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How to Write an APA Methods Section | With Examples
Published on February 5, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on October 17, 2022.
The methods section of an APA style paper is where you report in detail how you performed your study. Research papers in the social and natural sciences often follow APA style. This article focuses on reporting quantitative research methods .
In your APA methods section, you should report enough information to understand and replicate your study, including detailed information on the sample , measures, and procedures used.
Table of contents
Structuring an apa methods section.
Example of an APA methods section
Frequently asked questions about writing an apa methods section.
The main heading of “Methods” should be centered, boldfaced, and capitalized. Subheadings within this section are left-aligned, boldfaced, and in title case. You can also add lower level headings within these subsections, as long as they follow APA heading styles .
To structure your methods section, you can use the subheadings of “Participants,” “Materials,” and “Procedures.” These headings are not mandatory—aim to organize your methods section using subheadings that make sense for your specific study.
Note that not all of these topics will necessarily be relevant for your study. For example, if you didn’t need to consider outlier removal or ways of assigning participants to different conditions, you don’t have to report these steps.
The APA also provides specific reporting guidelines for different types of research design. These tell you exactly what you need to report for longitudinal designs , replication studies, experimental designs , and so on. If your study uses a combination design, consult APA guidelines for mixed methods studies.
Detailed descriptions of procedures that don’t fit into your main text can be placed in supplemental materials (for example, the exact instructions and tasks given to participants, the full analytical strategy including software code, or additional figures and tables).
Begin the methods section by reporting sample characteristics, sampling procedures, and the sample size.
Participant or subject characteristics
When discussing people who participate in research, descriptive terms like “participants,” “subjects” and “respondents” can be used. For non-human animal research, “subjects” is more appropriate.
Specify all relevant demographic characteristics of your participants. This may include their age, sex, ethnic or racial group, gender identity, education level, and socioeconomic status. Depending on your study topic, other characteristics like educational or immigration status or language preference may also be relevant.
Be sure to report these characteristics as precisely as possible. This helps the reader understand how far your results may be generalized to other people.
The APA guidelines emphasize writing about participants using bias-free language , so it’s necessary to use inclusive and appropriate terms.
Outline how the participants were selected and all inclusion and exclusion criteria applied. Appropriately identify the sampling procedure used. For example, you should only label a sample as random if you had access to every member of the relevant population.
Of all the people invited to participate in your study, note the percentage that actually did (if you have this data). Additionally, report whether participants were self-selected, either by themselves or by their institutions (e.g., schools may submit student data for research purposes).
Identify any compensation (e.g., course credits or money) that was provided to participants, and mention any institutional review board approvals and ethical standards followed.
Sample size and power
Detail the sample size (per condition) and statistical power that you hoped to achieve, as well as any analyses you performed to determine these numbers.
It’s important to show that your study had enough statistical power to find effects if there were any to be found.
Additionally, state whether your final sample differed from the intended sample. Your interpretations of the study outcomes should be based only on your final sample rather than your intended sample.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Write up the tools and techniques that you used to measure relevant variables. Be as thorough as possible for a complete picture of your techniques.
Primary and secondary measures
Define the primary and secondary outcome measures that will help you answer your primary and secondary research questions.
Specify all instruments used in gathering these measurements and the construct that they measure. These instruments may include hardware, software, or tests, scales, and inventories.
- To cite hardware, indicate the model number and manufacturer.
- To cite common software (e.g., Qualtrics), state the full name along with the version number or the website URL .
- To cite tests, scales or inventories, reference its manual or the article it was published in. It’s also helpful to state the number of items and provide one or two example items.
Make sure to report the settings of (e.g., screen resolution) any specialized apparatus used.
For each instrument used, report measures of the following:
- Reliability : how consistently the method measures something, in terms of internal consistency or test-retest reliability.
- Validity : how precisely the method measures something, in terms of construct validity or criterion validity .
Giving an example item or two for tests, questionnaires , and interviews is also helpful.
Describe any covariates—these are any additional variables that may explain or predict the outcomes.
Quality of measurements
Review all methods you used to assure the quality of your measurements.
These may include:
- training researchers to collect data reliably,
- using multiple people to assess (e.g., observe or code) the data,
- translation and back-translation of research materials,
- using pilot studies to test your materials on unrelated samples.
