note that a $5 coupon toward any groceries at the local Wegman’s Grocery (donated by the store’s public relations office) will be available to each person completing the two instruments and signing a letter of informed consent related to the research. Finally, they will provide a telephone number for anyone with questions or who may need assistance in completing the instruments. This procedure will be pilot-tested with at least 10 volunteers from the Fayetteville Senior center to refine the data gathering plans.
Once the pilot-testing procedures have been completed, any required changes in the administration plans will be carried out. Then the administrators will be authorized to distribute the forms. Any person who has phoned needing clarification will be provided further explanation. Anyone who phones in a need for assistance in completing the forms will receive support in the form of one the location’s administrative assistants reading the forms and recording the answers. Each assistant so involved will be provided training by the researcher on how to read and record the answers in an unbiased manner.
One week after this initial delivery, a follow-up phone call will be made to either thank those who completed the forms or to remind those who have not yet completed their forms. The grocery coupons will be mailed to all who have completed the forms with a letter of thanks. If fewer than 95 people from each of the two settings complete the forms, then the random sampling and distribution will continue until at least that number of completed forms from each setting has been received. It is anticipated that all data collection efforts will be completed within one month.
Your Reflection Log and the sample proposals you studied earlier also should be excellent resources.
Through the steps in Crafting the Proposal: III. The Methodology, you have planned, and maybe even completed, the first draft of your research proposal's methodology section.
When you have completed your draft, you will need to combine all three pieces of your proposal, your introduction, your literature review, and your methodology. Use Step 6 on your planning guide to assist you.