Writing your thesis method section
Many students have trouble writing a proper method section for their thesis. What bits of information should be included in this section, and what bits shouldn’t? It obviously matters whether you’re pursuing a vocational or academic degree (and in what direction), but the following practical tips should get you well on the way to properly describing your research methods. We wish you good luck on writing your thesis’ method section!
The purpose of your thesis’ method section is to describe what you’ve investigated and how you’ve conducted your investigation. The section often consists of several specific sub-sections and is intended to allow a reader to repeat (replicate) your study, so don’t forget to include all relevant details.
Firstly, it is a good idea to describe what specific research methods were used in your study, and what the (dis)advantages of those methods are. For the qualitative research method of interviews, there are multiple types, such as in-depth interviews, structured interviews and semi-structured interviews. Eventually, your supervisors will not only determine your grade based on whether you’ve made the right choices or not, but more so on whether you’ve correctly justified making these choices (so, it’s important to keep the purpose of your study in the back of your mind).
A solid textbook that covers research methods can really help write the section properly, especially if the book focuses on a method of research that you’ve used in your study. However, a common error is to paraphrase general descriptions from the textbook instead of applying them to your own study. These days, your supervisors will also grade you based on the reasoning behind decisions you’ve made about what to focus your study on, and not just on the decisions themselves. So, convince your audience by providing arguments in favor of the choices you’ve made.
Use past tense when writing your method section, as your study has already finished.
A handy checklist for your method section
- As an expert of your own study, you are obviously aware of all the details and know what was done and what not. However, you should realize that your audience knows nothing at all. So, it is important to be complete in your descriptions and clearly state what was done, and for what reason. To help you along the way, we’ve created a checklist that should allow you to make sure you’ve included the essentials in your method section:
- First, describe the type of research you’ve conducted. Some relevant jargon is: quantitative / qualitative, and explorative (descriptive) / experimental. Expand on your choices.
- Next, write about the respondents (sample / participants) of your study. Address who participated, and where you got your respondents from (e.g., via social media or a school board advertisement). Do not just provide the number of respondents and your arguments for settling on this number (which can be calculated), but also describe what inclusion and exclusion criteria you applied to select your respondents. It is especially important to also list your sample’s demographic characteristics (such as age, native country, profession, and so forth). You can include the final number of respondents in this section, but you can also include this in the results section’s first paragraph.
- Then, write about when your study took place: how long was your survey running? And during which months?
- Provide a description about the reliability and validity of the study, in which you explain what steps you took to keep these aspects of research as high as possible. Do not forget to include some bits about the generalizability of the study.
- Also describe how many respondents there actually were (i.e., how many people actually finished the survey) and what methods you used to increase this. Several methods for increasing response rates are described in the literature; these mainly center on sending reminders, applying a personal approach to study recruitment and giving away monetary rewards or gifts.
- It is also important to describe the instruments that were used in the study. For the instruments section, you should, for example, discuss the survey you’ve used and provide sufficient detail to your description. Ask these questions: How many questions did the survey consist of? What do the questions measure? What sources did you use to formulate your questions? Here, you can provide a reliability analysis (cronbach’s alpha) of your survey if you’d like.
- Next, describe the procedure, which includes all steps that were undertaken to get your data and respondents. So, you should write something along the lines of:
- “Firstly, an online survey was created, next e-mail addresses of candidate respondents were gathered using ….. Also, an e-mail with a hyperlink to the survey was sent. Reminder e-mails were sent”, and so forth.
- You should not forget to, lastly, describe the data analysis (quantitative / qualitative) methods you’ve applied in your study. In this paragraph, you should explain what you’ve done with your data: usage of SPSS, steps undertaken for data cleaning, calculations of sum scores (for surveys), usage of specific statistical tests such as t-tests, correlations and regressions, and so forth. For qualitative studies, you should include that you’ve transcribed and coded the data (and how you’ve done this).
- For academic theses, you should also include the design of your study: what were the dependent and independent variables? Were there certain conditions? It is common to summarize your hypotheses in a conceptual model.
Regardless of which method you choose, you will need to engage in a full critical discussion of why a particular research method best suits your research project. If you are performing research based on interviews, what kind of in-depth knowledge can you obtain from the interviewees that otherwise could not be traced in archival data? Why do you believe that the case of the company/organisation that you use for your research is of interest and has the potential to produce findings that may be theoretically generalizable? Regardless of the type of analysis you choose you should describe and explain each element of the study that was carried out. In qualitative studies, you will need to explain the process by which ideas were developed in your analysis and to include transcripts of interviews as Appendices to your thesis. In quantitative research you will need to provide justification for the choice and selection of the chosen model and variables.
This page was written for all students who are writing their thesis, and it is therefore general and does not account for the specific details of your study and research. We’d love to help you write a great research method section. Do you need help writing your method section?
Get in touch and we’ll happily provide you with more information!
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