Julie David and Heather Lashman
University of North Dakota
February 28, 2003
In writing a research paper the first place that methodology is found is in the introduction of the paper. The writer needs to include a description of the methods used to make the conclusions that are presented in the paper. Included with the description should be a definition of the research area, arguments for continued research, evaluation of the results, and conclusions or visions of the future (http://virtual.mbs.fi/mbs_wojniak/dissertation/writing.htm).
The methods section of a dissertation, article, or proposal describes the exact steps that will be undertaken to address your hypotheses/and or research questions. For this reason the methods section follows logically from the statement of the problem in much the same way as the research questions follow the review of the literature (Rudestam, 2001). According to www.tele.sunyit.edu/rmnote2.htm “Others should be able to replicate your work just by reading your methods section”.
The Methods section typically contains three subsections: Subjects or Participants, Instrumentation or measures, and Procedures. In addition the Methods section of a dissertation proposal often contains a “Statistical Analysis” or “Data Analysis” section in which procedures for approaching data are outlined (Rudestam, 2001).
A reasonable way to begin a Method section is to develop an introductory paragraph that describes both the design of the study and the organization of the section. This prepares the reader for what is to follow and provides a framework. This paragraph states, “This is the Method chapter, this is how it is organized and this is the type of design I used” (Rudestam, 2001).
Subjects or Participants
What type of sample will you draw: random, stratified, purposive? Where will your subjects be located? How many subjects are necessary for your particular design? (Rudestam, 2001). When describing the population the writer needs to include how the population was identified. How the population was contacted. The writer also needs to include information about where the list was obtained from, information on contacts with agencies, and any development of research site agreements.
The Sampling Design
The job is to describe how you will accomplish this task in your study, taking all the theoretical and practical issues into account. Knowledge of the various types of sampling design is a prerequisite to developing an appropriate description of your particular sampling problem (Rudestam, 2001).
According to www.tele.sunyit.edu/rmnote2.htm, when reporting sampling methods the writer should “Be sure to use language that makes it clear in what way you have delimited the population in order to obtain a sample for your study. The language used here should be tied to the statement of the problem. If the problem statement is flawed it is likely to be revealed as you try to discuss sampling strategy” (www.tele.sunyit.edu/rmnote2.htm).
Included with the information on sampling is information about where and how the sample was obtained. Such information includes whether or not the researcher used probability or non-probability sampling. From there the researcher should identify what type of sampling was used such as simple random sampling (probability) or accidental sampling (non-probability) (Reamer Ch. 5).
The Appropriate Number of Subjects
Determining the appropriate number of subjects for a given design is one of the most difficult sampling problems. Most students tend to underestimate the number of subjects necessary to draw meaningful conclusions from the data.
The best method to approximate the number of subjects is to conduct a power analysis. A power analysis lets the researcher know how many subjects are necessary to detect and effects that result from the independent variables, given (a) the size of the effect of these variables in the population, (b) the type of statistical tests to be utilized, and (c) the level of significance (or alpha level) of the study (Rudestam, 2001).
The instrumentation section of a methods section describes the particular measures you will employ and how they will measure the variables specified in your research questions and hypotheses. This section “makes your case.”
Within the instrument development segment of the methods section the writer should include information about the instrument or instruments used to in data collection (Rudestam, 2001). The writer should include what the instrument is, what it consists of, how it was administered, and what precautions were used as precautions to ensure reliability and validity when the instrument was being administered. The writer should also include information on any pilot, pre-, or post- testing.
Specifically in quantitative methodology questions included on the instrument could be yes/no questions, likert questions, rank order, true/false, or multiple choice. If the instrument used is a standardized instrument then the writer should include this. Many times during research the researcher will develop their own instrument for data collection. If this is the case the writer needs to be sure to include a specific description of what the instrument entails.
Another subject that has to be examined by the writer is that of confidentiality. The writer needs to include information on how the instrument was administered in regard to confidentiality of information and the subsequent records. Included with this is a statement about how information will be protected and what procedures were used to ensure confidentiality.
The procedures section provides a detailed description of the exact steps taken to contact your research participants, obtain their cooperation, and administer your instruments. “After reading this section one should know when, where, and how the data were collected. For example, “In a mailed survey, one might describe the following steps: (a) mail precontact letter, (b) 1 week later mail survey packet, (c) two weeks later mail follow-up survey for non-respondents” ” (Rudestam, 2001).
The research design should also be included within the procedure segment of the methods section. The research design includes a definition of the target population, sampling approach, and information regarding data collection. In addition, the type of group design or type of research should be noted.
Research design also includes data collection procedures. These procedures include conduction of interviews and questionnaires. The writer must report precautions used to assure validity, reliability, confidentiality, and anonymity (Reamer, Ch. 9).
Also in regard to data collection the writer needs to include information on how the data collected is handled. The writer should state how the information is transferred to computer, if the data is transferred. The writer should include information on what software program in which the data is being used. The writer should also include how variable transformations and data reductions are handled. Finally the writer includes information on how missing information and outliers will be handled.
A research proposal often includes a statement that describes the statistical tests that will be used to address the hypotheses and research questions. This section is usually the one that scares students the most (because students learn statistics in the abstract, not as applied to specific research questions).
The benefit of the data analysis section is that it forces the writer to think through how the data will be treated at the time of proposal rather than at the time it is collected. One of the difficulties of data analysis is that it can be analyzed and reanalyzed; therefore a technique that appeared reasonable will seem inappropriate at a later date because of the way the sample is distributed when complete (Rudestam, 2001).
Limitations of Your Research
“A final section of the Method chapter that we encourage students to include in a dissertation proposal is a statement on ‘limitations’ and ‘delimitations’ of the study. Delimitations imply limitations on the research design that you have imposed deliberately…Limitations…refer to restrictions in the over which you have no control” (Rudestam, 2001).
Rudestam, K.E. & R.R Newton (2001). Surviving your Dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage publications
Reamer, F. G. (1998). Social Work Research and Evaluation Skills. NY: Columbia University Press.
York, R.O. (1998). Conducting social work research: An experimental approach. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.