7.6 Method Section

This section follows the introduction (without a page break) and begins with the centered title “Method.” The method section essentially tells the reader in considerable detail exactly what materials were needed to set up the study and how it was carried out.

Questions to ask yourself as you create your method section:

  • Who were the participants or what comprised the sample?
  • What supplies were needed to carry out this study?
  • Were the procedures described in a manner that is so clear and straight-forward that anyone reading it would be able to replicate the study?
  • Was there a precise explanation for how the main variables were conceptualized?

It is useful to use sub-headings in this section to identify the components you need to explain (see the checklist below). The methods section usually begins with a short paragraph that indicates how many people participated in the study, describes the participants in the research, notes how they were selected, and describes what they did in the study. For example:

One hundred and twenty-three students from an introductory sociology course at the University of Alberta volunteered to participate in a study on attitudes toward tobacco use. The class was randomly selected from a computer-generated list of all the courses offered during that fall session. All participants completed an online questionnaire designed to examine views on smoking.

 If your study was based on the examination of personal information included in Instagram posts (as opposed to information you gathered directly from participants), you would instead describe the sample and how you obtained it. For example, Modrall (see Appendix B) described her sample as:

. . . personal information gathered from 10 user profiles and five posts from each of these profiles that were created between January 1st 2017 and December 31st, 2017.” She went on to explain how her sample was selected by noting that “the principal researcher analyzed a total of 10 user profiles and five posts from each of these profiles on Instagram, using the hashtag filter “#trending”. Due to the large quantity of posts using this filter, a systematic random sampling approach was used to select the initial post from which the corresponding profile could then be found. This same approach was then used to select five posts from each of these profiles. The principal researcher used a random number generating tool Stat Trek (https://stattrek.com) to limit the number of user profiles and posts that were available to be selected. User profiles were chosen from the first 100 listed while the posts within these profiles were selected from the 20 most recent entries within the specified timeframe (January 1st, 2017 to December 31st, 2017). Both profiles and posts were identified by counting from left-to-right, top-to-bottom. If a profile had fewer than five posts or was identified as an advertising profile, a new number was generated to select a different profile. (Modrall, 2018, pp. 6-7)

The methods section also includes a paragraph that lists the setting and necessary materials used to conduct the study (e.g., the location, supplies that had to be purchased in advance, and/or any kind of equipment that was needed to record information). This information helps a reader understand exactly what would be needed to replicate a study of this nature. For example:

Focus groups were conducted in a seminar room at the University of Alberta. Necessary materials included a digital recording device and MAXQDA software used to help analyze the qualitative data.

Next, you want to include a very detailed description of the procedures for carrying out the study. This section literally walks the reader through the study as the participants would have experienced it. (Again, you might consider using sub-headings to ensure that you document every step undertaken in this research project). For example, if the experimenter needed to prepare some materials in advance of the study such as a script to ensure that all participants were given identical instructions before commencing the task, the first heading might be “background preparation.” The next heading could be called “starting the session” and here you can summarize what the participants were told about the study and what their role would entail. For example:

“Upon arrival for the experimental session, each participant was greeted by a female researcher (E1) and taken to a small laboratory. Participants were seated at a table in front of a television monitor and asked to fill out a pre-study questionnaire and to watch one of six standardized presentations on videotape” (Symbaluk et al., 1997, p. 260).

The procedures section essentially details the independent variable(s) in an experiment (since this is what the research manipulates). For example:

The videos allowed for the manipulation of social modeling. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three modeling conditions (intolerant, tolerant, and no-model control condition). Individuals in the intolerant condition saw the male confederate in the isometric position wearing a heart rate monitor. The confederate. . .acted according to a script that called for him to collapse after 60 seconds. . .Cue cards were used to tell the confederate what pain estimates to call out and what signs of pain to display.” … Pain was displayed by facial expressions, moans, clenched teeth and hands, and shaking legs… A similar procedure was used to create the tolerant model condition. . .but the final pain estimate was not reported until he endured 240 seconds of isometric sitting. (Symbaluk et al., 1997, pp. 260-261)

If the study was based on a qualitative approach as would be the case if a study utilized in-depth, qualitative interviews, the procedures would instead detail how the interview process unfolded. Alternatively, if the study was based on a technique such as content analyses, this section would explain how data was coded by the researcher. In a report that is based on the examination of existing records (i.e., secondary data analysis), the methods section might be considerably shorter as in this article on the effects of temperature on temper among baseball pitchers. Here, the entire methods section is described in one concise paragraph as follows:

Microfilm issues of major daily newspapers were consulted to obtain data on weather and major league baseball games. Random samples of games were taken from three major league baseball seasons: 1986; 1987, and 1988. The 1986 sample included every 10th game played during the season (n = 215 games). Every 7th game during the season was included for the 1987 (n = 304) and 1988 (n = 307) samples. For each game sampled, the number of players hit by a pitch (HBP) was recorded. Within the same newspaper issue, the high temperature (F˚) in the home city of the day of the game was also recorded. The numbers of walks, wild pitches, passed balls, errors, home runs, and fans in attendance in each game were recorded as control variables. (Reifman et al., 1999, pp. 308-309)

The research design is usually described under a sub heading within the methods section. This section very succinctly describes the overall form of the study (although a reader should also be able to infer this from the previous description provided in the procedures section). For example:

“… the design was a 3 X 3 factorial experiment that crossed three levels of social modeling (no model, intolerant model, tolerant model) with three rates of payment ($0, $1, and $2 per 20 s of exercise)” (Symbaluk et al., 1997, p. 262).

The last sub-section lists the dependent variable(s) and describes how they were measured. For example:

“Dependent measures included pain threshold and pain endurance. Pain threshold was recorded as the number of seconds to the first report of pain. Pain endurance was the total number of seconds of isometric sitting” (Symbaluk et al., 1997).

Method Checklist

❏ Follows the introduction

❏ Begins with the heading “Method,” centered and in bold text

❏ Page numbering continues from the previous section

❏ Double-spaced

❏ Indented new paragraphs

❏ Includes sub-headings in bold text aligned to the left, such as:

    • Participants
    • Setting and Materials
    • Procedures
    • Design
    • Dependent Variables


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Navigating an Undergraduate Degree in the Social Sciences by Diane Symbaluk, Robyn Hall, and Geneve Champoux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.