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What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

Published on August 25, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 20, 2023.

Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation , or research paper , the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research and your dissertation topic .

It should include:

  • The type of research you conducted
  • How you collected and analyzed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • How you mitigated or avoided research biases
  • Why you chose these methods
  • Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
  • Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
  • Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).

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Table of contents

How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about methodology.

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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .

It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.

You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.

Option 1: Start with your “what”

What research problem or question did you investigate?

  • Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
  • Explore an under-researched topic?
  • Establish a causal relationship?

And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
  • Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
  • Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?

Option 2: Start with your “why”

Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?

  • Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ? How did you prevent bias from affecting your data?

Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .

Quantitative methods

In order to be considered generalizable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Here, explain how you operationalized your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion and exclusion criteria , as well as any tools, procedures, and materials you used to gather your data.

Surveys Describe where, when, and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questionnaire?
  • What form did your questions take (e.g., multiple choice, Likert scale )?
  • Were your surveys conducted in-person or virtually?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • What was your sample size and response rate?

Experiments Share full details of the tools, techniques, and procedures you used to conduct your experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment ?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables ?
  • What tools did you use?

Existing data Explain how you gathered and selected the material (such as datasets or archival data) that you used in your analysis.

  • Where did you source the material?
  • How was the data originally produced?
  • What criteria did you use to select material (e.g., date range)?

The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions measured on a 7-point Likert scale.

The goal was to collect survey responses from 350 customers visiting the fitness apparel company’s brick-and-mortar location in Boston on July 4–8, 2022, between 11:00 and 15:00.

Here, a customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from the company on the day they took the survey. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously. In total, 408 customers responded, but not all surveys were fully completed. Due to this, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

  • Information bias
  • Omitted variable bias
  • Regression to the mean
  • Survivorship bias
  • Undercoverage bias
  • Sampling bias

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research , methods are often more flexible and subjective. For this reason, it’s crucial to robustly explain the methodology choices you made.

Be sure to discuss the criteria you used to select your data, the context in which your research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting your data (e.g., were you an active participant, or a passive observer?)

Interviews or focus groups Describe where, when, and how the interviews were conducted.

  • How did you find and select participants?
  • How many participants took part?
  • What form did the interviews take ( structured , semi-structured , or unstructured )?
  • How long were the interviews?
  • How were they recorded?

Participant observation Describe where, when, and how you conducted the observation or ethnography .

  • What group or community did you observe? How long did you spend there?
  • How did you gain access to this group? What role did you play in the community?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research? Where was it located?
  • How did you record your data (e.g., audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data Explain how you selected case study materials for your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyze?
  • How did you select them?

In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness store’s product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers.

Here, a returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from the store.

Surveys were used to select participants. Interviews were conducted in a small office next to the cash register and lasted approximately 20 minutes each. Answers were recorded by note-taking, and seven interviews were also filmed with consent. One interviewee preferred not to be filmed.

  • The Hawthorne effect
  • Observer bias
  • The placebo effect
  • Response bias and Nonresponse bias
  • The Pygmalion effect
  • Recall bias
  • Social desirability bias
  • Self-selection bias

Mixed methods

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. If a standalone quantitative or qualitative study is insufficient to answer your research question, mixed methods may be a good fit for you.

Mixed methods are less common than standalone analyses, largely because they require a great deal of effort to pull off successfully. If you choose to pursue mixed methods, it’s especially important to robustly justify your methods.

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Next, you should indicate how you processed and analyzed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.

In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:

  • How you prepared the data before analyzing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
  • Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )

In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).

Specific methods might include:

  • Content analysis : Categorizing and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
  • Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
  • Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context

Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.

Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .

  • Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviors, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
  • Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalized beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
  • Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalizable.

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.

1. Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .

2. Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:

  • Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
  • Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
  • Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

3. Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.

Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles

Methodology

  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Thematic analysis
  • Cohort study
  • Peer review
  • Ethnography

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Conformity bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Availability heuristic
  • Attrition bias

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).

In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .

In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.

In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion . The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation , or research proposal .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

Reliability and validity are both about how well a method measures something:

  • Reliability refers to the  consistency of a measure (whether the results can be reproduced under the same conditions).
  • Validity   refers to the  accuracy of a measure (whether the results really do represent what they are supposed to measure).

If you are doing experimental research, you also have to consider the internal and external validity of your experiment.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.

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Home » Research Methodology – Types, Examples and writing Guide

Research Methodology – Types, Examples and writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Methodology

Research Methodology

Definition:

Research Methodology refers to the systematic and scientific approach used to conduct research, investigate problems, and gather data and information for a specific purpose. It involves the techniques and procedures used to identify, collect , analyze , and interpret data to answer research questions or solve research problems . Moreover, They are philosophical and theoretical frameworks that guide the research process.

Structure of Research Methodology

Research methodology formats can vary depending on the specific requirements of the research project, but the following is a basic example of a structure for a research methodology section:

I. Introduction

  • Provide an overview of the research problem and the need for a research methodology section
  • Outline the main research questions and objectives

II. Research Design

  • Explain the research design chosen and why it is appropriate for the research question(s) and objectives
  • Discuss any alternative research designs considered and why they were not chosen
  • Describe the research setting and participants (if applicable)

III. Data Collection Methods

  • Describe the methods used to collect data (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations)
  • Explain how the data collection methods were chosen and why they are appropriate for the research question(s) and objectives
  • Detail any procedures or instruments used for data collection

IV. Data Analysis Methods

  • Describe the methods used to analyze the data (e.g., statistical analysis, content analysis )
  • Explain how the data analysis methods were chosen and why they are appropriate for the research question(s) and objectives
  • Detail any procedures or software used for data analysis

V. Ethical Considerations

  • Discuss any ethical issues that may arise from the research and how they were addressed
  • Explain how informed consent was obtained (if applicable)
  • Detail any measures taken to ensure confidentiality and anonymity

VI. Limitations

  • Identify any potential limitations of the research methodology and how they may impact the results and conclusions

VII. Conclusion

  • Summarize the key aspects of the research methodology section
  • Explain how the research methodology addresses the research question(s) and objectives

Research Methodology Types

Types of Research Methodology are as follows:

Quantitative Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the collection and analysis of numerical data using statistical methods. This type of research is often used to study cause-and-effect relationships and to make predictions.

Qualitative Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the collection and analysis of non-numerical data such as words, images, and observations. This type of research is often used to explore complex phenomena, to gain an in-depth understanding of a particular topic, and to generate hypotheses.

Mixed-Methods Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that combines elements of both quantitative and qualitative research. This approach can be particularly useful for studies that aim to explore complex phenomena and to provide a more comprehensive understanding of a particular topic.

Case Study Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves in-depth examination of a single case or a small number of cases. Case studies are often used in psychology, sociology, and anthropology to gain a detailed understanding of a particular individual or group.

Action Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves a collaborative process between researchers and practitioners to identify and solve real-world problems. Action research is often used in education, healthcare, and social work.

Experimental Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the manipulation of one or more independent variables to observe their effects on a dependent variable. Experimental research is often used to study cause-and-effect relationships and to make predictions.

Survey Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the collection of data from a sample of individuals using questionnaires or interviews. Survey research is often used to study attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

Grounded Theory Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the development of theories based on the data collected during the research process. Grounded theory is often used in sociology and anthropology to generate theories about social phenomena.

Research Methodology Example

An Example of Research Methodology could be the following:

Research Methodology for Investigating the Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Reducing Symptoms of Depression in Adults

Introduction:

The aim of this research is to investigate the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in reducing symptoms of depression in adults. To achieve this objective, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) will be conducted using a mixed-methods approach.

Research Design:

The study will follow a pre-test and post-test design with two groups: an experimental group receiving CBT and a control group receiving no intervention. The study will also include a qualitative component, in which semi-structured interviews will be conducted with a subset of participants to explore their experiences of receiving CBT.

Participants:

Participants will be recruited from community mental health clinics in the local area. The sample will consist of 100 adults aged 18-65 years old who meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. Participants will be randomly assigned to either the experimental group or the control group.

Intervention :

The experimental group will receive 12 weekly sessions of CBT, each lasting 60 minutes. The intervention will be delivered by licensed mental health professionals who have been trained in CBT. The control group will receive no intervention during the study period.

Data Collection:

Quantitative data will be collected through the use of standardized measures such as the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7). Data will be collected at baseline, immediately after the intervention, and at a 3-month follow-up. Qualitative data will be collected through semi-structured interviews with a subset of participants from the experimental group. The interviews will be conducted at the end of the intervention period, and will explore participants’ experiences of receiving CBT.

Data Analysis:

Quantitative data will be analyzed using descriptive statistics, t-tests, and mixed-model analyses of variance (ANOVA) to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. Qualitative data will be analyzed using thematic analysis to identify common themes and patterns in participants’ experiences of receiving CBT.

Ethical Considerations:

This study will comply with ethical guidelines for research involving human subjects. Participants will provide informed consent before participating in the study, and their privacy and confidentiality will be protected throughout the study. Any adverse events or reactions will be reported and managed appropriately.

Data Management:

All data collected will be kept confidential and stored securely using password-protected databases. Identifying information will be removed from qualitative data transcripts to ensure participants’ anonymity.

Limitations:

One potential limitation of this study is that it only focuses on one type of psychotherapy, CBT, and may not generalize to other types of therapy or interventions. Another limitation is that the study will only include participants from community mental health clinics, which may not be representative of the general population.

Conclusion:

This research aims to investigate the effectiveness of CBT in reducing symptoms of depression in adults. By using a randomized controlled trial and a mixed-methods approach, the study will provide valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying the relationship between CBT and depression. The results of this study will have important implications for the development of effective treatments for depression in clinical settings.

