Writing up Research
Method and Research Design
2. Common problems
3. Examples of different types of research
4. Examples of method sections
5. Writing your own method section
The method section answers these two main questions:
1. How was the data collected or generated?
2. How was it analyzed?
In other words, it shows your reader how you obtained your results.
But why do you need to explain how you obtained your results?
We need to know how the data was obtained because the method affects the results. For instance, if
you are investigating users' perceptions of the efficiency of public transport in Bangkok, you will
obtain different results if you use a multiple choice questionnaire than if you conduct interviews.
Knowing how the data was collected helps the reader evaluate the validity and reliability of your
results, and the conclusions you draw from them.
Often there are different methods that we can use to investigate a research problem. Your
methodology should make clear the reasons why you chose a particular method or procedure.
The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with
accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a questionnaire, readers need to
know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from (asking if the
efficiency of public transport in Bangkok is "a. excellent, b. very good or c. good" would obviously not
be acceptable as it does not allow respondents to give negative answers).
The research methods must be appropriate to the objectives of the study. If you perform a case study
of one commuter in order to investigate users' perceptions of the efficiency of public transport in
Bangkok, your method is obviously unsuited to your objectives.
The methodology should also discuss the problems that were anticipated and explain the steps taken
to prevent them from occurring, and the problems that did occur and the ways their impact was
In some cases, it is useful for other researchers to adapt or replicate your methodology, so often
sufficient information is given to allow others to use the work. This is particularly the case when a new
method had been developed, or an innovative adaptation used.
unnecessary explanation of basic procedures
Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide for beginners. Your readers will be people who have a
level of expertise in your field and you can assume that they are familiar with basic assessments,
laboratory procedures etc, so do not explain these in detail. For example: "Total chlorophyll content
(microgram/gram vegetable tissue) was determined spectrophotometrically by the Anderson and
Boardman method (1964), as adapted by Barth et al., (1992)" (Barth et al., 1993). Notice that the authors
do not explain the Anderson and Boardman method (we can assume it is known in their field of study)
nor their own previous adaptation of it (because the adaptation has already been recorded in the work
they published in 1992). However they do record in detail their own procedures that have not been
previously recorded: "At each time interval, three replicates/treatment were taken, ground (stem and
florets) with a Kitchen-Aid grinder Model K5-A and used for determination of reduced ascorbic acid"
(Barth et al., 1993). Notice that they specify the equipment used because it could affect the results.
Most of us encounter some problems when collecting or generating our data. Do not ignore significant
problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, recording how you overcame obstacles can form an
interesting part of the methodology, and means you can also give a rationale for certain decisions, plus a
realistic view of using the methods you chose.
This is how method fits into your thesis:
Introduction: introduction of research problem introduction of objectives introduction of how
objectives will be achieved (methodology), optional introduction of main findings and conclusions,
Literature review: review of previous work relating to research problem (to define, explain, justify)
review of previous work relating to methodology (to define, explain, justify) review of previous work
relating to results (particularly reliability, etc.)
Method (how the results were achieved): explanation of how data was collected/generated ·
explanation of how data was analyzed explanation of methodological problems and their solutions or
Results and discussion: presentation of results interpretation of results discussion of results (e.g.
comparison with results in previous research, effects of methods used on the data obtained)
Conclusions: has the research problem been “solved”? to what extent have the objectives been
achieved? what has been learnt from the results? how can this knowledge be used? what are the
shortcomings of the research, or the research methodology? etc.
SOME EXAMPLES OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF RESEARCH
analysis: classes of data are collected and studies conducted to discern patterns and formulate
principles that might guide future action
case study: the background, development, current conditions and environmental interactions of one
or more individuals, groups, communities, businesses or institutions is observed, recorded and
analyzed for stages of patterns in relation to internal and external influences.
comparison: two or more existing situations are studied to determine their similarities and
correlation-prediction: statistically significant correlation coefficients between and among a
number of factors are sought and interpreted.
evaluation: research to determine whether a program or project followed the prescribed procedures
and achieved the stated outcomes.
design-demonstration: new systems or programs are constructed, tested and evaluated
experiment: one or more variables are manipulated and the results analyzed.
survey-questionnaire: behaviors, beliefs and observations of specific groups are identified,
reported and interpreted.
status: a representative or selected sample of one or more phenomena is examined to determine its
theory construction: an attempt to find or describe principles that explain how things work the way
trend analysis: predicting or forecasting the future direction of events.
METHOD SECTION: AN EXAMPLE
The following example is abridged (the introduction has been removed, as well as the results, discussion
Task: Look for the purpose of each part of the methodology. Examine each sentence and see if you can
decide its function. Here is a range of possibilities to help you: rationale (reasons for doing something),
description (e.g. of equipment), purpose (e.g. of the model), application (how something is used),
structure of the research (the order in which information will be given), assumptions (for a model),
parameters (these may be variables that are measured).
Click on the highlighted sentences for suggested answers, then return here using the . The answers are
designed for you to jump and forth rather than to read as a complete text.
Production and Storage of Ice for Cooling Buildings
Wubben, E.A., Shapiro, H.N. and Nelson, R.M. Transactions of the ASME, Vol. 111, pp. 338 - , 1989.
A strategy that may provide economic benefits in buildings is to use and ice production system to provide
cool storage for later use when cooling is needed. Understanding the fundamental dynamics of the storage
tank is critical in determining the feasibility of such strategies. For this purpose, a lumped parameter
model of ice growth on a heat exchanger is developed. Results of an experimental study of an ice storage
system installed in a residential research facility are also presented. The results of the parametric study
are also presented that show some of the effects of geometric and operation variables on system
performance. Trends exhibited in the results suggest ways to optimize ice production for the particular
Lumped Parameter Model of Ice Growth
In this section, governing equations are developed to model ice growth on the heat exchanger plates. The
model is intended to characterize the dynamics of the ice growth without the [added problem] of the
detailed ice profiles. The presentation begins with mass and energy balances and concludes with the
development of a model for the heat transfer between the water and the coolant.
Energy and Mass Balances
An analytical model of a storage tank and heat exchanger was constructed to predict the amount of ice
that could be produced on the heat exchanger. The model predicts the energy flows into and out of the
storage tank by considering energy and mass balances for a suitable control volume. The rates of energy
removal from the tank are related to parameters that depend on the properties of the storage medium, the
physical characteristics of the system, and the environmental conditions. After this model was verified by
experiments, it was used to predict the effects of these parameters on the system performance.
The heat exchanger, illustrated in Figs. 1 and 2, consists of two plates with attached tubes placed in
parallel between supply and return headers. This type of heat exchanger was chosen because of its
thermal characteristics, large surface area, ready availability, and because the ice remains attached to the
heat exchanger. To simplify the model, no stratification of the water is allowed in the storage tank. A
submerged pump is placed in the tank to keep the water well mixed.
WRITING YOUR OWN METHOD SECTION
Bear in mind the purpose of the method section.
Keep notes of what you did, why you did it, and what happened. Some researchers keep research
diaries so that they have a record of the methods they used. Make sure you develop some way of
recording your work, and that you then carefully select which material to include in your final
Remember who your audience will be, and be careful not to include unnecessary details.
Avoid using "I" to write about what you did. Do not use "we" unless you really were working with one
or more other researchers. One way to avoid this problem is to use passive voice.
Verb tenses - be consistent, and choose the correct one
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