Methodology Writing Guide

Writing GuidesDissertation
Alex Ponomarenko
Nov 6, 2019

Methodology is a general term that covers various sections relating to the data collection procedures of a dissertation, making it an entire chapter that discusses the premises and the governing theories and concepts of a dissertation, as well as the data-gathering instruments utilized to acquire the necessary information. The task is to justify the effectiveness of the data-gathering procedure. The methodology chapter must explain clearly the reasoning behind every decision made to complete the study – how the respondents were chosen, why each criterion was set and how it matches the research questions, why are there 100 respondents, why and how you chose your reading materials, or why a questionnaire was utilized instead of interview, among others. An excellent dissertation answers a lot of hows and whys, so do not hesitate to elaborate everything that you deem necessary to be explained - this is exactly where the differences between a dissertation and a research paper lies. The methodology is usually the third chapter of a dissertation and is written in many variations in terms of formatting, hence, it is always best to ask your supervisor for guidance because universities have different sets of formatting and practiced academic style.

Important Points in Writing a Methodology

There are tons of tips and tricks in writing a dissertation and they are all valid, however, there are basically just five things to remember in writing your dissertation, especially the methodology chapter. Do not stress yourself, thinking that this is a difficult task because it is not – but it requires a lot of time and attention.

Track the limitations of your dissertation

Keep in mind that an excellent methodology delivers an elaboration of the data-gathering components, even an explanation on why some possible and highly related elements were not included or implemented in the research process. As you give an intricate justification on your research methods, sampling criteria, and instruments, you also need to justify why you did not use the other data-gathering techniques, and how your chosen method/s can yield the most appropriate data for your dissertation topic.

Ensure a valid literature review

Before you even start planning your research methods, make sure that you know how to evaluate a source . A hypothesis that came from non-scholarly readings will be extremely difficult to tap, therefore, make sure that your main reading materials are peer-reviewed. The easiest hack about this is reading the dissertations written by the students before you, they should be available in your university. If not, go find a university that gives free access to those significant documents.

Do not forget your research questions

Always make sure that you know your direction by remembering your research questions, not just the aim. Be as specific as possible, so you can narrow down the literature that you need to study and keep an eye on those research gaps. Between those research gaps are great research topics.

Never summarize

We cannot emphasize further that need for you to explain your reasoning or philosophy behind every decision you made and will make in your dissertation. There is a significant difference between a critical analysis and a summary and the key to acing your dissertation is critical thinking – lots of critical thinking.

When in doubt, ask

Do not assume that you are alone in writing your dissertation. You have a dissertation supervisor for a reason, and that is not to watch you suffer amid books and papers. Your supervisor should guide you through your dissertation, and if you cannot get a hold of him or her on a confusing moment, do not guess what you need to do. Simply ask somebody else for help . In fact, the best trick to survive your college life is to accept that you do not know everything and to actually ask the important questions to the right people. It is not far-fetched that you will find a professor in your school who would be willing to help you.

Ethical Considerations

The principal concern regarding dissertation writing is if the data-gathering process is ethical. Always take a step back to evaluate if there is a problematic approach in acquiring an information or disclosing a piece of knowledge which your respondents prefer you to not include the details for security or sensitivity reasons. This consideration should be universal, regardless if your dissertation is qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods research . Any data that is attained by unethical means can delay your graduation. The ethical considerations vary from one topic to another, however, the general and first item to consider is writing a research paper without plagiarizing . Skip the unnecessary meetings due to plagiarism dispute by learning the basics of the most common academic styles.

Dissertation Writing: The Methodology

How to Write the Methodology?