How to Write Research Methodology

Writing a research methodology involves explaining the methods and techniques you used to conduct research, collect data, and analyze results. It’s an essential section of any research paper or thesis, as it helps readers understand the validity and reliability of your findings. Here are the steps to write a research methodology:

  • Start by explaining your research question: Begin the methodology section by restating your research question and explaining why it’s important. This helps readers understand the purpose of your research and the rationale behind your methods.
  • Describe your research design: Explain the overall approach you used to conduct research. This could be a qualitative or quantitative research design, experimental or non-experimental, case study or survey, etc. Discuss the advantages and limitations of the chosen design.
  • Discuss your sample: Describe the participants or subjects you included in your study. Include details such as their demographics, sampling method, sample size, and any exclusion criteria used.
  • Describe your data collection methods : Explain how you collected data from your participants. This could include surveys, interviews, observations, questionnaires, or experiments. Include details on how you obtained informed consent, how you administered the tools, and how you minimized the risk of bias.
  • Explain your data analysis techniques: Describe the methods you used to analyze the data you collected. This could include statistical analysis, content analysis, thematic analysis, or discourse analysis. Explain how you dealt with missing data, outliers, and any other issues that arose during the analysis.
  • Discuss the validity and reliability of your research : Explain how you ensured the validity and reliability of your study. This could include measures such as triangulation, member checking, peer review, or inter-coder reliability.
  • Acknowledge any limitations of your research: Discuss any limitations of your study, including any potential threats to validity or generalizability. This helps readers understand the scope of your findings and how they might apply to other contexts.
  • Provide a summary: End the methodology section by summarizing the methods and techniques you used to conduct your research. This provides a clear overview of your research methodology and helps readers understand the process you followed to arrive at your findings.

When to Write Research Methodology

Research methodology is typically written after the research proposal has been approved and before the actual research is conducted. It should be written prior to data collection and analysis, as it provides a clear roadmap for the research project.

The research methodology is an important section of any research paper or thesis, as it describes the methods and procedures that will be used to conduct the research. It should include details about the research design, data collection methods, data analysis techniques, and any ethical considerations.

The methodology should be written in a clear and concise manner, and it should be based on established research practices and standards. It is important to provide enough detail so that the reader can understand how the research was conducted and evaluate the validity of the results.

Applications of Research Methodology

Here are some of the applications of research methodology:

  • To identify the research problem: Research methodology is used to identify the research problem, which is the first step in conducting any research.
  • To design the research: Research methodology helps in designing the research by selecting the appropriate research method, research design, and sampling technique.
  • To collect data: Research methodology provides a systematic approach to collect data from primary and secondary sources.
  • To analyze data: Research methodology helps in analyzing the collected data using various statistical and non-statistical techniques.
  • To test hypotheses: Research methodology provides a framework for testing hypotheses and drawing conclusions based on the analysis of data.
  • To generalize findings: Research methodology helps in generalizing the findings of the research to the target population.
  • To develop theories : Research methodology is used to develop new theories and modify existing theories based on the findings of the research.
  • To evaluate programs and policies : Research methodology is used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies by collecting data and analyzing it.
  • To improve decision-making: Research methodology helps in making informed decisions by providing reliable and valid data.

Purpose of Research Methodology

Research methodology serves several important purposes, including:

  • To guide the research process: Research methodology provides a systematic framework for conducting research. It helps researchers to plan their research, define their research questions, and select appropriate methods and techniques for collecting and analyzing data.
  • To ensure research quality: Research methodology helps researchers to ensure that their research is rigorous, reliable, and valid. It provides guidelines for minimizing bias and error in data collection and analysis, and for ensuring that research findings are accurate and trustworthy.
  • To replicate research: Research methodology provides a clear and detailed account of the research process, making it possible for other researchers to replicate the study and verify its findings.
  • To advance knowledge: Research methodology enables researchers to generate new knowledge and to contribute to the body of knowledge in their field. It provides a means for testing hypotheses, exploring new ideas, and discovering new insights.
  • To inform decision-making: Research methodology provides evidence-based information that can inform policy and decision-making in a variety of fields, including medicine, public health, education, and business.

Advantages of Research Methodology

Research methodology has several advantages that make it a valuable tool for conducting research in various fields. Here are some of the key advantages of research methodology:

  • Systematic and structured approach : Research methodology provides a systematic and structured approach to conducting research, which ensures that the research is conducted in a rigorous and comprehensive manner.
  • Objectivity : Research methodology aims to ensure objectivity in the research process, which means that the research findings are based on evidence and not influenced by personal bias or subjective opinions.
  • Replicability : Research methodology ensures that research can be replicated by other researchers, which is essential for validating research findings and ensuring their accuracy.
  • Reliability : Research methodology aims to ensure that the research findings are reliable, which means that they are consistent and can be depended upon.
  • Validity : Research methodology ensures that the research findings are valid, which means that they accurately reflect the research question or hypothesis being tested.
  • Efficiency : Research methodology provides a structured and efficient way of conducting research, which helps to save time and resources.
  • Flexibility : Research methodology allows researchers to choose the most appropriate research methods and techniques based on the research question, data availability, and other relevant factors.
  • Scope for innovation: Research methodology provides scope for innovation and creativity in designing research studies and developing new research techniques.

Research Methodology Vs Research Methods

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How To Write The Methodology Chapter

The what, why & how explained simply (with examples).

By: Jenna Crossley (PhD) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | September 2021 (Updated April 2023)

So, you’ve pinned down your research topic and undertaken a review of the literature – now it’s time to write up the methodology section of your dissertation, thesis or research paper . But what exactly is the methodology chapter all about – and how do you go about writing one? In this post, we’ll unpack the topic, step by step .

Overview: The Methodology Chapter

  • The purpose  of the methodology chapter
  • Why you need to craft this chapter (really) well
  • How to write and structure the chapter
  • Methodology chapter example
  • Essential takeaways

What (exactly) is the methodology chapter?

The methodology chapter is where you outline the philosophical underpinnings of your research and outline the specific methodological choices you’ve made. The point of the methodology chapter is to tell the reader exactly how you designed your study and, just as importantly, why you did it this way.

Importantly, this chapter should comprehensively describe and justify all the methodological choices you made in your study. For example, the approach you took to your research (i.e., qualitative, quantitative or mixed), who  you collected data from (i.e., your sampling strategy), how you collected your data and, of course, how you analysed it. If that sounds a little intimidating, don’t worry – we’ll explain all these methodological choices in this post .

Free Webinar: Research Methodology 101

Why is the methodology chapter important?

The methodology chapter plays two important roles in your dissertation or thesis:

Firstly, it demonstrates your understanding of research theory, which is what earns you marks. A flawed research design or methodology would mean flawed results. So, this chapter is vital as it allows you to show the marker that you know what you’re doing and that your results are credible .

Secondly, the methodology chapter is what helps to make your study replicable. In other words, it allows other researchers to undertake your study using the same methodological approach, and compare their findings to yours. This is very important within academic research, as each study builds on previous studies.

The methodology chapter is also important in that it allows you to identify and discuss any methodological issues or problems you encountered (i.e., research limitations ), and to explain how you mitigated the impacts of these. Every research project has its limitations , so it’s important to acknowledge these openly and highlight your study’s value despite its limitations . Doing so demonstrates your understanding of research design, which will earn you marks. We’ll discuss limitations in a bit more detail later in this post, so stay tuned!

Need a helping hand?

how to write methodology for qualitative research paper

How to write up the methodology chapter

First off, it’s worth noting that the exact structure and contents of the methodology chapter will vary depending on the field of research (e.g., humanities, chemistry or engineering) as well as the university . So, be sure to always check the guidelines provided by your institution for clarity and, if possible, review past dissertations from your university. Here we’re going to discuss a generic structure for a methodology chapter typically found in the sciences.

Before you start writing, it’s always a good idea to draw up a rough outline to guide your writing. Don’t just start writing without knowing what you’ll discuss where. If you do, you’ll likely end up with a disjointed, ill-flowing narrative . You’ll then waste a lot of time rewriting in an attempt to try to stitch all the pieces together. Do yourself a favour and start with the end in mind .

Section 1 – Introduction

As with all chapters in your dissertation or thesis, the methodology chapter should have a brief introduction. In this section, you should remind your readers what the focus of your study is, especially the research aims . As we’ve discussed many times on the blog, your methodology needs to align with your research aims, objectives and research questions. Therefore, it’s useful to frontload this component to remind the reader (and yourself!) what you’re trying to achieve.

In this section, you can also briefly mention how you’ll structure the chapter. This will help orient the reader and provide a bit of a roadmap so that they know what to expect. You don’t need a lot of detail here – just a brief outline will do.

The intro provides a roadmap to your methodology chapter

Section 2 – The Methodology

The next section of your chapter is where you’ll present the actual methodology. In this section, you need to detail and justify the key methodological choices you’ve made in a logical, intuitive fashion. Importantly, this is the heart of your methodology chapter, so you need to get specific – don’t hold back on the details here. This is not one of those “less is more” situations.

Let’s take a look at the most common components you’ll likely need to cover. 

Methodological Choice #1 – Research Philosophy

Research philosophy refers to the underlying beliefs (i.e., the worldview) regarding how data about a phenomenon should be gathered , analysed and used . The research philosophy will serve as the core of your study and underpin all of the other research design choices, so it’s critically important that you understand which philosophy you’ll adopt and why you made that choice. If you’re not clear on this, take the time to get clarity before you make any further methodological choices.

While several research philosophies exist, two commonly adopted ones are positivism and interpretivism . These two sit roughly on opposite sides of the research philosophy spectrum.

Positivism states that the researcher can observe reality objectively and that there is only one reality, which exists independently of the observer. As a consequence, it is quite commonly the underlying research philosophy in quantitative studies and is oftentimes the assumed philosophy in the physical sciences.

