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In any quantitative studies, after defining your research questions and / or hypotheses, you need to describe your methodology. In this blog, we are going to talk more about how to write a good method section for your study.

Why do you need a clear method section?

A clear and effective method section describes exactly how you conducted your study and thus allows other researchers to:

  • evaluate your research, and
  • replicate or extend your study

Structure and logical order of information

Your method section should provide a clear and concise description of the logical sequence of events in your study.

Tips for authors:

  • Use sub-sections to organise the information
  • Start each sub-section by presenting the most important information first

The structure of your method section will vary with the type of study, but generally, you will need to include the following information (probably in a similar order, but not necessarily exactly):

  1. An overview of the research design
  2. A statement confirming whether the study was approved by a human or animal research ethics committee: you may also need to mention any specific ethical considerations included in your study design here
  3. The setting for your study and when it was conducted
  4. A description of the selection of human participants or animal subjects, if relevant
  5. Any inclusion or exclusion criteria
  6. An explanation of whether a control group was used and how it was chosen
  7. A description of the materials and equipment used
  8. A description of the study procedure or protocol
  9. A description of what variables were measured and how the data were recorded
  10. A description of your analysis strategy, including data preparation, statistical tests and software used

Tips for authors:

  • You should provide enough detail in your study protocol for the reader to assess and / or reproduce the study if necessary
  • If more than one experiment was performed, or your research consisted of more than one phase, you should present them in a chronological order
  • You can consider using flow-charts or figures for a visual presentation of any complex studies
  • Don’t forget to provide references for materials such as published questionnaires and techniques that have been previously reported, including in your own papers.

Verb tenses

The purpose of a method section is to describe what you did in your study, so it is generally written in simple past tense and passive voice is often used as well.

For example:

“This was an experimental study”

 “Data were collected using an Internet questionnaire”

 “Participants were tested in a laboratory at the university”

However, present tense is instead used when describing a commonly used technique or measure, or when stating a commonly known fact.

For example:

“It is important to select the most appropriate parameters for optimisation”

 “Generally, the raw signal is saved in a single file to simplify the averaging process”

 “The 15-item questionnaire measures attitudes towards mental health”

Things you need to avoid

We have talked above about what information you need to include and to what you need to pay attention when writing your method section. But here’s a couple of things that as a rule of thumb you should avoid:

  • presenting your method or procedure as a list of instructions
  • going into too much detail: you need to consider what is relevant and what is superfluous, e.g.:
    • it is important to mention whether human participants received an incentive to participate, but not whether they were offered refreshments while they were there (unless that is relevant)
    • it is important to mention what and how often animals were fed, but not who fed them
  • providing in-depth descriptions of common methods that can be found elsewhere

Author Profile

Dr Rachel Baron
Co-Chief Editor & Managing Editor (Social Sciences)
Rachel first joined us as a freelance editor in 2001, while completing her PhD. After spending a few years as a post-doctoral researcher and then lecturing in psychology, she returned to us in 2010 and focused her career on academic editing. She took on the role of Assistant Chief Editor in 2018, and became co-Chief-Editor in 2020. Unable to leave academia behind completely, she also teaches Psychology at an English-speaking university in Italy, where she is now based. With extensive experience in both academia and publishing, Rachel has an excellent overview of both the client and editor sides of the business.

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