For data that’s subjectively coded (for example, classifying open-ended responses), report interrater reliability scores. This tells the reader how similarly each response was rated by multiple raters.
Report all of the procedures applied for administering the study, processing the data, and for planned data analyses.
Data collection methods and research design
Data collection methods refers to the general mode of the instruments: surveys, interviews, observations, focus groups, neuroimaging, cognitive tests, and so on. Summarize exactly how you collected the necessary data.
Describe all procedures you applied in administering surveys, tests, physical recordings, or imaging devices, with enough detail so that someone else can replicate your techniques. If your procedures are very complicated and require long descriptions (e.g., in neuroimaging studies), place these details in supplementary materials.
To report research design, note your overall framework for data collection and analysis. State whether you used an experimental, quasi-experimental, descriptive (observational), correlational, and/or longitudinal design. Also note whether a between-subjects or a within-subjects design was used.
For multi-group studies, report the following design and procedural details as well:
- how participants were assigned to different conditions (e.g., randomization),
- instructions given to the participants in each group,
- interventions for each group,
- the setting and length of each session(s).
Describe whether any masking was used to hide the condition assignment (e.g., placebo or medication condition) from participants or research administrators. Using masking in a multi-group study ensures internal validity by reducing research bias . Explain how this masking was applied and whether its effectiveness was assessed.
Participants were randomly assigned to a control or experimental condition. The survey was administered using Qualtrics (https://www.qualtrics.com). To begin, all participants were given the AAI and a demographics questionnaire to complete, followed by an unrelated filler task. In the control condition , participants completed a short general knowledge test immediately after the filler task. In the experimental condition, participants were asked to visualize themselves taking the test for 3 minutes before they actually did. For more details on the exact instructions and tasks given, see supplementary materials.
Outline all steps taken to scrutinize or process the data after collection.
This includes the following:
- Procedures for identifying and removing outliers
- Data transformations to normalize distributions
- Compensation strategies for overcoming missing values
To ensure high validity, you should provide enough detail for your reader to understand how and why you processed or transformed your raw data in these specific ways.
The methods section is also where you describe your statistical analysis procedures, but not their outcomes. Their outcomes are reported in the results section.
These procedures should be stated for all primary, secondary, and exploratory hypotheses. While primary and secondary hypotheses are based on a theoretical framework or past studies, exploratory hypotheses are guided by the data you’ve just collected.
This annotated example reports methods for a descriptive correlational survey on the relationship between religiosity and trust in science in the US. Hover over each part for explanation of what is included.
The sample included 879 adults aged between 18 and 28. More than half of the participants were women (56%), and all participants had completed at least 12 years of education. Ethics approval was obtained from the university board before recruitment began. Participants were recruited online through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk; www.mturk.com). We selected for a geographically diverse sample within the Midwest of the US through an initial screening survey. Participants were paid USD $5 upon completion of the study.
A sample size of at least 783 was deemed necessary for detecting a correlation coefficient of ±.1, with a power level of 80% and a significance level of .05, using a sample size calculator (www.sample-size.net/correlation-sample-size/).
The primary outcome measures were the levels of religiosity and trust in science. Religiosity refers to involvement and belief in religious traditions, while trust in science represents confidence in scientists and scientific research outcomes. The secondary outcome measures were gender and parental education levels of participants and whether these characteristics predicted religiosity levels.
Religiosity was measured using the Centrality of Religiosity scale (Huber, 2003). The Likert scale is made up of 15 questions with five subscales of ideology, experience, intellect, public practice, and private practice. An example item is “How often do you experience situations in which you have the feeling that God or something divine intervenes in your life?” Participants were asked to indicate frequency of occurrence by selecting a response ranging from 1 (very often) to 5 (never). The internal consistency of the instrument is .83 (Huber & Huber, 2012).
Trust in Science
Trust in science was assessed using the General Trust in Science index (McCright, Dentzman, Charters & Dietz, 2013). Four Likert scale items were assessed on a scale from 1 (completely distrust) to 5 (completely trust). An example question asks “How much do you distrust or trust scientists to create knowledge that is unbiased and accurate?” Internal consistency was .8.