Contrasted with this, interpretivism , which is often the underlying research philosophy in qualitative studies, assumes that the researcher performs a role in observing the world around them and that reality is unique to each observer . In other words, reality is observed subjectively .

These are just two philosophies (there are many more), but they demonstrate significantly different approaches to research and have a significant impact on all the methodological choices. Therefore, it’s vital that you clearly outline and justify your research philosophy at the beginning of your methodology chapter, as it sets the scene for everything that follows.

The research philosophy is at the core of the methodology chapter

Methodological Choice #2 – Research Type

The next thing you would typically discuss in your methodology section is the research type. The starting point for this is to indicate whether the research you conducted is inductive or deductive .

Inductive research takes a bottom-up approach , where the researcher begins with specific observations or data and then draws general conclusions or theories from those observations. Therefore these studies tend to be exploratory in terms of approach.

Conversely , d eductive research takes a top-down approach , where the researcher starts with a theory or hypothesis and then tests it using specific observations or data. Therefore these studies tend to be confirmatory in approach.

Related to this, you’ll need to indicate whether your study adopts a qualitative, quantitative or mixed  approach. As we’ve mentioned, there’s a strong link between this choice and your research philosophy, so make sure that your choices are tightly aligned . When you write this section up, remember to clearly justify your choices, as they form the foundation of your study.

Methodological Choice #3 – Research Strategy

Next, you’ll need to discuss your research strategy (also referred to as a research design ). This methodological choice refers to the broader strategy in terms of how you’ll conduct your research, based on the aims of your study.

Several research strategies exist, including experimental , case studies , ethnography , grounded theory, action research , and phenomenology . Let’s take a look at two of these, experimental and ethnographic, to see how they contrast.

Experimental research makes use of the scientific method , where one group is the control group (in which no variables are manipulated ) and another is the experimental group (in which a specific variable is manipulated). This type of research is undertaken under strict conditions in a controlled, artificial environment (e.g., a laboratory). By having firm control over the environment, experimental research typically allows the researcher to establish causation between variables. Therefore, it can be a good choice if you have research aims that involve identifying causal relationships.

Ethnographic research , on the other hand, involves observing and capturing the experiences and perceptions of participants in their natural environment (for example, at home or in the office). In other words, in an uncontrolled environment.  Naturally, this means that this research strategy would be far less suitable if your research aims involve identifying causation, but it would be very valuable if you’re looking to explore and examine a group culture, for example.

As you can see, the right research strategy will depend largely on your research aims and research questions – in other words, what you’re trying to figure out. Therefore, as with every other methodological choice, it’s essential to justify why you chose the research strategy you did.

Methodological Choice #4 – Time Horizon

The next thing you’ll need to detail in your methodology chapter is the time horizon. There are two options here: cross-sectional and longitudinal . In other words, whether the data for your study were all collected at one point in time (cross-sectional) or at multiple points in time (longitudinal).

The choice you make here depends again on your research aims, objectives and research questions. If, for example, you aim to assess how a specific group of people’s perspectives regarding a topic change over time , you’d likely adopt a longitudinal time horizon.

Another important factor to consider is simply whether you have the time necessary to adopt a longitudinal approach (which could involve collecting data over multiple months or even years). Oftentimes, the time pressures of your degree program will force your hand into adopting a cross-sectional time horizon, so keep this in mind.

Methodological Choice #5 – Sampling Strategy

Next, you’ll need to discuss your sampling strategy . There are two main categories of sampling, probability and non-probability sampling.

Probability sampling involves a random (and therefore representative) selection of participants from a population, whereas non-probability sampling entails selecting participants in a non-random  (and therefore non-representative) manner. For example, selecting participants based on ease of access (this is called a convenience sample).

The right sampling approach depends largely on what you’re trying to achieve in your study. Specifically, whether you trying to develop findings that are generalisable to a population or not. Practicalities and resource constraints also play a large role here, as it can oftentimes be challenging to gain access to a truly random sample. In the video below, we explore some of the most common sampling strategies.

Methodological Choice #6 – Data Collection Method

Next up, you’ll need to explain how you’ll go about collecting the necessary data for your study. Your data collection method (or methods) will depend on the type of data that you plan to collect – in other words, qualitative or quantitative data.

Typically, quantitative research relies on surveys , data generated by lab equipment, analytics software or existing datasets. Qualitative research, on the other hand, often makes use of collection methods such as interviews , focus groups , participant observations, and ethnography.

So, as you can see, there is a tight link between this section and the design choices you outlined in earlier sections. Strong alignment between these sections, as well as your research aims and questions is therefore very important.

Methodological Choice #7 – Data Analysis Methods/Techniques

The final major methodological choice that you need to address is that of analysis techniques . In other words, how you’ll go about analysing your date once you’ve collected it. Here it’s important to be very specific about your analysis methods and/or techniques – don’t leave any room for interpretation. Also, as with all choices in this chapter, you need to justify each choice you make.

What exactly you discuss here will depend largely on the type of study you’re conducting (i.e., qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods). For qualitative studies, common analysis methods include content analysis , thematic analysis and discourse analysis . In the video below, we explain each of these in plain language.

For quantitative studies, you’ll almost always make use of descriptive statistics , and in many cases, you’ll also use inferential statistical techniques (e.g., correlation and regression analysis). In the video below, we unpack some of the core concepts involved in descriptive and inferential statistics.

In this section of your methodology chapter, it’s also important to discuss how you prepared your data for analysis, and what software you used (if any). For example, quantitative data will often require some initial preparation such as removing duplicates or incomplete responses . Similarly, qualitative data will often require transcription and perhaps even translation. As always, remember to state both what you did and why you did it.

Section 3 – The Methodological Limitations

With the key methodological choices outlined and justified, the next step is to discuss the limitations of your design. No research methodology is perfect – there will always be trade-offs between the “ideal” methodology and what’s practical and viable, given your constraints. Therefore, this section of your methodology chapter is where you’ll discuss the trade-offs you had to make, and why these were justified given the context.

Methodological limitations can vary greatly from study to study, ranging from common issues such as time and budget constraints to issues of sample or selection bias . For example, you may find that you didn’t manage to draw in enough respondents to achieve the desired sample size (and therefore, statistically significant results), or your sample may be skewed heavily towards a certain demographic, thereby negatively impacting representativeness .

In this section, it’s important to be critical of the shortcomings of your study. There’s no use trying to hide them (your marker will be aware of them regardless). By being critical, you’ll demonstrate to your marker that you have a strong understanding of research theory, so don’t be shy here. At the same time, don’t beat your study to death . State the limitations, why these were justified, how you mitigated their impacts to the best degree possible, and how your study still provides value despite these limitations .

Section 4 – Concluding Summary

Finally, it’s time to wrap up the methodology chapter with a brief concluding summary. In this section, you’ll want to concisely summarise what you’ve presented in the chapter. Here, it can be a good idea to use a figure to summarise the key decisions, especially if your university recommends using a specific model (for example, Saunders’ Research Onion ).

Importantly, this section needs to be brief – a paragraph or two maximum (it’s a summary, after all). Also, make sure that when you write up your concluding summary, you include only what you’ve already discussed in your chapter; don’t add any new information.

Keep it simple

Methodology Chapter Example

In the video below, we walk you through an example of a high-quality research methodology chapter from a dissertation. We also unpack our free methodology chapter template so that you can see how best to structure your chapter.

Wrapping Up

And there you have it – the methodology chapter in a nutshell. As we’ve mentioned, the exact contents and structure of this chapter can vary between universities , so be sure to check in with your institution before you start writing. If possible, try to find dissertations or theses from former students of your specific degree program – this will give you a strong indication of the expectations and norms when it comes to the methodology chapter (and all the other chapters!).

Also, remember the golden rule of the methodology chapter – justify every choice ! Make sure that you clearly explain the “why” for every “what”, and reference credible methodology textbooks or academic sources to back up your justifications.

If you need a helping hand with your research methodology (or any other component of your research), be sure to check out our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through every step of the research journey. Until next time, good luck!

how to write methodology for qualitative research paper

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SciSpace Resources

Here's What You Need to Understand About Research Methodology

Deeptanshu D

Table of Contents

Research methodology involves a systematic and well-structured approach to conducting scholarly or scientific inquiries. Knowing the significance of research methodology and its different components is crucial as it serves as the basis for any study.

Typically, your research topic will start as a broad idea you want to investigate more thoroughly. Once you’ve identified a research problem and created research questions , you must choose the appropriate methodology and frameworks to address those questions effectively.

What is the definition of a research methodology?

Research methodology is the process or the way you intend to execute your study. The methodology section of a research paper outlines how you plan to conduct your study. It covers various steps such as collecting data, statistical analysis, observing participants, and other procedures involved in the research process

The methods section should give a description of the process that will convert your idea into a study. Additionally, the outcomes of your process must provide valid and reliable results resonant with the aims and objectives of your research. This thumb rule holds complete validity, no matter whether your paper has inclinations for qualitative or quantitative usage.

Studying research methods used in related studies can provide helpful insights and direction for your own research. Now easily discover papers related to your topic on SciSpace and utilize our AI research assistant, Copilot , to quickly review the methodologies applied in different papers.

Analyze and understand research methodologies faster with SciSpace Copilot

The need for a good research methodology

While deciding on your approach towards your research, the reason or factors you weighed in choosing a particular problem and formulating a research topic need to be validated and explained. A research methodology helps you do exactly that. Moreover, a good research methodology lets you build your argument to validate your research work performed through various data collection methods, analytical methods, and other essential points.

Just imagine it as a strategy documented to provide an overview of what you intend to do.

While undertaking any research writing or performing the research itself, you may get drifted in not something of much importance. In such a case, a research methodology helps you to get back to your outlined work methodology.

A research methodology helps in keeping you accountable for your work. Additionally, it can help you evaluate whether your work is in sync with your original aims and objectives or not. Besides, a good research methodology enables you to navigate your research process smoothly and swiftly while providing effective planning to achieve your desired results.

