How to Write Your Dissertation Methodology
Updated 9 October 2020
Due to the complexities of the different research methods, writing your dissertation methodology can often be the most challenging and time-consuming part of your postgraduate dissertation.
This article focuses on the importance of writing a good PhD or master's dissertation methodology – and how to achieve this.
A postgraduate dissertation (or thesis) is usually formed of several detailed sections, including:
- Abstract – A summary of your research topic.
- Introduction – Provides background information on your topic, putting it into context. You will also confirm the main focus of your study, explain why it will add value to your area of interest and specify your key objectives.
- Literature Review – A critical review of literature that relates to your chosen research topic. You will also need to identify which gap in the literature your study aims to address.
- Methodology – Focuses on the research methods used within your research.
- Results – Used to report on your main findings and how these relate to your research question.
- Conclusion – Used to confirm the answer to your main research question, reflect on the research process and offer recommendations on future research.
The dissertation methodology forms the skeleton of any research project. It provides the reader with a clear outline of the methods you decided to use when carrying out your research.
By studying your dissertation methodology, the reader will be able to assess your research in terms of its validity and reliability.
In line with the outline given above, the methodology chapter usually appears after the literature review. Your methodology should be closely linked to the research that you conducted as part of this review, as well as the questions you aim to answer through your research and analysis.
Taking the time to find out about the different types of research available to you will allow you to identify any potential drawbacks to the method you have chosen to use. You should then be able to make allowances or adjustments to address these when it comes to carrying out your research.
Choosing your methodology will largely depend on the discipline of the qualification you are studying for and the question your dissertation will seek to answer. In most cases, you will use quantitative or qualitative research methods, although some projects will benefit from using a combination of both.
- Quantitative research methods are used to gather numerical information. This research method is particularly useful if you are seeking to count, categorise, measure or identify patterns in data. To collect quantitative data, you might choose to conduct experiments, tests or surveys.
- Qualitative research methods are used to gather non-statistical data. Instead of using numbers to create charts or graphs, you will need to categorise the information according to identifiers. This research method is most useful if you are seeking to develop a hypothesis. To collect qualitative data, you might choose to conduct focus groups, interviews or observations.
Below is a dissertation methodology example to show you what information to include:
You will need to reiterate your research topic or question and give an overview of how you plan to investigate this. If there were any ethical or philosophical considerations to be made, give details.
For example, you may have sought informed consent from the people taking part in interviews or surveys.
Outline of the Methods Chosen
Confirm whether you have chosen to use quantitative research, qualitative research or a combination of both.
When choosing between qualitative and quantitative research methods, you will need to carry out initial literature and textbook research to establish the standard research methods that are normally used within your chosen area of research.
If you are not sure where to start, you could visit the library at your college or university and ask one of the librarians to help you to identify the most relevant texts.
Explanation of the Methods Chosen
Explain your rationale for selecting your chosen research methods. You should also give an overview of why these were more appropriate than using another research method.
Think about where and when the research took place and who was involved. For example, this might include information on the venue used for interviews or focus groups, dates and timescales, and whether participants were part of a particular demographic group.
Here are some examples of the type of information you may wish to include:
Qualitative Research Methods
- Personal observations – Where and when did you conduct the observations? Who did you observe? Were they part of a particular community or group? How long did each observation take? How did you record your findings – did you collect audio recordings, video footage or written observations?
- Focus groups – Where and when did the focus group take place? Who was involved? How were they selected? How many people took part? Were the questions asked structured, unstructured or semi-structured? Remember to include a copy of the questions that were used as an appendix.
- Interviews – Where and when did the interviews take place? Who took part? How did you select the participants? What type of questions did you ask? How did you record your findings? Remember to include a copy of the questions that were used as an appendix.
“The researcher’s objective was to find out customer perceptions on improving the product range currently offered by Company Y. Semi-structured interviews were held with 15 returning customers from the key target demographic for Company Y (18- to 35-year-olds).
“For research purposes, a returning customer was defined as somebody who purchased products from Company Y at least two times per week during the past three months. The interviews were held in an office in the staff area of the retail premises. Each interview lasted approximately 25 minutes. Responses were recorded through note-taking as none of the respondents wished to give their consent to be filmed.”
Quantitative Research Methods
- Existing information or data – What were the sources of the material used? How did you select material? Did you only use data published within a particular time frame?