Potential participants were invited to participate in the survey online using Qualtrics (www.qualtrics.com). The survey consisted of multiple choice questions regarding demographic characteristics, the Centrality of Religiosity scale, an unrelated filler anagram task, and finally the General Trust in Science index. The filler task was included to avoid priming or demand characteristics, and an attention check was embedded within the religiosity scale. For full instructions and details of tasks, see supplementary materials.
For this correlational study , we assessed our primary hypothesis of a relationship between religiosity and trust in science using Pearson moment correlation coefficient. The statistical significance of the correlation coefficient was assessed using a t test. To test our secondary hypothesis of parental education levels and gender as predictors of religiosity, multiple linear regression analysis was used.
In your APA methods section , you should report detailed information on the participants, materials, and procedures used.
- Describe all relevant participant or subject characteristics, the sampling procedures used and the sample size and power .
- Define all primary and secondary measures and discuss the quality of measurements.
- Specify the data collection methods, the research design and data analysis strategy, including any steps taken to transform the data and statistical analyses.
You should report methods using the past tense , even if you haven’t completed your study at the time of writing. That’s because the methods section is intended to describe completed actions or research.
In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion . The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation , or research proposal .
Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.
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- Research Paper Methods Section: Guide and Examples
The research paper methods section is an extremely important part of the research paper.
Among scholars, it is common in undertakings such as dissertations and capstone projects .
It is therefore important to understand what the section entail.
In simple language, the research paper methods section can be termed as:
A research section that describes the actions taken when investigating a research problem and the rationale behind the application of particular techniques and procedures in identifying, selecting, processing, and analyzing information applied in understanding the problem.
Note that in the case of a research proposal , the methods section describes the actions to be taken.
Importance of the Research Paper Methods Section
The research paper methods section is important in numerous ways.
Such ways include:
1. The methods section is critical because the procedures adopted in it determines the reliability of the results obtained and the value of the analysis of findings made.
2. It informs the readers how data collection was done since the methods used affects results.
In this, the methods section lays the foundation for thediscussions section, where it explains the interpretation of the results’ significance.
3. The research paper methods section clearly expresses the reasons for choosing a specific technique or procedure among other different methods that could be used to investigate a research problem.
4. The methods section illustrates the appropriateness of the procedures and methods in achieving the overall aims of the study.
For instance, a good example of participants section in research proposal should include a sample size suitable to support the generalization of findings.
5. It provides the leader with evidence on whether data collection was done in consistency with accepted practices of the particular field.
For instance, if an interview was used to collect data, it is important to know whether it was facilitated honesty from the participant.
Generally, the methods section determines the appropriate types of research instruments for a particular research study.
Approaches to the Methods Section
The research paper methods section could apply two main approaches.
These approaches are:
1. Interpretive approach
Research methods under this category focus on understanding the phenomenon comprehensively and holistically.
They seek to analytically disclose the practices that make meaning to human subjects.
The methods examine how, why, and what about people and strive to demonstrate how the practices by human subjects are arranged with the intention of generating observable outcomes.
These methods enable the researcher to identify their connection with the phenomenon being investigated.
The approaches are more subjective and therefore require careful scrutiny of entailed research study variables.
2. Empirical-analytical approach
This approach to the research paper methods section handles social sciences the same way as natural sciences.
The approach is founded on objective knowledge, where a good methods section of research proposal example would for instance use questions that seek yes or no answers.
Further, it focuses on the operational definitions of the research study variables to be measured.
The approach uses deductive reasoning that is based on existing theory as its foundation in the formulation of the hypotheses that require testing.
It is more focused on “explanation”.
Structure of the Research Paper Methods Section
The research paper methods section should be well organized to ensure that it fulfills its purpose.
Such organization is usually realized through various subsections.
To enhance this organization, the methods section should start with an introduction.
The introduction of the research paper methods section should:
1. Restate the research problem
2. Stipulate the underlying assumptions
Then the section should go ahead and stipulate the methods for gathering, analyzing, and processing relevant research data.
Note that it is important to provide justification for the choice of methods made particularly if they lie outside the tradition of the field of the study.
Key subsections include:
In the research paper methods section, this subsection describes the participants involved in the research study.
Information to be included about the participants encompass:
1. Who they were (the unique features that distinguish them from the general population)
2. Their number
3. Their selection method
In line with the above observations, example of participants section in research proposal would therefore be as follows:
“200 workers were randomly selected from tech companies in the Midtown Palo Alto.”