The methodology chapter of a dissertation is usually composed of seven sections, and each section may or may not have its subsections. First and foremost, train your mind to form sentences that are written in third person perspective, because you cannot use first person pronouns in this document . Use the term “researcher” or “researchers” to denote you or your team as the author. Note that this is the methodology chapter for the full dissertation, not for a dissertation proposal. Once you have read all the published literature you need to study and acquired all the data you need to answer your research questions, proceed with the following steps:

Overview - Summarize your research methods

Begin the methodology chapter by summarizing the details of your data-gathering process. Inform your readers the type of dissertation you are offering (and yes, you can use qualitative and quantitative methods in a single dissertation ), the research rationale or the reason why you decided to study your topic, and the specific data-gathering technique/s you utilized, then mention that you will explain them further in their respective sections. Be as concise as possible, but do not leave even one tiny detail in this section, because that one thing you forgot to mention can be a point of questioning when you do your defense. This chapter overview can reach up to 300 words, so do not be bothered if it exceeds a page because it is important to let your readers know about every nook and cranny of your dissertation. Tip: It is actually best and a lot easier to write this part last.

Research Questions or Hypotheses - Emphasize your research questions

Yes, we know that you have this section in your introductory chapter already, but you still need to mention it in your Methodology chapter to emphasize your research focus. You can just discuss it in a single paragraph, and it does not have to be as extensive as the one in your introduction. You just need to highlight them again to guide your readers through the rest of your work. If your research is under Social Sciences, use “Research Questions”, if it is more on experimental or objective Sciences (Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Engineering, etc.), use “Hypothesis” or “Hypotheses”. If you are uncertain with what you should use, consult your dissertation supervisor.

Research Rationale - Justify the need to study your topic

This section can be placed under the Introduction chapter, the Methodology chapter, or in both chapters. The research rationale literally refers to the reason why you decided to write a dissertation for your topic, hence, you need to create a clear and well-supported argument in this section, regardless where it is written under based on the format approved by your university. If this section is included in the first chapter, you can skip this heading, however, make sure that you still mention the gist of the rationale in the chapter overview of your Methodology.

Research Design - Specify the type of your study

This is the heart of the Methodology chapter. The research design section typically covers a number of subsections, all of which are key elements to the research design of your dissertation. Note that these items are most common in qualitative and mixed methods dissertations – quantitative and experimental science dissertations have a different set of subsections. This the systematic and technical aspect of a dissertation. Quantitative and mixed methods dissertations are the ones which typically utilize statistical sampling methods, however, comprehensive qualitative studies can also make use of various simple sampling techniques. Whichever the case, you have to create a strong research design in order for your dissertation to be seamless.

a. Sampling

Sampling, Sampling Techniques, Sampling Method - this section has various titles, depending on your university requirements. This is a crucial part for dissertations which needs a volume of respondents in order to be valid. For bigger concepts, such as studies on perception, acceptance, or knowledge about a specific topic, sampling is a significant decision because it can make or break the dissertation. A research sample has to be big enough to draw valid conclusions, yet small enough to be controlled. The data-gathering process begins with your observation - which data is possible, followed by further inquiry about the topic where initial research comes in. The sampling technique then becomes the key on how you will get the necessary information. Also, these sampling methods are inapplicable for experimental Sciences (Chemistry, etc.).

Probability Sampling

The concept of probability is the principal guide of probability sampling methods - this means that all elements of a sub-population or sample population has a chance of getting picked for closer scrutiny because, simply put, the research samples will be chosen randomly.

  1. Simple Random Sampling. This is the sampling method that is favored by most, because it has virtually zero percent of bias. The respondents are chosen without criteria, giving every member of the sample population an equal chance of being selected for the study. This is like picking a piece of paper from a box to find out who will be your partner for the next project at school.
  2. Systematic Sampling.  This is a little more systematic than simple random sampling. The samples are selected at a set interval - for example, every seventh person in the room will be asked to answer a survey form.
  3. Stratified Sampling.  All members of the sampling population are first classified into categories (formally called as strata) set by the researcher, for instance, according to age or gender. Then, simple random sampling or systematic sampling can be utilized. For instance, 20 respondents from each age group, or 50 women and 50 men.
  4. Clustered Sampling.  A specific strata or cluster is considered as one sample or respondents. For example, ten 25-year-old female employees whose monthly income is $800 from Cartagena will be Sample A, and Sample B will be ten 25-year-old male employees whose monthly income is $800.

