How to Write Research Methodology: Overview, Tips, and Techniques

How to Write Research Methodology: Overview, Tips, and Techniques
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The main aim of research is not merely to gather information. Instead, it goes beyond that. The true goal of research is to seek answers to previously unanswered questions to contribute to the body of knowledge in a discipline according to Goddard and Melville (2001, p.1).  But for your peers, and indeed the whole world, to recognize your newly discovered or created knowledge, you have to show evidence of its validity or truthfulness.

Determining the validity of your study is anchored on your research paper’s methodology. According to Somekh and Lewin (2005), a research methodology is both “the collection of methods or rules” you apply to your research, as well as the “principles, theories, and values” that support your research approach. Simply put, a research paper’s methodology section must shed light on how you were able to collect or generate your research data and demonstrate how you analyze them (SHU Library, 2020).

For novice researchers, writing the methodology of a research paper can be an overwhelming process, especially considering the intricate elements covered by this section (J. Ellis & Levy, 2009, p. 323). The goal of this article is to define what is research methodology, guide novice researchers in their research methodology writing, and to help them gain a clear understanding of a research methodology’s structure.

What Is a Research Methodology?

Methodology in research is defined as the systematic method to resolve a research problem through data gathering using various techniques, providing an interpretation of data gathered and drawing conclusions about the research data. Essentially, a research methodology is the blueprint of a research or study (Murthy & Bhojanna, 2009, p. 32). As such, the methodology in research proposal is of utmost importance.

Methodology vs. Methods

The confusion between “methodology” and “methods” in research is a common occurrence, especially with the terms sometimes being used interchangeably. Methods and methodology in the context of research refer to two related but different things: method is the technique used in gathering evidence; methodology, on the other hand, “is the underlying theory and analysis of how a research does or should proceed” (Kirsch & Sullivan, 1992, p. 2). Similarly, Birks and Mills (2011, p. 4) define methodology as “a set of principles and ideas that inform the design of a research study.” Meanwhile, methods are “practical procedures used to generate and analyze data (Birks and Mills, 2011, p. 4).

To summarize these definitions, methods cover the technical procedures or steps taken to do the research, and methodology provides the underlying reasons why certain methods are used in the process.

Methodological Approach or Methods Used in Research

Now that you know what is methodology in research, the next step is to identify the different methods used in research. Traditionally, researchers often approach research studies using the methodology research institutions typically use which are two distinct paradigms, namely positivistic and phenomenological (Collis & Hussey, 2013). Also sometimes called qualitative and quantitative (Dumay, 2008), positivistic and phenomenological approaches play a significant role in determining your data gathering process, especially the methods you are going to use in your research.

Research methods lay down the foundation of your research. According to Neil McInroy, the chief executive of Centre for Local Economic Strategies, not using the appropriate research methods and design creates “a shaky foundation to any review, evaluation, or future strategy (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 3). In any type of research, the data you will gather can come either in the form of numbers or descriptions, which means you will either be required to count or converse with people (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9). In research, there are two fundamental methods used for either approach—quantitative and qualitative research methods. Even if you take the path of a philosophy career, these are still methods that you may encounter and even use.


This approach is often used by researchers who follow the scientific paradigm (Haq, 2014, p. 1). This method seeks to quantify data and generalize results from a sample of a target population (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9). It follows structured data collection methods and processes with data output in the form of numbers. Quantitative research also observes objective analysis using statistical means (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9).

Based on a report, quantitative research took the biggest portion of the global market research spend in 2018 (ESOMAR, 2019, page 27).

Source: Global Market Research 2019


Unlike the quantitative approach that aims to count things in order to explain what is observed, the qualitative research framework is geared toward creating a complete and detailed description of your observation as a researcher (Macdonald et al., 2008, p. 9). Rather than providing predictions and/or causal explanations, the qualitative method offers contextualization and interpretation of the data gathered. This research method is subjective and requires a smaller number of carefully chosen respondents.

Source: Greenbook Research Industry Trends Report Q3-Q4 2018

Mixed methods

A contemporary method sprung from the combination of traditional quantitative and qualitative approaches. According to Brannen and Moss (2012), the existence of the mixed methods approach stemmed from its potential to help researchers view social relations and their intricacies clearer by fusing together the quantitative and qualitative methods of research while recognizing the limitations of both at the same time.

Mixed methods are also known for the concept of triangulation in social research. According to Haq (2014, p. 11), triangulation provides researchers with the opportunity to present multiple findings about a single phenomenon by deploying various elements of quantitative and qualitative approaches in one research. This is the kind of method that one may use when studying sleep and academic performance.

Writing Your Research Paper Methodology

Saunders et al. (2007) proposed the concept of the research onion model to help researchers develop a methodology and construct research design techniques within the field of future studies. This research onion model has six main layers, which serve as a step-by-step guide for researchers on how to write a research methodology.