Importantly, this subsection should at least provide the participants’ basic demographic characteristics (like age, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc.), the study’s population, and restrictions on the participants’ pool.
For example, if the research study’s participants entailed male nurses from a local private hospital, it should be noted in this subsection as illustrated below.
“The study’s participants included male nurses from 3 hospitals in Kingman rural Arizona.”
The subsection should also give information on how the number of participants assigned the conditions was arrived at and the criteria used in their selection.
On assignment of conditions, the subsection should explain:
1. The participants selection method employed
2. Reasons why the participants took part in the research study
3. Where the study was advertised
4. Whether an incentive was given for participation
Materials as a key part of the research paper methods section requires you to describe the materials, equipment, measures, or stimuli used in the research.
It covers technical equipment, testing instruments, and other materials used in conducting the research.
All the data collection and measurement instruments should covered in this subsection.
For instance, data instruments used in a nursing bedside shift study and psychological assessment tool used in a psychological study should appear in the materials subsection.
The materials methods section of research proposal example would therefore appear as below:
“A structured questionnaire was used to assess nurses’ beliefs on the role of patient involvement in bedside shifts in enhancing patient safety.”
Note that you could include standard equipment like videos and computers without explaining their use in details.
The important thing to understand is that you should provide adequate details for specialized equipment used in research.
For example, data collection instruments created for a specific niche should be illustrated by succinctly highlighting them in the methods section and then including them in the appendix.
Design is also a very important part of the research paper methods section.
In this subsection, you should provide details of the design employed in the research study.
The design should specify the research variables and their levels.
You should clearly identify:
1. Independent variables
2. Dependent variables
3. Control variables
4. Any extraneous variables that might affect the results
All relevant details on design elements and factors should be included in this subsection.
For instance, in an example of methods section in scientific paper, the design should clarify whether the experiment used a between-groups or within-groups design.
The procedure subsection should cover the procedures used in the research study or experiment.
It should explain:
1. What the participants did
2. How data was collected
3. The steps followed in data collection
Accordingly, a methods section of research proposal example for procedure would be as following:
“The researcher will administered questionnaires through mail. The questionnaires explained to the respondents that they were expected to answer all the questions, within a 2 weeks timespan.”
The procedure subsection should be detailed and concise at the same time.
1. What you did
2. How you did it
Tips for Writing the Research Paper Methods Section
You could rely on different tips to make your research paper methods section more effective.
These tips include:
1. Introduce the Methods Section
Introducing the methods section is important in building interest among the readers.
It helps eliminate boredom of reading through the methods section, which is particularly associated with the presence of terminologies and technical language.
Such introduction can be done through two main ways, including:
1. Explanation : This entails using the first paragraph or subsection of the methods section to explain the reasons behind choosing a particular study approach or experiment.
For instance, explanation example of methods section in scientific paper would entail providing details on the inclusion or exclusion criteria in clinical research.
2. Visual presentation : A visual presentation of the methods section like a table, flowchart, or schematic diagram can be used to introduce the section and help readers easily follow the methods section.
2. Use the Appropriate Style
The research paper methods section should be written in a manner that imitates researcher’s verbal description of the research process.
It should be written in a way that the reader can understand the research procedures used, effectively repeat them and obtain similar results.
You should therefore use simple language and provide explanations for technical language used.
As well, the language used in the methods section should be in:
1. Third person
2. Passive voice
Note that sometimes you could use active voice and future tense.
Future tense is often used in this section.
Use of active voice and future tense in the methods section of research proposal example may be as follows:
“We will administer the questionnaires through mail.”
3. Assuming the Reader’s View
Putting yourself in the shoes of the reader is an important tip to consider when writing the research paper methods section.
You need to look at the methods section from the reader’s view to help evaluate whether it is thorough and clear.
Questions to ask yourself include:
1. Does the methods section provide adequate information to facilitate the reproduction of the study?
2. Can information be removed from the methods section without negatively affecting its interpretation?
3. Have all the controls, essential references, and reagents’ sources been mentioned?
Finding answers to the above questions would help you determine whether the methods section is effectively developed or not.
