What goes into your thesis’ methods section?

What goes into a method section? That’s a classic question. There are three main components, plus one additional element for theses, that you need to consider in your method section. The goal of each method section is to make research reproducible, not just to clarify what you did and help people understand. You want to provide all your tools, so the research can be replicated.

The main ingredients that you find in every journal paper are three major building blocks, or questions. First, who? Who did you ask? What’s your sample? What’s your population? How did you arrive at that sample and population? How does it look like? How can you describe that sample? This is usually the first subsection in a journal article.

Second, what? What did you ask those people? Is there a survey with instruments and scales involved that you can outline? Is there an interviewer guideline? Whatever it is, show it transparently. What is the end product? How did you arrive there?

Third, how do you analyze the data? Are you using qualitative content analysis? Are you using statistics? Describe what you’re doing after you have collected the data. These are the three fundamental components found in every journal paper.

For a thesis, it often makes sense to add one additional element upfront: the methodology. This is the broad outlook. What is your general approach? Is it more qualitative or quantitative? What kind of paradigm are you drawing from? This helps to position your whole method section and explain how this outlook will help answer your research question.

In a journal paper, you often do not find this information due to space limitations. However, in a thesis, you have the space, and supervisors are keen to know that you understand your general view and approach.

Test yourself

  1. What’s the goal of the method section?
  • Make research reproducible
  • Just clarify what was done
  • Help people understand
  1. What’s the first major component in a method section?
  • How data was analyzed?
  • Who was asked?
  • What methodology was used?
  1. What’s often added upfront in a thesis method section?
  • Data analysis techniques
  • Methodology
  • Survey instruments
  1. How many main components are in every journal paper’s method section?
  • Four
  • Three
  • Two
  1. What element is not typically found in a journal paper due to space?
  • Sample description
  • Methodology information
  • Data analysis description