TL;DR Science: Method

By John Sutor
April 15, 2020 · 7 minute read

The method is one of the most important aspects of a research paper because it ensures that readers are capable of validating and replicating your own findings. Whether your research involves hands-on lab work, a study, or serves as a literature review, the methodology helps to guide your readers through the process you followed to reach your findings and conclusion.

What Information Goes into the Method?

The information found within your method varies from paper to paper, though it always discusses the steps that you took to arrive at your findings and conclusion. In general, this means that the methodology should address how you went about collecting data for your research project, the tools you used to collect and analyze your data, and the methods you employed to analyze the data that you collected.

The first component to include in your methodology is an introduction. The introduction should restate your research question, as well as any assumptions made when pursuing your research topic. This will allow the reader to understand how the rest of your methodology will follow the topic of your research. Additionally, discussing the assumptions made in your research paper will establish your credibility as the reader can better understand why you made certain decisions later on in your methodology.

The next section of your methodology discusses the decisions made while selecting data, tools used to analyze and collect that data, and the methods used to process your data. This section is part of the methodology that requires the most thought and planning because it has a great influence on the credibility and authenticity of your results and conclusion. Data is the information, statistics, and facts that you collect for the purpose of analyzing later on. It can range from survey results collected in a research study to laboratory measurements, such as temperature, humidity, or growth rate, that you collect in a research project following the scientific method. The tools mentioned in your abstract are anything that you use to either collect or process your data. This can range from software used to collect survey results, such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, to lab equipment such as thermometers, beakers (what a cliché) and Voltmeters. If you plan to use your computer and any unique software to analyze your results, it's important to list these tools as well. The methods that you use to process your data include statistical tests, plotting, and data validation. Statistical tests include mean, median, standard deviation, and hypothesis testing. These methods allow you to numerically validate the data collected in your research. Plotting allows you and your readers to better understand and visualize trends in your data. Finally, data validation will allow you to ensure that the data that you are testing is reliable. This is most applicable to surveys, as some respondents can provide incoherent and unuseful data. Be warned! Removing data can skew the results of your research, so make sure to discuss what data you chose to exclude from your results and why you chose to exclude it.

It is extremely important to be as specific as possible in this section of the methodology: when discussing your method of data collection, elaborate! Do you plan to send out surveys, pursue archival research, or collect data of your own in a laboratory setting? If you're conducting a survey, are you conducting it via phone, social media, surveying tools, or email blasts? If you're collecting data in a lab setting, how do you plan to record that data? How can you be sure that your method of recording this data is both precise and accurate? These are just a small subset of questions that must be answered, so it is very important to check your methodology and prevent any openendedness in your process.

Finally, it is important to provide a justification for using the data, tools, and methods for processing the data that you outlined in the previous section. This section is most concerned about why you made the decisions about what methods to pursue. For example, if your research involves issuing interviews, why did you favor this approach to data collection rather than sending out surveys? If within your data analysis section you use statistical testing, why did you decide to use one statistical analysis method to reach your conclusion as opposed to other methods? Are there any potential limitations to the methods that you used, and if so, how did you address them? All these considerations will promote your conclusion and your own credibility.

One major difference that your paper will have depending on whether you are pursuing lab-based scientific research or pursuing research through surveys, interviews, and questionnaires is the discussion of the materials and tools used in your research. Traditionally, the methodology section of a scientific research paper has been referred to as the "materials and method" because it outlines the "materials" that were examined, in addition to the "methods" used to examine them. A more lab-based approach to creating your methodology can be described in these five steps:

  1. Describing the materials used in the study
  2. Explaining how the materials were prepared
  3. Describing the research protocol
  4. Explaining how measurements were made and what calculations were performed
  5. Stating which statistical tests were done to analyze the data

as discussed by Richard Kallet ("How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper"). Notice that this approach still incorporates all of the components described previously, such as discussing tools and data used, data processing methods, as well as elaborating on each of these topics and justifying why you decided to use them in your research.

When Should I Write a Method?

Virtually every research paper requires a methodology or some form of it. In the APA writing style, the method is important to ensure that the results of your paper are meaningful and replicable. It is advised to divide the method into subsections, while at least incorporating the participants, materials, and procedures sections in your paper. When discussing your participants, make sure to discuss the number, demographics, and screening process used to identify your participants. This aligns with our discussion in the previous blog section considering the importance of being specific when it comes to writing your methodology. The materials section should go in-depth into the tools that you used for your research, as well as why you chose them. Finally, the procedures section should extensively discuss the step-by-step process you used to conduct your research. It is important to remember to write it in a manner that is very specific to ensure that others may replicate your work.

Though there is little mention of creating a research methodology within the official MLA documentation, it is recommended that you create it in a similar manner to the APA style. MLA does, however, provide guidelines for creating section headers. It is important to either differentiate your headers using an Arabic number system or using special formatting for each header and subheader within your document. This also applies to the Chicago Style, which recommends using the Turabian style for differentiating between headings of up to five levels. Providing adequate headers and subheaders will allow your readers to understand which part of your paper is your method, as well as distinguish between the subsections of the research method.

For a fantastic reference, check out the top link in the blog sources or click here to view an APA style method. Note that this sample includes their introduction from within the Design and Procedures section.

How do I Make Sure I have a Great Method?

To make sure that you have an excellent methodology, you must focus on elaborating on the data you collect, the tools you use to collect and analyze that data, as well as your methods of data analysis. Doing so will not only bolster your own credibility but will allow other researchers to replicate and validate your findings, making your research even more meaningful. If you have questions about your method, it is best to consult resources such as the MLA, APA, Chicago, or other writing style guides based on the format of your paper. Furthermore, consult your teacher, professor, or mentor about their expectations for your paper's method. Finally, creating a project on SciTeens and asking for help writing your method from within your project's feedback section will allow mentors with lots of experience to assist you in crafting the perfect method. Our platform is non-profit, and we help students of all backgrounds regardless of race, religion, and gender.

For help with other topics, such as how to write an abstract, be sure to check out the rest of our blog!

TL;DR

The method of your research paper should include an in-depth description of the data you used, the tools you used to collect and analyze your data, and the method of data analysis that you employed. Although each research method requires these three basic components, the format and name of these components may change from paper to paper based on the style used. If you need help when constructing your research method, it is important to consult your specific style guide, your teacher or mentor, or use SciTeens to receive personalized professional help.

Sources

https://evc-cit.info/psych018/example_method_section.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15447808

https://msu.edu/~kvampete/Lab%204.pdf

https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/methodology

https://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/school-arts-and-communication/speech-communication/students/writing-guide/formatting-paper/title-pages-headings-margins-pagination-and-fonts

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_style_introduction.html

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html

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