4. Borrow a Leaf from Others
It is advisable to borrow ideas from past studies when writing the research paper methods section.
You should find a number of well-written research paper articles in your field to act as a guide on how to write the methods section.
The articles chosen should be in a similar field as the one being explored and preferably on related or close topics.
Some of the things to observe from these articles include:
1. The structure of the methods section,
2. Language used
3. Nature and amount of information provided
You should use insights gained from these articles as the starting point when writing the methods section.
Dos and Don’ts
There are various things to do and avoid when writing the research paper methods section.
Things to do include :
1. Adhere to the research paper instructions. This involves the way the methods section should be structured and the information to be included.
2. Structure the methods section in a way that it tells the research story. This entails presenting the methods in a logical manner to help the reader effectively follow the development of the study.
3. Use subheadings to structure the methods section. The subheadings divide the section in a way that helps the reader easily follow the section.
4. Follow the order of the results to improve organization of the methods section. This requires you to match the sequence of the methods to the sequence of the results acquired from the methods.
5. Provide relevant details in a diligent manner. This involves giving details on the smallest variations in steps in methods to ensure effective interpretation of results.
6. Specify the research study’s variables. In this, you should include all the independent variables, dependent variables, control variables, and extraneous variables.
7. Provide for statistical analysis approaches used. This involves describing the analysis software used, all the relevant statistical tests, and entailed levels of significance.
8. Mention the ethical approval given by the ethics committee. Ethical approval can be mentioned in the methods section when relevant.
Things to avoid include :
1. Repeating published methods. You should avoid incidences where methods used in other research studies are in details included in the methods section. Instead, you should cite them.
2. Providing to little or too much information. Too little information hampers effective interpretation while too much information makes the methods section indistinct.
3. Failing to provide a context for the methods section. This entails failing to justify the choices made in the methods. To this problem, you should use language that shows intention, purpose, and aims.
4. Using ambiguous terms in designating conditions and parameters. You should instead use specific identifiers that can be clearly understood.
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Tips When Writing the Methods Section of a Research Paper
17 Jan 2022
What is the methods section of a research paper, structure of the methods section in a research paper, participants, advice on how to write the methods section, methods and results should match, preparing the statistical methods subsection, the style of the methods section, what information should be included in the methods section.
When writing a research paper, a section details the work conducted and how it was done. The Methods section is one of the most important parts of any publication because it carries the core information of the study and what is addressed.
To start, you need a clear outline to build an insightful base for the Methods module and the research paper. Guide your reader through your experiment using these helpful tips.
The Methods section is a descriptive and technical map that guides readers through the path a researcher journeyed to arrive at their conclusions. It is the essence of every paper as it answers all unasked questions, telling the what, how, why, and when of the research or experiment.
Also referred to as Materials and Methods, this section of any research paper comes after the introduction and provides enough data and evidence to confirm the research’s validity and results.
In The American Psychological Association (APA) format, this section details the methods and procedures the research or experiment was carried out, with minimal additions that may distract the reader. The research paper format must follow set standards if it is published. This includes detailed steps, tests, and surveys, if applicable.
It is crucial for every research paper because it provides clear findings to other researchers who may want to replicate the experiment. It also informs them of what alternate procedures they may carry out and how they influence their results.
Every research study is designed to meet the outlined objectives. The methods section of a research article should also follow this path, describing the participants in the experiment or research, the tools and apparatus used to run the experiment, and the steps and procedures involved. You need to pass on information on the success and setbacks you may have encountered.
According to APA style, there are three major subsections to report here; participants, apparatus, and procedure. No rule says these subtitles must be followed to the letter; writers should use headings related to their research topics. They must report only the steps they carried out, omitting whatever headings that were not a part of the experiment.
This segment reports the characteristics of the participants involved in the experiment, the method of sampling, and the sample size.
This details the demography of the respondents that may be relevant to the experiment. This includes but is not limited to age, gender, ethnicity or race, religion, level of education, socioeconomic status, the population they were taken from, and any restrictions.
Fifty female undergraduate students between the ages of 19 and 23 participated in the experiment. All were sophomores in the Faculty of Engineering and native English speakers who lived on the university campus. The participants were separated into two groups of 25 students, each without any determining criteria. This study was conducted at the University of Alabama, USA .
