Writing about methods
Every thesis, regardless of the discpline and field of inquiry it relates to, needs to answer these questions:
- "How did you do your research?"
- "Why did you do it that way?"
This covers not only the methods used to collect and analyse data, but also the theoretical framework that informs both the choice of methods and the approach to interpreting the data. In some disciplines, the approach to knowledge underpinning both the type of research questions asked and the methods chosen to answer them is called “methodology”, and needs to be articulated. Both methods and theoretical approach relates all of these explicitly to the research question(s) addressed in the thesis.
You may need to summarise available methods and theoretical approaches for your research topic; you will certainly need to justify your choice of method(s). Where a combination of methods is used, that needs to be justified too. Your explanation should also indicate any reliability or validity of the data, and discuss any ethical considerations that arise from your choices.
Write about your choice first, then justify it (with reference to literature on research methods if appropriate). That will ensure that your discussion is firmly tied to your research project, and doesn’t read like a textbook chapter on methods!
The detail and emphasis of what is covered in a discussion of methods/methodology will be different in different disciplines.
There is no single correct way to structure the methodology section. The structure of your work will depend on the discipline you are working within, as well as the structure of your overall research project. If your work is built around a single study or experiment, you might have a single chapter where you discuss your research methods, whereas if you have several different experiments or studies, you might report each in its own chapter, with a section about the methodology in each. If your study is based on literary texts, works of art, documentary sources or creative practice, it will probably include a discussion of methodology in the introductory chapter. Completed theses in your discipline can provide a guide.
Look at some theses from your discipline. The Theses Library guide can help you locate theses from Monash and other universities.
- Where are the research approaches and methods talked about?
- What level of detail is given? (E.g. sources, subjects, equipment, procedures for data collection, methods of analysis etc.)
- How does the writer justify their choices?