Non-Probability Sampling

Contrary to probability sampling techniques, non-probability sampling refers to a collection of data from samples that are chosen based on specific criteria. There is an argument that there is no true or perfect random sampling, because the researchers themselves have their own limitations such as time and resources, however, that can be covered as a part of the scope and limitations of the study. The real downside of using non-probability sampling is there is a bigger chance that the conclusions that can be drawn may or may not be universal, making the conclusion difficult to accept as a generalization for a specific sample population. Non-probability sampling methods are best used for pilot studies - to be proved or disproved later on by other researchers, thus expanding the information.

  1. Convenience Sampling.  Convenience sampling refers to choosing sample population or respondents based on its convenience in one or more aspects such as accessibility, availability, proximity, or even due to the limited resources of the researcher. This is the easiest non-probability sampling technique to utilize, but is actually the most difficult to defend, especially for generalization-driven dissertations. This technique is usually applicable for specific criterion, having an interview or a case study as the main data-gathering instrument.
  2. Consecutive Sampling.  Consecutive sampling is a wide-ranging convenience sampling because it aims to include all samples that can be categorized under convenience sampling. This condition then makes it a better choice for generalization-driven dissertations, because it allows various data sources to be included in the data-gathering process, however, like any other non-probability sampling, it can also be a little challenging to justify.
  3. Quota Sampling.  Quota sampling ensures that all strata have equal representation in the entire sample population. Within a series of convenience or consecutive sampling, a specific number of respondents will be chosen from one category and that number should be the same quota for other categories. For example, 25 students each from freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior high school, equivalent to 100 students. Its difference from the stratified sampling is the convenience in terms of acquiring the samples.
  4. Snowball Sampling.  Snowball Sampling or Chain Sampling is a type of sampling that relies on links and referrals, meaning, Respondent X would refer two more respondents: Respondents Y and Z, and these two can refer more respondents, like a rolling snowball accumulating more ice as it goes on.

b. Data-Gathering Instruments

There are a number of instruments available for data-gathering, each has a condition in order to be appropriate. In this section, you will discuss all data-gathering tools you used in your dissertation, and explain in great detail the use of the tool and why it is the best tool for your study. Do not ever discuss the function of the tool you used, your readers do not need to know that. What they need to know is how that tool allowed you to acquire the best set of information you need in your dissertation. Again, except for the chapter overview, no part of the Methodology chapter is a summary - it has to be well-supported. All of these instruments are sets of questions, which means you need to carefully plan the questions you will include in the document. It cannot be too long or too short, so when in doubt, ask questions.

  1. Interview.  For a controlled number of respondents e.g. case studies, an interview is the best data-gathering tool because the researcher has a direct communication with the respondent. For such studies, it is best to utilized an unstructured (but, fully-guided) set of interview questions in order to gather as much data as possible. An unstructured interview means the questions can be adjusted depending on the respondent’s answers, meaning, a follow-up or a clarification can be made. A structured interview, on the other hand, works the other way around, thereby limiting the data collection. An interview is not limited to a respondent alone, this is also utilized to acquire data for validation from experts or professionals who have suitable experiences and knowledge regarding your dissertation topic.
  2. Focus Groups.  Focus groups refer to a group discussion, meaning, an interview with up to ten people at the same time, allowing a web of communication because feedback and questions may come from other members of the group too. In this case, the respondents can challenge various ideas from the other respondents. This tool is often applied to dissertations under Psychology.
  3. Direct Observation.  Believe it or not, most ideas for dissertation or even research papers start with direct observation. This is because an individual is naturally curious, hence, keeping track of what, why, and how of various things, leading to a research possibility. In dissertations which topics are under marketing , advertising, and public relations, most ideas for innovation come from directly observing the consumers and clients. From there, the other tools can be utilized. Also, this is the type of data-gathering tool that all of us were first exposed to. Remember when your teacher asked you to compare two plants - one was kept inside the classroom, while the other is outside with access to sunlight? You noticed how the plant outside has greener leaves, while the other has yellowish leaves. Yes, that is direct observation.
  4. Surveys or Questionnaires.  Surveys or questionnaires are often a part of a dissertation’s data-gathering instruments because it is an easy way to gather data, especially because survey forms can now be shared online. There are two kinds of questionnaires:

iv.1. Closed Question.  Respondents choose from a specific set of answers specified in the survey form. These questions are direct, hence, there is no need for the respondent to elaborate. For example: Question 1. Do you use public transition every day? The answers can be Yes or No, or Always, Sometimes, or Never.