- Sampling Strategy
Identify the selection criteria and whether the sample was random or not. Include it if you have access to data informing the percentage of people invited to participate and how many agreed. You should also report the selection mode; was it voluntary, or were the participants assigned to the study? Additionally, identify any compensation that may have been offered to participants.
The ethics board was petitioned, and approval was granted before the recruitment of participants commenced. All the female sophomores from the faculty of Engineering at the University of Alabama, USA, were invited to participate, and those who did were self-selected. In liaison with department heads, the students were offered additional credits in a faculty-wide course as compensation for their time.
- Sample Size
Identify the sample size per group, the statistical power you aimed to attain, whether you were able to attain it, and the analyses you used in determining the figures you arrived at. You should also include whether the final sample you got was what you initially required.
The required power for this experiment to detect a 15% effect at a significance level of .08 was 75%. To achieve this, we needed 25 participants in each group. The final sample met these conditions.
This subsection describes the materials and apparatus used in the experiment. It calls for detailed information on all devices and techniques used to collate data, measure suitable variables, and reach analysis, including tests and surveys. You must include a proper count of the number of apparatus used, their names, model number, manufacturer, reliability, and validity. For surveys, including the meaning of the formats used and the number of questions asked.
A survey that consisted of 15 multiple choice questions was carried out to determine the safety of female students on the school campus. The participants were asked to answer the questions using a 5-point grading system (1 = Extremely True and 5 = Extremely False).
This includes the conditions in which data was collated, instructions given to the participants, and data analysis methods.
The two groups of participants were placed in two different classrooms at individual desks and given 10 minutes to answer the questions. They were instructed to give the first answers they thought of without thinking too deeply. Each group had a supervisor attached to it.
You already know the relevance of the Methods to your research paper. It is scrutinised by journal editors, and when it is well written, the possibilities of publication increase.
You must follow the APA format and guidelines specified for your field. If you cannot write according to standards, you can use a research paper writing service to get good results. Go for one with good reviews and a super online reputation.
Here are some more tips for a concise and meticulously written methodology:
- Follow the standard writing standards that are accepted in your field. This includes the “Instructions for Authors” and specific guidelines for your study.
- Notation and terminology should be consistent throughout the methodology section and identify any unique terms you use.
- Indicate all materials, procedures, apparatus, and other information that may influence the results.
- Specify any challenges you faced during the experiment and how you tackled them.
- There is usually so much information to add to the methodology. To avoid exceeding the journal’s word count, you can reduce the bulk by citing resources or articles that describe some part of your method instead of giving lengthy explanations.
In the Methods section, the results obtained should be discussed based on the experimental procedures used. Explain the methodology behind the techniques used to acquire all the observations and results of the experiment in the right order. You can create a detailed flowchart or block flow diagram (BFD) to easily describe the complexities of the study and its procedures to the reader.
The statistical analysis subsection comes at the end of the Methods section. It includes a thorough description of the analysed data to arrive at the results and conclusion. Due to its technicality, it might be a little difficult and daunting to write. If this is the case, you can get the statistician who participated in the study to write it.
Here, you must indicate all the data variables, including the control variables, dependent and independent variables, and any potential irrelevant variables that could affect your results and conclusion. Specify the exact tests carried out on the different types of data you have, the requirements you tested like distribution normality, and all assumptions you initially applied.
You should also include all data alterations, possible mix-ups, confidence intervals or significance levels used, techniques for data analysis, and ensuing statistical tests that were employed. Furthermore, specify any criteria particular to the experiment, like set baselines and any specific software used to conduct the statistical analysis.
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of the Methods section is to explain how and why the experiment was carried out so that readers can understand it and possibly repeat the procedure.
Therefore, it is essential to be aware of your audience, so you can modify your writing based on what they know and explain technical terms where necessary. If you are finding it difficult to write in the appropriate style, you can buy research paper written by writers. You can find these writers on several platforms for college essays.
The methodology should read as though you describe the experiment to your reader. For this reason, it should be worded in third person constructs and a passive voice. For example, you should use “We carried out a survey” and not “I carried out a survey”. Since the experiment has already been carried out, you must write the entire section in the past tense.
Now you know what the Methods section is, what information must be included in this segment of your paper? Here’s a summary of the things you need to include:
- Literature review. The sources that helped in the methods are cited under this heading.