The methodology section of your research paper is not all about describing your data gathering process and your analysis. The methodology is about the overall approaches and perspectives of the research process. If you want to study abroad for free and have to present a research proposal to the institution for acceptance, then you have to be able to clearly delineate your analytical methods for your study. Here are some tips as well as problems to avoid in order to write an effective research methodology. Out of these, you can construct your own research methodology example for future reference. While doing so, you can apply research methodology best practices for optimal results.

How to write an effective methodology section?

  • Introduce your methods. Introduce the methodological approach used in investigating your research problem. In one of the previous sections, your methodological approach can either be quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods. Look for a methodology in research example that you can use as a reference.
  • Establish methodological connection. Explain the relevance of your methodological approach to the overall research design. Keep in mind that the connection between your methods and your research problem should be clear. This means that your methodology of research must be appropriate to achieve your paper’s objective—to address the research problem you presented. To wit, if you need help to write your research problem, refer to our article on what is a research question.
  • Introduce your instruments. Indicate the research instruments you are going to use in collecting your data and explain how you are going to use them. These tools and instruments can be your surveys, questionnaires for interviews, observation, etc. If your methods include archival research or analyzing existing data, provide background information for documents, including who the original researcher is, as well as how the data were originally created and gathered. Keep in mind that aside from your methodology in research paper, the identification of the research instrument is equally significant.
  • Discuss your analysis. Explain how you are going to analyze the results of your data gathering process. Depending on your methodology, research for ways on how you can best execute your study either by using statistical analysis or exploring theoretical perspectives to support your explanation of observed behaviors.
  • Provide background information. When using methods that your readers may be unfamiliar with, make sure to provide background information about these methods. It would also help if you can provide your research methodology meaning so you can present a clear and comprehensive research context.
  • Discuss sampling process. Sampling procedures are vital components of your methodology. Explain the reason behind your sampling procedure. For example, if you are using statistics in your research, indicate why you chose this method as well as your sampling procedure. If you are going to do interviews, describe how are you going to choose the participants and how the interviews will be conducted.
  • Address research limitations. Make sure to address possible limitations you may encounter in your research, such as practical limitations that may affect your data gathering process. If there are potential issues you anticipate to encounter in the process, indicate your reason why you still decide to use the methodology despite the risk (SHU Library, n.d.).

What to avoid in writing the methodology section of your research?

  • Avoid including irrelevant details.
  • Keep your methodology section straightforward and thorough. Details that do not contribute to the readers’ understanding of your chosen methods should not be included in your methodology section.
  • Irrelevant information includes unnecessary explanations of basic procedures. Basic procedures should only be explained if they are unconventional and unfamiliar to the readers.
  • Do not ignore the problems you might encounter during the data gathering process. Instead of turning a blind eye, describe how you handled them (SHU Library, n.d.).

Ethical Considerations

Even in writing a methodology, researchers must adhere to ethical norms to ensure trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness (Resnik, 2015). According to Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill (2003, p. 131), there are some ethical considerations that researchers must be mindful of, especially during the process of gathering and presenting research data:

  • The rights to privacy of the individuals involved.
  • The nature of participation in the research must be voluntary and the individuals involved must have the right to withdraw partially or completely from the process.
  • All participants must provide their consent first.
  • Maintenance of the confidentiality of data provided by individuals as well as identifiable participants’ anonymity.
  • How participants react to the researchers’ methods in seeking to collect data.
  • How the participants will be affected by the way in which data is analyzed and reported.
  • The behavior and objectivity of the researcher.

Choosing a Research Methodology

It’s now clear that the methodology section is where a researcher indicates and elaborates on the plans that must be put into motion in order to achieve the objective of the research. Being acquainted with research methodologies, however, does not make choosing the appropriate methodology easier. Walker (2006) states that selecting which research methodology is a difficult step in the research process. It can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for novice researchers. Even if you are aiming for a career in the humanities and social sciences, having a clear research methodology is still essential.

According to Holden and Lynch (2004), research should not only be “methodologically led” but the choice of which methodology to use should be consequential not only to the social science phenomenon to be investigated but also to the philosophical stance of the researcher. Similarly, Goulding (2002) claims that the choice of methodology should be based on the researcher’s interests, beliefs, and convictions. Meanwhile, other significant factors such as epistemological concerns must also be taken into consideration when choosing a research methodology (Buchanan & Bryman, 2007). On top of philosophical underpinnings and personal convictions, there are also practical considerations that can affect a researcher’s decision on what methodology to use, including the amount of existing data or knowledge, available time, and other resources (Ahmed et al., 2016, p. 32).



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