iv.2. Open-ended Questionnaire.  This is the type of questionnaire which questions require an elaboration from the respondent. For example: How can we improve our service?

c. Research Locale

For dissertations with probability sampling as a tool, the research locale may not be a required part of the methodology, however, most qualitative studies are very particular especially because the location of choice can be a crucial part of the dissertation. For instance, a dissertation aims to identify the level of job security in a specific area in Greece. The justification for the location can then be based on the premise of the Greek financial crisis, and that specific community can be a capital city.

d. Profile of the Respondents

It is highly important that your respondents are carefully chosen to match your dissertation topic, hence, you also need to justify that decision. Regardless of the sampling method utilized, the researcher needs to make sure that the respondents will give you the best set of information to answer your research questions. Keep in mind that all your decisions must point to the same direction - to answer your questions.

e. Data-Gathering Procedure

Generally, this is the last subsection of Research Design. In a way, it is also the most extensive part of Methodology, because this part is not just informative, it is also expository. You need to explain the research process , step by step, how you gathered the information for your dissertation, in short the actual data collection method of your dissertation. This means that this subsection, also has its own subsections and that solely depends on you. How? Most qualitative studies have different stages for data collection, for example, the first stage is the data collection from experts in order to set the validity of your study. The second stage could be the data collection from your respondents, this is the heart of your study because this is where you will get your conclusions. The third stage is another data collection with the experts, but now to verify the results you got from your respondents. Know that there is no limit in the data collection tools you use, as long as you got it all under control. You can have a different set of research instruments for each stage to ensure the correctness and completeness of your data set.

In this section, you have to enumerate all sorts of strategies you took:

  1. Did you use any software or application e.g. Skype for interview, Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or of any sort?
  2. Did you use a closed questionnaire e.g. multiple choice type or single answer only?
  3. Did you use the Likert scale?
  4. Did you use a formula to compute the results?
  5. How did you end up choosing 100 respondents? Why not 1,000?
  6. All the other details

Note that these questions are not the only questions you need to address in the Data-Gathering Procedure section. Remember, no loopholes.

Overall, the Methodology chapter has four main parts: (1) the Overview or the Introduction to the chapter - there no need to specify a header for this, (2) the Research Questions or Hypotheses section, (3) the Research Rational section, and (4) the Research Design section. The last section has five standard sections: Sampling, Data-Gathering Instruments, Research Locale, Profile of the Respondents, and the Data-Gathering Procedure - a total of nine sections. Just remember, the Literature Review is the discussion of all concepts based on secondary data - journals, published dissertations, and other scholarly sources. The Methodology, on the other hand, is the discussion of your concept. That is the most important thing to remember in order to not get overwhelmed and confused with what should be in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. Also, this is only a general guide in writing the methodology chapter, always confirm with your dissertation adviser the university-set format for dissertation writing.

Again, the methodology section pertains to the series and system of methods employed by the researcher to strengthen the validity of the dissertation’s objective. In view of the ever-present need of any academic paper to utilize logic, the methodology part represents the “how” - how the researcher arrived at the findings, as well as how ethical and appropriate the means were in helping obtain the information presented. Furthermore, through the methodology, the reader is informed of the depth of the study, and how and why the researcher elected for the work to be of such extent.

While the need for logic seems to be the focal point of the methodology, the task is rife with intricacies and nuances, that when overlooked, could undermine the validity of the entire dissertation. Should one find himself at odds with how to start developing and writing the methodology part of his dissertation, expert help is recommended. The professional writers of CustomEssayMeister are rich with dissertation writing experience that enables them to write the methodology part with relative ease. If you find yourself in a similar dilemma, do not hesitate to seek our assistance. Our team will be glad to help.

Written by
Alex Ponomarenko
I am a content manager from California, US. I started as a content writer intern eleven years ago and became a content manager six years after. I joined CustomEssayMeister five years ago and enjoy being a part of the team every day.

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