- Research participants. This includes all information about the study participants, including compensations, mode of selection, and demographics.
- Criteria for inclusion or exclusion include the factors determining what participants were eliminated and why.
- Grouping conditions are the factors determining the subgrouping of the chosen participants.
- Procedures. These are the conditions under which the experiment was carried out.
- Materials and apparatus. These include all devices, equipment, reliability, and validity.
- Statistical analysis. This is detailed information about the data, measured and analysed, and the tests carried out.
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We have come to the end of this guide, detailing the critical aspects of writing the methods section. By meticulously writing this part of your paper, you can validate your study and findings and help your reader understand your work well enough to replicate it.
Remember to follow proper APA referencing guidelines and write in the past tense, even if you are yet to complete the study. Give your readers clear and concise details of your research process, and remember to seek help if you need it. Happy writing!
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How to write the Methods section of a research paper
Dr. Dhriti Bhattacharyya
The Methods section of a research article is like a roadmap leading to the core of the research, guiding the readers through the actual journey the authors took to reach their destination. In the manuscript, this section contains the essential details for other scientists to replicate the experiments of the study and help the common readers to understand the study better.
In this article, we will share some tips to make the Methods section of your manuscript interesting and informative. While the article uses examples mostly from the biomedical and clinical research studies, authors from other fields too would find the tips useful for preparing their next manuscript.
Break ice between the readers and the Methods section
First, let’s ponder over the issue of the perception of boredom we often associate with the Methods section of an article. It may be the names of the reagents and instruments, separated by some numbers in terms of some concentrations or the technical terminologies that make the reading a heavy-duty task. Listed below are some useful ways of breaking the ice between the Methods section and the readers:
1. Explanation : Usually, each paragraph or subsection of the Methods section talks about a specific experiment. Early in each paragraph, explain the rationale behind your choices of that particular experiment.; for example, why you used a certain compound, a specific strain of mice as the experimental model or the particular concentration of that key reagent.
For clinical research, providing a detailed rationale for selecting the exclusion or inclusion criteria can be a good idea to present early in the Methods section. If you took a conventional or widely used method, you certainly don’t need to appear stating the obvious, but for less conventional approaches sharing your reasoning of the study design instantly makes the readers curious and engaged with your paper.
2. Visual presentation : To help the readers follow the study design or methodology better, visual elements like the schematic diagram, flowchart, and table can be used in this section. They help in breaking the monotony and making the absorption of complex information easy.
The dos and don’ts of writing the Methods section
Secondly, the information in the methods section is closely scrutinized by the journal editors and peer reviewers to assess whether the most appropriate technique was used to reach your research goal. While every detail of your experiment need not be included, the essential and critical steps should be well described to receive a positive peer review.
The essential do’s and don’ts of writing a technically sound Methods section:
1. Adhere to the specific guidelines: Read the author’s instruction section of your target journal carefully and follow the specific instructions. For example, the heading of the section “Materials and Methods” may need to be changed to “Patients and the Method” to follow the guidelines of your target journal or the name of the institutes could be omitted for the journals that do not prefer open-label reporting. Also, you may be expected to follow a particular style guideline like the one published by the American Psychological Association while writing the Methods section.
Biomedical researchers would benefit from using the checklists for different study types to ensure the essential details are included in the Methods. Some of the standardized and widely referred checklists include the ones for randomized clinical trials CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials), cohort, case-control, cross‐sectional studies STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology), diagnostic accuracy STARD (STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies), systematic reviews and meta‐analyses PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta‐Analyses), and Case reports CARE (CAse REport).
2. Structure the section so that it tells the story of your research : All the experiments should be presented in a logical manner that helps the reader retrace the gradual and development and nuances of the study. A useful way of achieving this is to describe the methods in a chronological order of the experiments. For example: for a clinical trial, you may start with the setting and time of the study ( the beginning and termination dates of the study) , followed by the details of the patient recruitment ( Number of subjects/patients etc.) , study design (prospective, retrospective or other), randomization (if any), assigning into groups, intervention, and describing the techniques used to collect, measure, and analyse data.
3. Follow the order of the results: To improve the readability and flow of your manuscript, match the order of specific methods to the order of the results that were achieved using those methods.