What is the basic structure of a research methodology?

Usually, you must ensure to include the following stated aspects while deciding over the basic structure of your research methodology:

1. Your research procedure

Explain what research methods you’re going to use. Whether you intend to proceed with quantitative or qualitative, or a composite of both approaches, you need to state that explicitly. The option among the three depends on your research’s aim, objectives, and scope.

2. Provide the rationality behind your chosen approach

Based on logic and reason, let your readers know why you have chosen said research methodologies. Additionally, you have to build strong arguments supporting why your chosen research method is the best way to achieve the desired outcome.

3. Explain your mechanism

The mechanism encompasses the research methods or instruments you will use to develop your research methodology. It usually refers to your data collection methods. You can use interviews, surveys, physical questionnaires, etc., of the many available mechanisms as research methodology instruments. The data collection method is determined by the type of research and whether the data is quantitative data(includes numerical data) or qualitative data (perception, morale, etc.) Moreover, you need to put logical reasoning behind choosing a particular instrument.

4. Significance of outcomes

The results will be available once you have finished experimenting. However, you should also explain how you plan to use the data to interpret the findings. This section also aids in understanding the problem from within, breaking it down into pieces, and viewing the research problem from various perspectives.

5. Reader’s advice

Anything that you feel must be explained to spread more awareness among readers and focus groups must be included and described in detail. You should not just specify your research methodology on the assumption that a reader is aware of the topic.  

All the relevant information that explains and simplifies your research paper must be included in the methodology section. If you are conducting your research in a non-traditional manner, give a logical justification and list its benefits.

6. Explain your sample space

Include information about the sample and sample space in the methodology section. The term "sample" refers to a smaller set of data that a researcher selects or chooses from a larger group of people or focus groups using a predetermined selection method. Let your readers know how you are going to distinguish between relevant and non-relevant samples. How you figured out those exact numbers to back your research methodology, i.e. the sample spacing of instruments, must be discussed thoroughly.

For example, if you are going to conduct a survey or interview, then by what procedure will you select the interviewees (or sample size in case of surveys), and how exactly will the interview or survey be conducted.

7. Challenges and limitations

This part, which is frequently assumed to be unnecessary, is actually very important. The challenges and limitations that your chosen strategy inherently possesses must be specified while you are conducting different types of research.

The importance of a good research methodology

You must have observed that all research papers, dissertations, or theses carry a chapter entirely dedicated to research methodology. This section helps maintain your credibility as a better interpreter of results rather than a manipulator.

A good research methodology always explains the procedure, data collection methods and techniques, aim, and scope of the research. In a research study, it leads to a well-organized, rationality-based approach, while the paper lacking it is often observed as messy or disorganized.

You should pay special attention to validating your chosen way towards the research methodology. This becomes extremely important in case you select an unconventional or a distinct method of execution.

Curating and developing a strong, effective research methodology can assist you in addressing a variety of situations, such as:

  • When someone tries to duplicate or expand upon your research after few years.
  • If a contradiction or conflict of facts occurs at a later time. This gives you the security you need to deal with these contradictions while still being able to defend your approach.
  • Gaining a tactical approach in getting your research completed in time. Just ensure you are using the right approach while drafting your research methodology, and it can help you achieve your desired outcomes. Additionally, it provides a better explanation and understanding of the research question itself.
  • Documenting the results so that the final outcome of the research stays as you intended it to be while starting.

Instruments you could use while writing a good research methodology

As a researcher, you must choose which tools or data collection methods that fit best in terms of the relevance of your research. This decision has to be wise.

There exists many research equipments or tools that you can use to carry out your research process. These are classified as:

a. Interviews (One-on-One or a Group)

An interview aimed to get your desired research outcomes can be undertaken in many different ways. For example, you can design your interview as structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. What sets them apart is the degree of formality in the questions. On the other hand, in a group interview, your aim should be to collect more opinions and group perceptions from the focus groups on a certain topic rather than looking out for some formal answers.

In surveys, you are in better control if you specifically draft the questions you seek the response for. For example, you may choose to include free-style questions that can be answered descriptively, or you may provide a multiple-choice type response for questions. Besides, you can also opt to choose both ways, deciding what suits your research process and purpose better.

c. Sample Groups

Similar to the group interviews, here, you can select a group of individuals and assign them a topic to discuss or freely express their opinions over that. You can simultaneously note down the answers and later draft them appropriately, deciding on the relevance of every response.

d. Observations

If your research domain is humanities or sociology, observations are the best-proven method to draw your research methodology. Of course, you can always include studying the spontaneous response of the participants towards a situation or conducting the same but in a more structured manner. A structured observation means putting the participants in a situation at a previously decided time and then studying their responses.

Of all the tools described above, it is you who should wisely choose the instruments and decide what’s the best fit for your research. You must not restrict yourself from multiple methods or a combination of a few instruments if appropriate in drafting a good research methodology.

Types of research methodology

A research methodology exists in various forms. Depending upon their approach, whether centered around words, numbers, or both, methodologies are distinguished as qualitative, quantitative, or an amalgamation of both.

1. Qualitative research methodology

When a research methodology primarily focuses on words and textual data, then it is generally referred to as qualitative research methodology. This type is usually preferred among researchers when the aim and scope of the research are mainly theoretical and explanatory.

The instruments used are observations, interviews, and sample groups. You can use this methodology if you are trying to study human behavior or response in some situations. Generally, qualitative research methodology is widely used in sociology, psychology, and other related domains.

2. Quantitative research methodology

If your research is majorly centered on data, figures, and stats, then analyzing these numerical data is often referred to as quantitative research methodology. You can use quantitative research methodology if your research requires you to validate or justify the obtained results.

In quantitative methods, surveys, tests, experiments, and evaluations of current databases can be advantageously used as instruments If your research involves testing some hypothesis, then use this methodology.

3. Amalgam methodology

As the name suggests, the amalgam methodology uses both quantitative and qualitative approaches. This methodology is used when a part of the research requires you to verify the facts and figures, whereas the other part demands you to discover the theoretical and explanatory nature of the research question.

The instruments for the amalgam methodology require you to conduct interviews and surveys, including tests and experiments. The outcome of this methodology can be insightful and valuable as it provides precise test results in line with theoretical explanations and reasoning.

The amalgam method, makes your work both factual and rational at the same time.

Final words: How to decide which is the best research methodology?

If you have kept your sincerity and awareness intact with the aims and scope of research well enough, you must have got an idea of which research methodology suits your work best.

Before deciding which research methodology answers your research question, you must invest significant time in reading and doing your homework for that. Taking references that yield relevant results should be your first approach to establishing a research methodology.

Moreover, you should never refrain from exploring other options. Before setting your work in stone, you must try all the available options as it explains why the choice of research methodology that you finally make is more appropriate than the other available options.

You should always go for a quantitative research methodology if your research requires gathering large amounts of data, figures, and statistics. This research methodology will provide you with results if your research paper involves the validation of some hypothesis.

Whereas, if  you are looking for more explanations, reasons, opinions, and public perceptions around a theory, you must use qualitative research methodology.The choice of an appropriate research methodology ultimately depends on what you want to achieve through your research.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Research Methodology

1. how to write a research methodology.

You can always provide a separate section for research methodology where you should specify details about the methods and instruments used during the research, discussions on result analysis, including insights into the background information, and conveying the research limitations.

2. What are the types of research methodology?

There generally exists four types of research methodology i.e.

  • Observation
  • Experimental
  • Derivational

3. What is the true meaning of research methodology?

The set of techniques or procedures followed to discover and analyze the information gathered to validate or justify a research outcome is generally called Research Methodology.

4. Where lies the importance of research methodology?

Your research methodology directly reflects the validity of your research outcomes and how well-informed your research work is. Moreover, it can help future researchers cite or refer to your research if they plan to use a similar research methodology.

how to write methodology for qualitative research paper

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How to use and assess qualitative research methods

Loraine busetto.

1 Department of Neurology, Heidelberg University Hospital, Im Neuenheimer Feld 400, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Wolfgang Wick

2 Clinical Cooperation Unit Neuro-Oncology, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany

Christoph Gumbinger

Associated data.

Not applicable.

This paper aims to provide an overview of the use and assessment of qualitative research methods in the health sciences. Qualitative research can be defined as the study of the nature of phenomena and is especially appropriate for answering questions of why something is (not) observed, assessing complex multi-component interventions, and focussing on intervention improvement. The most common methods of data collection are document study, (non-) participant observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. For data analysis, field-notes and audio-recordings are transcribed into protocols and transcripts, and coded using qualitative data management software. Criteria such as checklists, reflexivity, sampling strategies, piloting, co-coding, member-checking and stakeholder involvement can be used to enhance and assess the quality of the research conducted. Using qualitative in addition to quantitative designs will equip us with better tools to address a greater range of research problems, and to fill in blind spots in current neurological research and practice.

The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of qualitative research methods, including hands-on information on how they can be used, reported and assessed. This article is intended for beginning qualitative researchers in the health sciences as well as experienced quantitative researchers who wish to broaden their understanding of qualitative research.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is defined as “the study of the nature of phenomena”, including “their quality, different manifestations, the context in which they appear or the perspectives from which they can be perceived” , but excluding “their range, frequency and place in an objectively determined chain of cause and effect” [ 1 ]. This formal definition can be complemented with a more pragmatic rule of thumb: qualitative research generally includes data in form of words rather than numbers [ 2 ].

Why conduct qualitative research?