- Experiments – What tools or equipment did you use? What techniques were required? Note that when conducting experiments, it is particularly important to provide enough information to allow another researcher to conduct the experiment and obtain the same results.
- Surveys – Were respondents asked to answer multiple-choice questions or complete free-text fields? How many questions were used? How long were people given to answer all of the questions? What were the demographics of the participants? Remember to include a copy of the survey in the appendices.
“The survey was made up of 10 multiple-choice questions and 5 questions to be rated using a 5-point Lickert scale. The objective was to have 250 customers of Company Z complete the survey at the Company Z HQ between 1st and 5th February 2019, between the hours of 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.
“For research purposes, a customer was defined as any person who had purchased a product from Company Z during 2018. Customers completing the survey were allowed a maximum of 10 minutes to answer all of the questions. 200 customers responded, however not all of the surveys were completed in full, so only 150 survey results were able to be used in the data analysis.”
How Was the Data Analysed?
If you have chosen to use quantitative research methods, you will need to prepare the data before analysing it – for example, you will need to check for variables, missing data and outliers. If you have used computer software to aid with analysis, information on this should also be included.
For qualitative data, you will need to categorise and code the ideas and themes that are identified from the raw data. You may also need to use techniques such as narrative analysis or discourse analysis to interpret the meaning behind responses given.
What Materials and Equipment Were Used During the Research?
This could include anything from laboratory equipment used in a scientific experiment to computer software used to analyse the results.
Were There Any Hurdles or Difficulties Faced During the Research?
If so, what were they and how did you manage to overcome them? This could be anything from difficulties in finding participants, problems obtaining consent or a shortage of the required resources needed to conduct a scientific experiment.
This paragraph should be used to evaluate the research you have conducted and justify your reasons for choosing this approach.
You do not need to go into great detail, as you will present and discuss your results in-depth within your dissertation’s ‘Results’ section.
You will need to briefly explain whether your results were conclusive, whether there were any variables and whether your choice of methodology was effective in practice.
The objective for the methodology is not only to describe the methods that you used for your research. You will also need to demonstrate why you chose to use them and how you applied them.
The key point is to show that your research was conducted meticulously.
Try to keep your writing style concise and clear; this will ensure that it is easy for the reader to understand and digest.
Here are five top tips to consider when writing your dissertation methodology:
1. Look at Other Methodology Sections
Ask your supervisor to provide you with a few different examples of previously written dissertations. Reading through methodologies that have been written by past students will give you a good idea of what your finished methodology section should look like.
2. Plan Your Structure
Whichever research methods you have chosen to use, your dissertation methodology should be a clearly structured, well written section that gives a strong and justified argument for your chosen research methods.
You may wish to use headings such as:
- Research methods
- Explanation of research methods chosen
- Data analysis and references
Once you have drafted an outline, ask your supervisor for advice on whether there is anything you have missed and whether your structure looks logical.
3. Consider Your Audience
When writing your methodology, have regard for the people who are likely to be reading it. For example, if you have chosen to use research methods that are commonly chosen within your area of research or discipline, there is no need to give a great deal of justification or background information.
If you decide to use a less popular approach, it is advisable to give much more detailed information on how and why you chose to use this method.
4. Remain Focused on Your Aims and Research Questions
Your dissertation methodology should give a clear indication as to why the research methods you have chosen are suitable for the aims of your research.
When writing your dissertation methodology, ensure that you link your research choices back to the overall aims and objectives of your dissertation. To help you to remain focused, it can be helpful to include a clear definition of the question you are aiming to answer at the start of your methodology section.
5. Refer to Any Obstacles or Difficulties That You Dealt With
If you faced any problems during the data collection or analysis phases, use the methodology section to talk about what you did to address these issues and minimise the impact.
Whether you are completing a PhD or master's degree, writing your thesis or dissertation methodology is often considered to be the most difficult and time-consuming part of completing your major research project.
The key to success when writing a methodology section is to have a clear structure. Remember, the purpose of the methodology section of your research project is to ensure that the reader has a full understanding of the methods you have chosen.
You should use your methodology section to provide clear justification as to why you have chosen a particular research method instead of other potential methods. Avoid referring to your personal opinions, thoughts or interests within your methodology; keep the information that you include factual and ensure that everything is backed up by appropriate academic references.