4. Use subheadings: Dividing the Methods section in terms of the experiments helps the reader to follow the section better. You may write the specific objective of each experiment as a subheading. Alternatively, if applicable, the name of each experiment can also be used as subheading.
5. Provide all details meticulously: Provide the details that you considered while designing the study or collecting the data because the smallest variations in these steps may affect the results and interpretation of their significance. When employing the outcome measures, the readers would like to know the information regarding validity and reliability. The correct way of reporting the reliability and the validity depends on the specific research design. Usually, information from existing literature is presented to support for the reliability and the validity of a measure.
Carefully describe the materials, equipment (like testing instruments and technical equipment), or stimuli used in the experiment. If your study involved a survey or any psychological assessment, mention the questionnaire, scoring methods, and validation of scales with every possible detail.
Also, be careful about one common manuscript error i.e. not mentioning the sample size estimation (whenever relevant). Although the estimated sample size is computed before the actual study starts, it helps the reader assess the expected change in the outcome variables and the number of subjects needed to detect that change within a certain confidence range. Similarly, mentioning power calculation is a critical point to be mentioned in the Methods section.
6. Mention the ethical approval: If relevant, early in the Methods section mention whether your study was approved by the ethics committee or institutional review board, and whether you have received oral/ written informed consent from the patients or the guardians.
7. Specify the variables : Clearly mention not only the control variables, independent variables, dependent variables but also if there were any extraneous variables that might influence the result of your study. For example, in a tutorial on learning how to write ‘Research Methodology’, one group is provided with a traditional text while the other group is provided with an interactive online tool. However, if some participants already have prior knowledge of ‘how to write the Methods section’, this pre-knowledge will act as an extraneous variable.
8. Statistical analysis: In this section, describe all statistical tests, levels of significance, and software packages used to conduct the statistical analysis. You may also consult the biostatistician of your team to receive help to write this section . Don’t forget to indicate if the recommendations of a knowledgeable and experienced statistician were considered. Finally, it is important to provide the justification of the preferred statistical method used in the study. For example, why the author is using a one-tailed or two-tailed analysis.
1. Do not describe well-known methods in detail: For the sake of brevity, avoid listing the details of the experiments that are widely used or already published in numerous articles in your field of research. Instead, mention and cite the specific experiment and mention that the referred process was followed. However, if you have modified the standard process to meet the specific aim of your study, do describe the modifications and the reasons for those in sufficient detail.
2. Do not provide unnecessary details: Avoid unnecessary details that are not relevant to the result of the experiment. For example, you need not mention trivial details such as the color of the bucket that held the ice. Try to stick only to the details that are relevant and have an impact on your study.
3. Do not discuss the pros and cons of other methods: While it may be tempting to discuss the reasons why you did not use a particular method or how your chosen method is superior to others, save these details for the Discussion section. Utilize the Methods section only to mention the details of the methods you chose.
To summarize all the tips stated above, the Methods section of an ideal manuscript aims to share the scientific knowledge with transparency and also establishes the robustness of the study. I hope that this article helps you to reach the goal of writing a perfect manuscript!
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Published on: Sep 18, 2018
- Methods Section
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- Statement of the problem
- Background of study
- Scope of the study
- Types of qualitative research
- Rationale of the study
- Concept paper
- Literature review
- Introduction in research
- Under "Editor Evaluation"
- Ethics in research
- Review paper
- Responding to reviewer comments
- Predatory publishers
- Scope and delimitations
- Open access
- Plagiarism in research
- Journal selection tips
- Editor assigned
- Types of articles
- "Reject and Resubmit" status
- Decision in process
- Conflict of interest
Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys, and statistical tests ). In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section.
1. The methods section is critical because the procedures adopted in it determines the reliability of the results obtained and the value of the analysis of findings made. 2. It informs the readers how data collection was done since the methods used affects results.
The Methods section is a descriptive and technical map that guides readers through the path a researcher journeyed to arrive at their conclusions. It is the essence of every paper as it answers all unasked questions, telling the what, how, why, and when of the research or experiment.
Some of the standardized and widely referred checklists include the ones for randomized clinical trials CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials), cohort, case-control, cross‐sectional studies STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology), diagnostic accuracy STARD (STAndards for the Reporting of …