Because some research questions cannot be answered using (only) quantitative methods. For example, one Australian study addressed the issue of why patients from Aboriginal communities often present late or not at all to specialist services offered by tertiary care hospitals. Using qualitative interviews with patients and staff, it found one of the most significant access barriers to be transportation problems, including some towns and communities simply not having a bus service to the hospital [ 3 ]. A quantitative study could have measured the number of patients over time or even looked at possible explanatory factors – but only those previously known or suspected to be of relevance. To discover reasons for observed patterns, especially the invisible or surprising ones, qualitative designs are needed.

While qualitative research is common in other fields, it is still relatively underrepresented in health services research. The latter field is more traditionally rooted in the evidence-based-medicine paradigm, as seen in " research that involves testing the effectiveness of various strategies to achieve changes in clinical practice, preferably applying randomised controlled trial study designs (...) " [ 4 ]. This focus on quantitative research and specifically randomised controlled trials (RCT) is visible in the idea of a hierarchy of research evidence which assumes that some research designs are objectively better than others, and that choosing a "lesser" design is only acceptable when the better ones are not practically or ethically feasible [ 5 , 6 ]. Others, however, argue that an objective hierarchy does not exist, and that, instead, the research design and methods should be chosen to fit the specific research question at hand – "questions before methods" [ 2 , 7 – 9 ]. This means that even when an RCT is possible, some research problems require a different design that is better suited to addressing them. Arguing in JAMA, Berwick uses the example of rapid response teams in hospitals, which he describes as " a complex, multicomponent intervention – essentially a process of social change" susceptible to a range of different context factors including leadership or organisation history. According to him, "[in] such complex terrain, the RCT is an impoverished way to learn. Critics who use it as a truth standard in this context are incorrect" [ 8 ] . Instead of limiting oneself to RCTs, Berwick recommends embracing a wider range of methods , including qualitative ones, which for "these specific applications, (...) are not compromises in learning how to improve; they are superior" [ 8 ].

Research problems that can be approached particularly well using qualitative methods include assessing complex multi-component interventions or systems (of change), addressing questions beyond “what works”, towards “what works for whom when, how and why”, and focussing on intervention improvement rather than accreditation [ 7 , 9 – 12 ]. Using qualitative methods can also help shed light on the “softer” side of medical treatment. For example, while quantitative trials can measure the costs and benefits of neuro-oncological treatment in terms of survival rates or adverse effects, qualitative research can help provide a better understanding of patient or caregiver stress, visibility of illness or out-of-pocket expenses.

How to conduct qualitative research?

Given that qualitative research is characterised by flexibility, openness and responsivity to context, the steps of data collection and analysis are not as separate and consecutive as they tend to be in quantitative research [ 13 , 14 ]. As Fossey puts it : “sampling, data collection, analysis and interpretation are related to each other in a cyclical (iterative) manner, rather than following one after another in a stepwise approach” [ 15 ]. The researcher can make educated decisions with regard to the choice of method, how they are implemented, and to which and how many units they are applied [ 13 ]. As shown in Fig.  1 , this can involve several back-and-forth steps between data collection and analysis where new insights and experiences can lead to adaption and expansion of the original plan. Some insights may also necessitate a revision of the research question and/or the research design as a whole. The process ends when saturation is achieved, i.e. when no relevant new information can be found (see also below: sampling and saturation). For reasons of transparency, it is essential for all decisions as well as the underlying reasoning to be well-documented.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 42466_2020_59_Fig1_HTML.jpg

Iterative research process

While it is not always explicitly addressed, qualitative methods reflect a different underlying research paradigm than quantitative research (e.g. constructivism or interpretivism as opposed to positivism). The choice of methods can be based on the respective underlying substantive theory or theoretical framework used by the researcher [ 2 ].

Data collection

The methods of qualitative data collection most commonly used in health research are document study, observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups [ 1 , 14 , 16 , 17 ].

Document study

Document study (also called document analysis) refers to the review by the researcher of written materials [ 14 ]. These can include personal and non-personal documents such as archives, annual reports, guidelines, policy documents, diaries or letters.

Observations

Observations are particularly useful to gain insights into a certain setting and actual behaviour – as opposed to reported behaviour or opinions [ 13 ]. Qualitative observations can be either participant or non-participant in nature. In participant observations, the observer is part of the observed setting, for example a nurse working in an intensive care unit [ 18 ]. In non-participant observations, the observer is “on the outside looking in”, i.e. present in but not part of the situation, trying not to influence the setting by their presence. Observations can be planned (e.g. for 3 h during the day or night shift) or ad hoc (e.g. as soon as a stroke patient arrives at the emergency room). During the observation, the observer takes notes on everything or certain pre-determined parts of what is happening around them, for example focusing on physician-patient interactions or communication between different professional groups. Written notes can be taken during or after the observations, depending on feasibility (which is usually lower during participant observations) and acceptability (e.g. when the observer is perceived to be judging the observed). Afterwards, these field notes are transcribed into observation protocols. If more than one observer was involved, field notes are taken independently, but notes can be consolidated into one protocol after discussions. Advantages of conducting observations include minimising the distance between the researcher and the researched, the potential discovery of topics that the researcher did not realise were relevant and gaining deeper insights into the real-world dimensions of the research problem at hand [ 18 ].

Semi-structured interviews

Hijmans & Kuyper describe qualitative interviews as “an exchange with an informal character, a conversation with a goal” [ 19 ]. Interviews are used to gain insights into a person’s subjective experiences, opinions and motivations – as opposed to facts or behaviours [ 13 ]. Interviews can be distinguished by the degree to which they are structured (i.e. a questionnaire), open (e.g. free conversation or autobiographical interviews) or semi-structured [ 2 , 13 ]. Semi-structured interviews are characterized by open-ended questions and the use of an interview guide (or topic guide/list) in which the broad areas of interest, sometimes including sub-questions, are defined [ 19 ]. The pre-defined topics in the interview guide can be derived from the literature, previous research or a preliminary method of data collection, e.g. document study or observations. The topic list is usually adapted and improved at the start of the data collection process as the interviewer learns more about the field [ 20 ]. Across interviews the focus on the different (blocks of) questions may differ and some questions may be skipped altogether (e.g. if the interviewee is not able or willing to answer the questions or for concerns about the total length of the interview) [ 20 ]. Qualitative interviews are usually not conducted in written format as it impedes on the interactive component of the method [ 20 ]. In comparison to written surveys, qualitative interviews have the advantage of being interactive and allowing for unexpected topics to emerge and to be taken up by the researcher. This can also help overcome a provider or researcher-centred bias often found in written surveys, which by nature, can only measure what is already known or expected to be of relevance to the researcher. Interviews can be audio- or video-taped; but sometimes it is only feasible or acceptable for the interviewer to take written notes [ 14 , 16 , 20 ].

Focus groups

Focus groups are group interviews to explore participants’ expertise and experiences, including explorations of how and why people behave in certain ways [ 1 ]. Focus groups usually consist of 6–8 people and are led by an experienced moderator following a topic guide or “script” [ 21 ]. They can involve an observer who takes note of the non-verbal aspects of the situation, possibly using an observation guide [ 21 ]. Depending on researchers’ and participants’ preferences, the discussions can be audio- or video-taped and transcribed afterwards [ 21 ]. Focus groups are useful for bringing together homogeneous (to a lesser extent heterogeneous) groups of participants with relevant expertise and experience on a given topic on which they can share detailed information [ 21 ]. Focus groups are a relatively easy, fast and inexpensive method to gain access to information on interactions in a given group, i.e. “the sharing and comparing” among participants [ 21 ]. Disadvantages include less control over the process and a lesser extent to which each individual may participate. Moreover, focus group moderators need experience, as do those tasked with the analysis of the resulting data. Focus groups can be less appropriate for discussing sensitive topics that participants might be reluctant to disclose in a group setting [ 13 ]. Moreover, attention must be paid to the emergence of “groupthink” as well as possible power dynamics within the group, e.g. when patients are awed or intimidated by health professionals.

Choosing the “right” method

As explained above, the school of thought underlying qualitative research assumes no objective hierarchy of evidence and methods. This means that each choice of single or combined methods has to be based on the research question that needs to be answered and a critical assessment with regard to whether or to what extent the chosen method can accomplish this – i.e. the “fit” between question and method [ 14 ]. It is necessary for these decisions to be documented when they are being made, and to be critically discussed when reporting methods and results.

Let us assume that our research aim is to examine the (clinical) processes around acute endovascular treatment (EVT), from the patient’s arrival at the emergency room to recanalization, with the aim to identify possible causes for delay and/or other causes for sub-optimal treatment outcome. As a first step, we could conduct a document study of the relevant standard operating procedures (SOPs) for this phase of care – are they up-to-date and in line with current guidelines? Do they contain any mistakes, irregularities or uncertainties that could cause delays or other problems? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the results have to be interpreted based on what they are: a written outline of what care processes in this hospital should look like. If we want to know what they actually look like in practice, we can conduct observations of the processes described in the SOPs. These results can (and should) be analysed in themselves, but also in comparison to the results of the document analysis, especially as regards relevant discrepancies. Do the SOPs outline specific tests for which no equipment can be observed or tasks to be performed by specialized nurses who are not present during the observation? It might also be possible that the written SOP is outdated, but the actual care provided is in line with current best practice. In order to find out why these discrepancies exist, it can be useful to conduct interviews. Are the physicians simply not aware of the SOPs (because their existence is limited to the hospital’s intranet) or do they actively disagree with them or does the infrastructure make it impossible to provide the care as described? Another rationale for adding interviews is that some situations (or all of their possible variations for different patient groups or the day, night or weekend shift) cannot practically or ethically be observed. In this case, it is possible to ask those involved to report on their actions – being aware that this is not the same as the actual observation. A senior physician’s or hospital manager’s description of certain situations might differ from a nurse’s or junior physician’s one, maybe because they intentionally misrepresent facts or maybe because different aspects of the process are visible or important to them. In some cases, it can also be relevant to consider to whom the interviewee is disclosing this information – someone they trust, someone they are otherwise not connected to, or someone they suspect or are aware of being in a potentially “dangerous” power relationship to them. Lastly, a focus group could be conducted with representatives of the relevant professional groups to explore how and why exactly they provide care around EVT. The discussion might reveal discrepancies (between SOPs and actual care or between different physicians) and motivations to the researchers as well as to the focus group members that they might not have been aware of themselves. For the focus group to deliver relevant information, attention has to be paid to its composition and conduct, for example, to make sure that all participants feel safe to disclose sensitive or potentially problematic information or that the discussion is not dominated by (senior) physicians only. The resulting combination of data collection methods is shown in Fig.  2 .

