Madison Boulay and Allison Yu 

The methods section of a research paper describes the actions taken to investigate a research problem and the rationale behind implementing those techniques and procedures. Below are a few things to address when writing the methods section: 

  • How was data collected and analyzed?
  • Was the data collected in a way consistent with the accepted practices in the field? 
  • What were the methods and materials used to collect data? 
  • How are relevant variables being identified?
  • Are the methods justified?
  • What were the potential limitations? 

Method sections should also be precise and written in past tense/passive voice. Another researcher in the same field should be able to repeat your research just by using the methods section.


When collecting qualitative data by means of a survey or questionnaire, it is important to provide a description of the participants, measures, and statistical analysis. 


Describe the target population and population size. Include participant demographic information as applicable such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. How was the survey distributed and how long was the survey available? 


In this subsection, identify the independent and dependent variables. Explain the questions asked in the survey/questionnaire and justify why those questions are appropriate. If there is a score range, explain what the scores mean in relation to the overall aim of the study. If standard scales and indices were adapted in the research, explain why they were used. Any extra materials that were used to collect your data can also be included here (ex: pictures included in your survey). 

Statistical Methods/Analysis Plan: 

In this section, describe how you analyzed your data and explain any software or model you used. Be specific, but precise. 

Secondary Data Analysis

Secondary Data Analysis usually involves sorting information from a variety of sources into categories to analyze trends between variables. This may be in the form of a table or spreadsheet.

The methods section should define dependent and independent variables. This section should thoroughly explain why each category was selected and what it will measure. How these categories will be used to analyze the data collected should also be included.

If necessary, a key may be included for each category. This is most often used if numbers are used for qualitative measurements (i.e. 1=yes, 2=no, 0=unknown).

Experimental Research

Experimental Research is typically research in the “hard sciences” (physics, chemistry, biology, etc) that involves designing and performing a series of experiments to try and observe a relationship between two or more variables.

The methods section for experimental research often includes a detailed description of reagents, protocols, data collection methods, variables, and controls.

  • Include concentrations, but not volumes
  • If a kit is used, don’t write out the protocol but include the kit name and serial #.
  • List factors that are held constant throughout the experiment
  • Define variables
  • Describe techniques used

Creative Writing

In a creative thesis, the “Methods Section” is part of the reflection paper. This section describes the decisions that went into making the creative piece and how/why they were made. There should be an explanation of what the sources are, why they were chosen, and what factors decided whether or not a source would be used for the creative project.

A creative thesis often serves the purpose of evaluating or understanding theories or events. The methodology section should reflect how the creative work will be used for this purpose. 

**Example** A creative artwork that resembles various mental health disorders is created to visualize the actual thoughts and feelings of individuals suffering from these illnesses. 

Link: for more information on creative thesis methods.