Writing The Research Methodology Chapter

5 Time-Saving Tips & Tools

By: David Phair (PhD) and Amy Murdock (PhD) | July 2022

The methodology chapter is a crucial part of your dissertation or thesis – it’s where you provide context and justification for your research design. This in turn demonstrates your understanding of research design theory, which is what earns you marks.

Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of students navigate this tricky section of the research process. In this post, we’ll share 5 time-saving tips to help you effectively write up your research methodology chapter.

1. Develop an outline before you start writing 

The first thing to keep in mind when writing your methodology chapter (and the rest of your dissertation) is that it’s always a good idea to sketch out a rough outline of what you are going to write about before you start writing. This will ensure that you stay focused and have a clear structural logic – thereby making the writing process simpler and faster.

An easy method of finding a structure for this chapter is to use frameworks that already exist, such as Saunder’s “research onion” as an example. Alternatively, there are many free methodology chapter templates for you to use as a starting point, so don’t feel like you have to create a new one from scratch.

Next, you’ll want to consider what your research approach is, and how you can break it down from a top-down angle, i.e., from the philosophical down to the concrete/tactical level. For example, you’ll need to articulate the following: 

  • Are you using a positivist, interpretivist, or social constructivist approach?
  • Are you using inductive or deductive reasoning?
  • Are you using a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods study?

Keep these questions front of mind to ensure that you have a clear, well-aligned line of argument that will maintain your chapter’s internal and external consistency.

Remember, it’s okay if you feel overwhelmed when you first start the methodology chapter. Nobody is born with an innate knowledge of how to do this, so be prepared for the learning curve associated with new research projects. It’s no small task to write up a dissertation or thesis, so be kind to yourself!

Starting the process with a chapter outline will help keep your writing focused and ensure that the chapter has a clear structural logic.

2. Take inspiration from other studies 

Generally, there are plenty of existing journal articles that will share similar methodological approaches to your study. With any luck, there will also be existing dissertations and theses that adopt a similar methodological approach and topic. So, consider taking inspiration from these studies to help curate the contents of your methodology chapter.

Students often find it difficult to choose what content to include in the methodology chapter and what to leave for the appendix. By reviewing other studies with similar approaches, you will get a clearer sense of your discipline’s norms and characteristics. This will help you, especially in terms of deciding on the structure and depth of discussion. 

While you can draw inspiration from other studies, remember that it’s vital to pay close attention to your university’s specific guidelines, so you can anticipate departmental expectations of this section’s layout and content (and make it easier to work with your supervisor). Doing this is also a great way to figure out how in-depth your discussion should be. For example, word-count guidelines can help you decide whether to include or omit certain information.

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3. Justify every design choice you make

The golden rule of the methodology chapter is that you need to justify each and every design choice that you make, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem. We often see that students merely state what they did instead of why they did what they did – and this costs them marks.

Keep in mind that you need to illustrate the strength of your study’s methodological foundation. By discussing the “what”, “why” and “how” of your choices, you demonstrate your understanding of research design and simultaneously justify the relevancy and efficacy of your methodology – both of which will earn you marks.

It’s never an easy task to conduct research. So, it’s seldom the case that you’ll be able to use the very best possible methodology for your research (e.g. due to time or budgetary constraints). That’s okay – but make sure that you explain and justify your use of an alternate methodology to help justify your approach.

Ultimately, if you don’t justify and explain the logic behind each of your choices, your marker will have to assume that you simply didn’t know any better. So, make sure that you justify every choice, especially when it is a subpar choice (due to a practical constraint, for example).

The golden rule of the methodology chapter is that you need to justify each and every design choice that you make, no matter how small.

4. Err on the side of too much detail

We often see a tendency in students to mistakenly give more of an overview of their methodology instead of a step-by-step breakdown. Since the methodology chapter needs to be detailed enough for another researcher to replicate your study, your chapter should be particularly granular in terms of detail. 

Whether you’re doing a qualitative or quantitative study, it’s crucial to convey rigor in your research. You can do this by being especially detailed when you discuss your data, so be absolutely clear about your: 

  • Sampling strategy
  • Data collection method(s)
  • Data preparation
  • Analysis technique(s)

As you will likely face an extensive period of editing at your supervisor/reviewer’s direction, you’ll make it much easier for yourself if you have more information than you’d need. Some supervisors expect extensive detail around a certain aspect of your dissertation (like your research philosophy), while others may not expect it at all.

Remember, it’s quicker and easier to remove/trim down information than it is to add information after the fact, so take the time to show your supervisor that you know what you’re talking about (methodologically) and you’re doing your best to be rigorous in your research.

The methodology chapter needs to be detailed enough information for another researcher to replicate your study, so don't be shy on detail.

5. Provide citations to support each design choice

Related to the issue of poor justification (tip #3), it’s important include high-quality academic citations to support the justification of your design choices. In other words, it’s not enough to simply explain why you chose a specific approach – you need to support each justification with reference to academic material. 

Simply put, you should avoid thinking of your methodology chapter as a citation-less section in your dissertation. As with your literature review, your methods section must include citations for every decision you make, since you are building on prior research.  You must show that you are making decisions based on methods that are proven to be effective, and not just because you “feel” that they are effective.

When considering the source of your citations, you should stick to peer-reviewed academic papers and journals and avoid using websites or blog posts (like us, hehe). Doing this will demonstrate that you are familiar with the literature and that you are factoring in what credible academics have to say about your methodology.

As a final tip, it’s always a good idea to cite as you go. If you leave this for the end, then you’ll end up spending a lot of precious time retracing your steps to find your citations and risk losing track of them entirely. So, be proactive and drop in those citations as you write up. You’ll thank yourself later!

Let’s Recap…

In this post, we covered 5 time-saving tips for writing up the methodology chapter:

  1. Develop a (rough) outline before you start writing
  2. Look at similar studies in your topic area
  3. Justify every design choice that you make
  4. Err on the side of too much detail, rather than too little
  5. Back up every design choice by referencing methodology literature

If you’ve got any questions relating to the methodology chapter, feel free to drop a comment below. Alternatively, if you’re interested in getting 1-on-1 help with your thesis or dissertation, be sure to check out our private coaching service.

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.

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