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Possible combination of data collection methods

Attributions for icons: “Book” by Serhii Smirnov, “Interview” by Adrien Coquet, FR, “Magnifying Glass” by anggun, ID, “Business communication” by Vectors Market; all from the Noun Project

The combination of multiple data source as described for this example can be referred to as “triangulation”, in which multiple measurements are carried out from different angles to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon under study [ 22 , 23 ].

Data analysis

To analyse the data collected through observations, interviews and focus groups these need to be transcribed into protocols and transcripts (see Fig.  3 ). Interviews and focus groups can be transcribed verbatim , with or without annotations for behaviour (e.g. laughing, crying, pausing) and with or without phonetic transcription of dialects and filler words, depending on what is expected or known to be relevant for the analysis. In the next step, the protocols and transcripts are coded , that is, marked (or tagged, labelled) with one or more short descriptors of the content of a sentence or paragraph [ 2 , 15 , 23 ]. Jansen describes coding as “connecting the raw data with “theoretical” terms” [ 20 ]. In a more practical sense, coding makes raw data sortable. This makes it possible to extract and examine all segments describing, say, a tele-neurology consultation from multiple data sources (e.g. SOPs, emergency room observations, staff and patient interview). In a process of synthesis and abstraction, the codes are then grouped, summarised and/or categorised [ 15 , 20 ]. The end product of the coding or analysis process is a descriptive theory of the behavioural pattern under investigation [ 20 ]. The coding process is performed using qualitative data management software, the most common ones being InVivo, MaxQDA and Atlas.ti. It should be noted that these are data management tools which support the analysis performed by the researcher(s) [ 14 ].

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From data collection to data analysis

Attributions for icons: see Fig. ​ Fig.2, 2 , also “Speech to text” by Trevor Dsouza, “Field Notes” by Mike O’Brien, US, “Voice Record” by ProSymbols, US, “Inspection” by Made, AU, and “Cloud” by Graphic Tigers; all from the Noun Project

How to report qualitative research?

Protocols of qualitative research can be published separately and in advance of the study results. However, the aim is not the same as in RCT protocols, i.e. to pre-define and set in stone the research questions and primary or secondary endpoints. Rather, it is a way to describe the research methods in detail, which might not be possible in the results paper given journals’ word limits. Qualitative research papers are usually longer than their quantitative counterparts to allow for deep understanding and so-called “thick description”. In the methods section, the focus is on transparency of the methods used, including why, how and by whom they were implemented in the specific study setting, so as to enable a discussion of whether and how this may have influenced data collection, analysis and interpretation. The results section usually starts with a paragraph outlining the main findings, followed by more detailed descriptions of, for example, the commonalities, discrepancies or exceptions per category [ 20 ]. Here it is important to support main findings by relevant quotations, which may add information, context, emphasis or real-life examples [ 20 , 23 ]. It is subject to debate in the field whether it is relevant to state the exact number or percentage of respondents supporting a certain statement (e.g. “Five interviewees expressed negative feelings towards XYZ”) [ 21 ].

How to combine qualitative with quantitative research?

Qualitative methods can be combined with other methods in multi- or mixed methods designs, which “[employ] two or more different methods [ …] within the same study or research program rather than confining the research to one single method” [ 24 ]. Reasons for combining methods can be diverse, including triangulation for corroboration of findings, complementarity for illustration and clarification of results, expansion to extend the breadth and range of the study, explanation of (unexpected) results generated with one method with the help of another, or offsetting the weakness of one method with the strength of another [ 1 , 17 , 24 – 26 ]. The resulting designs can be classified according to when, why and how the different quantitative and/or qualitative data strands are combined. The three most common types of mixed method designs are the convergent parallel design , the explanatory sequential design and the exploratory sequential design. The designs with examples are shown in Fig.  4 .

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Three common mixed methods designs

In the convergent parallel design, a qualitative study is conducted in parallel to and independently of a quantitative study, and the results of both studies are compared and combined at the stage of interpretation of results. Using the above example of EVT provision, this could entail setting up a quantitative EVT registry to measure process times and patient outcomes in parallel to conducting the qualitative research outlined above, and then comparing results. Amongst other things, this would make it possible to assess whether interview respondents’ subjective impressions of patients receiving good care match modified Rankin Scores at follow-up, or whether observed delays in care provision are exceptions or the rule when compared to door-to-needle times as documented in the registry. In the explanatory sequential design, a quantitative study is carried out first, followed by a qualitative study to help explain the results from the quantitative study. This would be an appropriate design if the registry alone had revealed relevant delays in door-to-needle times and the qualitative study would be used to understand where and why these occurred, and how they could be improved. In the exploratory design, the qualitative study is carried out first and its results help informing and building the quantitative study in the next step [ 26 ]. If the qualitative study around EVT provision had shown a high level of dissatisfaction among the staff members involved, a quantitative questionnaire investigating staff satisfaction could be set up in the next step, informed by the qualitative study on which topics dissatisfaction had been expressed. Amongst other things, the questionnaire design would make it possible to widen the reach of the research to more respondents from different (types of) hospitals, regions, countries or settings, and to conduct sub-group analyses for different professional groups.

How to assess qualitative research?

A variety of assessment criteria and lists have been developed for qualitative research, ranging in their focus and comprehensiveness [ 14 , 17 , 27 ]. However, none of these has been elevated to the “gold standard” in the field. In the following, we therefore focus on a set of commonly used assessment criteria that, from a practical standpoint, a researcher can look for when assessing a qualitative research report or paper.

Assessors should check the authors’ use of and adherence to the relevant reporting checklists (e.g. Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR)) to make sure all items that are relevant for this type of research are addressed [ 23 , 28 ]. Discussions of quantitative measures in addition to or instead of these qualitative measures can be a sign of lower quality of the research (paper). Providing and adhering to a checklist for qualitative research contributes to an important quality criterion for qualitative research, namely transparency [ 15 , 17 , 23 ].

Reflexivity

While methodological transparency and complete reporting is relevant for all types of research, some additional criteria must be taken into account for qualitative research. This includes what is called reflexivity, i.e. sensitivity to the relationship between the researcher and the researched, including how contact was established and maintained, or the background and experience of the researcher(s) involved in data collection and analysis. Depending on the research question and population to be researched this can be limited to professional experience, but it may also include gender, age or ethnicity [ 17 , 27 ]. These details are relevant because in qualitative research, as opposed to quantitative research, the researcher as a person cannot be isolated from the research process [ 23 ]. It may influence the conversation when an interviewed patient speaks to an interviewer who is a physician, or when an interviewee is asked to discuss a gynaecological procedure with a male interviewer, and therefore the reader must be made aware of these details [ 19 ].

Sampling and saturation

The aim of qualitative sampling is for all variants of the objects of observation that are deemed relevant for the study to be present in the sample “ to see the issue and its meanings from as many angles as possible” [ 1 , 16 , 19 , 20 , 27 ] , and to ensure “information-richness [ 15 ]. An iterative sampling approach is advised, in which data collection (e.g. five interviews) is followed by data analysis, followed by more data collection to find variants that are lacking in the current sample. This process continues until no new (relevant) information can be found and further sampling becomes redundant – which is called saturation [ 1 , 15 ] . In other words: qualitative data collection finds its end point not a priori , but when the research team determines that saturation has been reached [ 29 , 30 ].

This is also the reason why most qualitative studies use deliberate instead of random sampling strategies. This is generally referred to as “ purposive sampling” , in which researchers pre-define which types of participants or cases they need to include so as to cover all variations that are expected to be of relevance, based on the literature, previous experience or theory (i.e. theoretical sampling) [ 14 , 20 ]. Other types of purposive sampling include (but are not limited to) maximum variation sampling, critical case sampling or extreme or deviant case sampling [ 2 ]. In the above EVT example, a purposive sample could include all relevant professional groups and/or all relevant stakeholders (patients, relatives) and/or all relevant times of observation (day, night and weekend shift).

Assessors of qualitative research should check whether the considerations underlying the sampling strategy were sound and whether or how researchers tried to adapt and improve their strategies in stepwise or cyclical approaches between data collection and analysis to achieve saturation [ 14 ].

Good qualitative research is iterative in nature, i.e. it goes back and forth between data collection and analysis, revising and improving the approach where necessary. One example of this are pilot interviews, where different aspects of the interview (especially the interview guide, but also, for example, the site of the interview or whether the interview can be audio-recorded) are tested with a small number of respondents, evaluated and revised [ 19 ]. In doing so, the interviewer learns which wording or types of questions work best, or which is the best length of an interview with patients who have trouble concentrating for an extended time. Of course, the same reasoning applies to observations or focus groups which can also be piloted.

Ideally, coding should be performed by at least two researchers, especially at the beginning of the coding process when a common approach must be defined, including the establishment of a useful coding list (or tree), and when a common meaning of individual codes must be established [ 23 ]. An initial sub-set or all transcripts can be coded independently by the coders and then compared and consolidated after regular discussions in the research team. This is to make sure that codes are applied consistently to the research data.

Member checking

Member checking, also called respondent validation , refers to the practice of checking back with study respondents to see if the research is in line with their views [ 14 , 27 ]. This can happen after data collection or analysis or when first results are available [ 23 ]. For example, interviewees can be provided with (summaries of) their transcripts and asked whether they believe this to be a complete representation of their views or whether they would like to clarify or elaborate on their responses [ 17 ]. Respondents’ feedback on these issues then becomes part of the data collection and analysis [ 27 ].

Stakeholder involvement

In those niches where qualitative approaches have been able to evolve and grow, a new trend has seen the inclusion of patients and their representatives not only as study participants (i.e. “members”, see above) but as consultants to and active participants in the broader research process [ 31 – 33 ]. The underlying assumption is that patients and other stakeholders hold unique perspectives and experiences that add value beyond their own single story, making the research more relevant and beneficial to researchers, study participants and (future) patients alike [ 34 , 35 ]. Using the example of patients on or nearing dialysis, a recent scoping review found that 80% of clinical research did not address the top 10 research priorities identified by patients and caregivers [ 32 , 36 ]. In this sense, the involvement of the relevant stakeholders, especially patients and relatives, is increasingly being seen as a quality indicator in and of itself.

How not to assess qualitative research

The above overview does not include certain items that are routine in assessments of quantitative research. What follows is a non-exhaustive, non-representative, experience-based list of the quantitative criteria often applied to the assessment of qualitative research, as well as an explanation of the limited usefulness of these endeavours.

Protocol adherence

Given the openness and flexibility of qualitative research, it should not be assessed by how well it adheres to pre-determined and fixed strategies – in other words: its rigidity. Instead, the assessor should look for signs of adaptation and refinement based on lessons learned from earlier steps in the research process.

Sample size

For the reasons explained above, qualitative research does not require specific sample sizes, nor does it require that the sample size be determined a priori [ 1 , 14 , 27 , 37 – 39 ]. Sample size can only be a useful quality indicator when related to the research purpose, the chosen methodology and the composition of the sample, i.e. who was included and why.

Randomisation

While some authors argue that randomisation can be used in qualitative research, this is not commonly the case, as neither its feasibility nor its necessity or usefulness has been convincingly established for qualitative research [ 13 , 27 ]. Relevant disadvantages include the negative impact of a too large sample size as well as the possibility (or probability) of selecting “ quiet, uncooperative or inarticulate individuals ” [ 17 ]. Qualitative studies do not use control groups, either.

Interrater reliability, variability and other “objectivity checks”

The concept of “interrater reliability” is sometimes used in qualitative research to assess to which extent the coding approach overlaps between the two co-coders. However, it is not clear what this measure tells us about the quality of the analysis [ 23 ]. This means that these scores can be included in qualitative research reports, preferably with some additional information on what the score means for the analysis, but it is not a requirement. Relatedly, it is not relevant for the quality or “objectivity” of qualitative research to separate those who recruited the study participants and collected and analysed the data. Experiences even show that it might be better to have the same person or team perform all of these tasks [ 20 ]. First, when researchers introduce themselves during recruitment this can enhance trust when the interview takes place days or weeks later with the same researcher. Second, when the audio-recording is transcribed for analysis, the researcher conducting the interviews will usually remember the interviewee and the specific interview situation during data analysis. This might be helpful in providing additional context information for interpretation of data, e.g. on whether something might have been meant as a joke [ 18 ].

Not being quantitative research

Being qualitative research instead of quantitative research should not be used as an assessment criterion if it is used irrespectively of the research problem at hand. Similarly, qualitative research should not be required to be combined with quantitative research per se – unless mixed methods research is judged as inherently better than single-method research. In this case, the same criterion should be applied for quantitative studies without a qualitative component.

The main take-away points of this paper are summarised in Table ​ Table1. 1 . We aimed to show that, if conducted well, qualitative research can answer specific research questions that cannot to be adequately answered using (only) quantitative designs. Seeing qualitative and quantitative methods as equal will help us become more aware and critical of the “fit” between the research problem and our chosen methods: I can conduct an RCT to determine the reasons for transportation delays of acute stroke patients – but should I? It also provides us with a greater range of tools to tackle a greater range of research problems more appropriately and successfully, filling in the blind spots on one half of the methodological spectrum to better address the whole complexity of neurological research and practice.

Take-away-points

Acknowledgements

Abbreviations, authors’ contributions.

LB drafted the manuscript; WW and CG revised the manuscript; all authors approved the final versions.

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Ethics approval and consent to participate, consent for publication, competing interests.

The authors declare no competing interests.

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The methods section describes actions taken to investigate a research problem and the rationale for the application of specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information applied to understanding the problem, thereby, allowing the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability. The methodology section of a research paper answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed? The writing should be direct and precise and always written in the past tense.

Kallet, Richard H. "How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004): 1229-1232.

Importance of a Good Methodology Section

You must explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:

  • Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the results and, by extension, how you interpreted their significance in the discussion section of your paper.
  • Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your analysis of the findings.
  • In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you have chosen a particular procedure or technique.
  • The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
  • The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
  • The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
  • In the social and behavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an existing method is utilized.

Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects . 5th edition. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Groups of Research Methods

There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:

  • The e mpirical-analytical group approaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences . This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
  • The i nterpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way . Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.

II.  Content

The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you used to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that the method is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.

The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:

  • Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
  • Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
  • The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
  • The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.

In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:

  • Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem . Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
  • Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design . Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
  • Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use , such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
  • Explain how you intend to analyze your results . Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
  • Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers . Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
  • Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure . For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
  • Provide a justification for case study selection . A common method of analyzing research problems in the social sciences is to analyze specific cases. These can be a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis that are either examined as a singular topic of in-depth investigation or multiple topics of investigation studied for the purpose of comparing or contrasting findings. In either method, you should explain why a case or cases were chosen and how they specifically relate to the research problem.
  • Describe potential limitations . Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.

NOTE :   Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. If necessary, consider using appendices for raw data.

ANOTHER NOTE : If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem , the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data [e.g., through interviews or observations], the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.

YET ANOTHER NOTE :   If your study involves interviews, observations, or other qualitative techniques involving human subjects , you may be required to obtain approval from the university's Office for the Protection of Research Subjects before beginning your research. This is not a common procedure for most undergraduate level student research assignments. However, i f your professor states you need approval, you must include a statement in your methods section that you received official endorsement and adequate informed consent from the office and that there was a clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants and to the university. This statement informs the reader that your study was conducted in an ethical and responsible manner. In some cases, the approval notice is included as an appendix to your paper.

III.  Problems to Avoid

Irrelevant Detail The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but concise. Do not provide any background information that does not directly help the reader understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how the data was analyzed in relation to the research problem [note: analyzed, not interpreted! Save how you interpreted the findings for the discussion section]. With this in mind, the page length of your methods section will generally be less than any other section of your paper except the conclusion.

Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method , not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.

Problem Blindness It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.

Literature Review Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].

It’s More than Sources of Information! A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.

Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation , Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process . (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.

Writing Tip

Statistical Designs and Tests? Do Not Fear Them!

Don't avoid using a quantitative approach to analyzing your research problem just because you fear the idea of applying statistical designs and tests. A qualitative approach, such as conducting interviews or content analysis of archival texts, can yield exciting new insights about a research problem, but it should not be undertaken simply because you have a disdain for running a simple regression. A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in very clear and direct ways, whereas, a similar study of a qualitative nature usually requires considerable time to analyze large volumes of data and a tremendous burden to create new paths for analysis where previously no path associated with your research problem had existed.

To locate data and statistics, GO HERE .

Another Writing Tip

Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods

There can be multiple meaning associated with the term "theories" and the term "methods" in social sciences research. A helpful way to delineate between them is to understand "theories" as representing different ways of characterizing the social world when you research it and "methods" as representing different ways of generating and analyzing data about that social world. Framed in this way, all empirical social sciences research involves theories and methods, whether they are stated explicitly or not. However, while theories and methods are often related, it is important that, as a researcher, you deliberately separate them in order to avoid your theories playing a disproportionate role in shaping what outcomes your chosen methods produce.

Introspectively engage in an ongoing dialectic between the application of theories and methods to help enable you to use the outcomes from your methods to interrogate and develop new theories, or ways of framing conceptually the research problem. This is how scholarship grows and branches out into new intellectual territory.

Reynolds, R. Larry. Ways of Knowing. Alternative Microeconomics . Part 1, Chapter 3. Boise State University; The Theory-Method Relationship. S-Cool Revision. United Kingdom.

Yet Another Writing Tip

Methods and the Methodology

Do not confuse the terms "methods" and "methodology." As Schneider notes, a method refers to the technical steps taken to do research . Descriptions of methods usually include defining and stating why you have chosen specific techniques to investigate a research problem, followed by an outline of the procedures you used to systematically select, gather, and process the data [remember to always save the interpretation of data for the discussion section of your paper].

The methodology refers to a discussion of the underlying reasoning why particular methods were used . This discussion includes describing the theoretical concepts that inform the choice of methods to be applied, placing the choice of methods within the more general nature of academic work, and reviewing its relevance to examining the research problem. The methodology section also includes a thorough review of the methods other scholars have used to study the topic.

Bryman, Alan. "Of Methods and Methodology." Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 3 (2008): 159-168; Schneider, Florian. “What's in a Methodology: The Difference between Method, Methodology, and Theory…and How to Get the Balance Right?” PoliticsEastAsia.com. Chinese Department, University of Leiden, Netherlands.

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  • What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

Published on 25 February 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 10 October 2022.

Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research.

It should include:

  • The type of research you conducted
  • How you collected and analysed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • Why you chose these methods
  • Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
  • Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
  • Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).

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Table of contents

How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, frequently asked questions about methodology.

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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .

It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.

You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.

Option 1: Start with your “what”

What research problem or question did you investigate?

  • Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
  • Explore an under-researched topic?
  • Establish a causal relationship?

And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
  • Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
  • Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?

Option 2: Start with your “why”

Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?

  • Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ?

Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .

Quantitative methods

In order to be considered generalisable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Here, explain how you operationalised your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion/exclusion criteria, as well as any tools, procedures, and materials you used to gather your data.

Surveys Describe where, when, and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questionnaire?
  • What form did your questions take (e.g., multiple choice, Likert scale )?
  • Were your surveys conducted in-person or virtually?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • What was your sample size and response rate?

Experiments Share full details of the tools, techniques, and procedures you used to conduct your experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment ?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables ?
  • What tools did you use?

Existing data Explain how you gathered and selected the material (such as datasets or archival data) that you used in your analysis.

  • Where did you source the material?
  • How was the data originally produced?
  • What criteria did you use to select material (e.g., date range)?

The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions measured on a 7-point Likert scale.

The goal was to collect survey responses from 350 customers visiting the fitness apparel company’s brick-and-mortar location in Boston on 4–8 July 2022, between 11:00 and 15:00.

Here, a customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from the company on the day they took the survey. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously. In total, 408 customers responded, but not all surveys were fully completed. Due to this, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research , methods are often more flexible and subjective. For this reason, it’s crucial to robustly explain the methodology choices you made.

Be sure to discuss the criteria you used to select your data, the context in which your research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting your data (e.g., were you an active participant, or a passive observer?)

Interviews or focus groups Describe where, when, and how the interviews were conducted.

  • How did you find and select participants?
  • How many participants took part?
  • What form did the interviews take ( structured , semi-structured , or unstructured )?
  • How long were the interviews?
  • How were they recorded?

Participant observation Describe where, when, and how you conducted the observation or ethnography .

  • What group or community did you observe? How long did you spend there?
  • How did you gain access to this group? What role did you play in the community?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research? Where was it located?
  • How did you record your data (e.g., audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data Explain how you selected case study materials for your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyse?
  • How did you select them?

In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness shop’s product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers.

Here, a returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from the store.

Surveys were used to select participants. Interviews were conducted in a small office next to the cash register and lasted approximately 20 minutes each. Answers were recorded by note-taking, and seven interviews were also filmed with consent. One interviewee preferred not to be filmed.

Mixed methods

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. If a standalone quantitative or qualitative study is insufficient to answer your research question, mixed methods may be a good fit for you.

Mixed methods are less common than standalone analyses, largely because they require a great deal of effort to pull off successfully. If you choose to pursue mixed methods, it’s especially important to robustly justify your methods here.

Next, you should indicate how you processed and analysed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.

In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:

  • How you prepared the data before analysing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
  • Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )

In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).

Specific methods might include:

  • Content analysis : Categorising and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
  • Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
  • Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context

Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.

Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .

  • Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviours, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
  • Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalised beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
  • Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalisable.

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.

1. Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives  and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .

2. Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:

  • Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
  • Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
  • Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

3. Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.

Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research. Developing your methodology involves studying the research methods used in your field and the theories or principles that underpin them, in order to choose the approach that best matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyse data (e.g. interviews, experiments , surveys , statistical tests ).

In a dissertation or scientific paper, the methodology chapter or methods section comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to test a hypothesis by systematically collecting and analysing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population. Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research.

For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

Statistical sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population. There are various sampling methods you can use to ensure that your sample is representative of the population as a whole.

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The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research

A newer edition of this book is available.

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31 Writing Up Qualitative Research

Jane F. Gilgun, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

  • Published: 04 August 2014
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This chapter provides guidelines for writing journal articles based on qualitative approaches. The guidelines are part of the tradition of the Chicago School of Sociology and the author’s experience as a writer and reviewer. The guidelines include understanding experiences in context, immersion, interpretations grounded in accounts of informants’ lived experiences, and research as action-oriented. The chapter also covers writing articles that report findings based on ethnographies, autoethnographies, performances, poetry, and photography and other graphic media.

How researchers write up results for journal publications depends on the purposes of the research and the methodologies they use. Some topics are standard, such as statements about methods and methodologies, but how to represent other topics, like related research and theory, reflexivity, and informants’ accounts, may vary. For example, articles based on ethnographic research may be structured differently from writing up research whose purpose is theory development. Journal editors and reviewers often are familiar with variations in style of write-ups, but, when they are not, they may ask for modifications that violate the methodological principles of the research. A common reviewer request is for percentages, which has little meaning in almost all forms of qualitative research because the purpose of the research is to identify patterns of meanings and not distributions of variables. For example, Irvine’s (2013) ethnography of the meanings of pets to homeless people shows a variety of meaning without giving the number of participants from which she drew.

Authors sometimes move easily through the review process, but most often they do not, not only because reviewers might not “get it,” but also because authors have left out, underemphasized, or been less than clear about aspects of their research that reviewers and editors believe are important. Working with editors and reviewers frequently results in improved articles.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide guidelines for writing journal articles based on qualitative approaches. My intended audience is composed of researchers, reviewers for journals, and journal editors. Reviewers for funding agencies may also find this chapter useful. I use the terms “journal article” and “research report” as synonyms, even though some journal articles are not reports of research. I have derived the guidelines from ideas associated with the Chicago School of Sociology and my experience as an author and reviewer. Although the Chicago School was, as Becker (1999) wrote, “open to various ways of doing sociology” (p. 10), the ideas in this chapter are part of the tradition, but they are not representative of the entire tradition. Furthermore, the ideas are not fixed but are open-ended because they evolve over time. I have followed the principles of the Chicago School of Sociology throughout my career, augmented by updates to these ideas, experiments with other traditions, and the sense I make of my own experiences as researcher, author, and reviewer.

The ideas on which I draw include understanding experiences in context, immersion, interpretations grounded in accounts of informants’ lived experiences, and research as action-oriented ( Bulmer, 1984 ; Faris, 1967 ; Gilgun, 1999 d ; 2005 a ; 2012 a ; 2013 b ). To follow these principles, researchers do in-depth studies that take into account the multiple contextual factors that influence meanings and interpretations, seek multiple points of view, and often use multiple methods such as interviews, observations, and document analysis. Researchers do this style of research not only because what they learn is interesting, but because they want to do useful research; that is, research that leads to social actions and even transformations in policies, programs, and interventions. Authors and reviewers pay attention to these principles. Authors convey them in their write-ups, and reviewers look for them as they develop their appraisals.

Excellent writing up of qualitative research matches these principles. In other words, write-ups convey lived experience within multiple contexts, multiple points of view, and analyses that deepen understandings. In addition, if the research is applied, then authors write about how findings may contribute to quality of life. Qualitative researchers from other traditions may follow similar or different guidelines in their write-ups, and I sometimes note other styles of write-ups. Often these variations are related to terminology and not procedures. The reach of the Chicago School of Sociology is wide and deep.

Following these guidelines does not guarantee an easy review process, but this article will be helpful to researchers as they plan and craft their articles and as they respond to reviewers’ and editors’ comments. After almost thirty years of publishing research based on qualitative approaches, almost as many years as a reviewer, and the editing of three collections of qualitative research reports ( Gilgun, Daly, & Handel, 1992 ; Gilgun & Sussman, 1996 : Gilgun & Sands, 2012 ), I am positioned to offer helpful guidelines, not only to authors but also to reviewers and journal editors.

I begin this chapter with a discussion of general principles and then cover the content of typical sections of research reports. Some of the general material fits into various sections of reports, such as methods and findings. In those cases, I do not repeat material already covered and assume that my writing is clear enough so that readers know how the general material fits into particular sections of articles.

Although most of this chapter addresses the writing of conventional research reports, I also cover writing articles that report findings through ethnographies, autoethnographies, performances, poetry, and photography and other graphic media. Ethnographies are based on researchers’ immersion in the field, where they do extensive observations, interviews, and often document analysis (see Block, 2012 ). Geertz’s (1973) notion of “thick description” is associated with ethnographies. Thick description is characterized by research reports that show the matrix of meanings that researchers identify and attempt to represent in their reports. Autoethnographies are in-depth reflective accounts of individual lives that the narrators themselves write ( Ellis, 2009 ). Ethnographies and autoethnographies involve reflections on meanings, contexts, and other wider influences on individual lives. They are studies of intersections of individual lives and wider cultural themes and practices. Reports of these types of research can look different from conventional research reports in that they appear less formal; the usual sections of methods, literature review, findings, and analysis may have different names; and the sections may be in places that fit the logical flow of the research and not the typical structure of introductory material, methods, results, and discussion. Despite these superficial differences, researchers who write these kinds of articles seek to deepen understandings and hope to move audiences to action through conveying lived experience in context and through multiple points of view. They also typically seek transformations of persons and societies. Links between these forms of research and Chicago School traditions are self-evident.

Some General Principles

Research reports that have these characteristics depend on the quality of the data on which the reports are based, the quality of the analysis, and the skills of researchers in conveying the analysis concisely and with “grab” ( Glaser, 1978 ), which means writing that is vivid and memorable ( Gilgun, 2005 b ). Grab brings findings to life. With grab, human experiences jump off the page. Priority is given to the voices of research participants, whom I call informants, with citations and the wisdom of other researchers providing important contextual information. The voices and analyses of researchers do not dominate ( Gilgun, 2005 c ), except in some articles whose purpose is theory development or the presentation of a theory. Researcher analyses often are important, especially in putting forth social action recommendations that stem from the experiences of informants.

A well-done report shows consistency between research traditions and the writing-up of research. For example, reflexivity statements, writing with grab, and copious excerpts from fieldnotes, interviews, and documents of various sorts are consistent with phenomenological approaches whose emphasis is on lived experience and interpretations that informants make of their experiences. Researchers new to qualitative research, however, often mix their traditions without realizing it, which works when the traditions are compatible. When the traditions are not compatible, the write-ups can be confusing and even contradictory ( Gilgun, 2005 d ). Some authors may write in distanced, third-person styles while attempting to convey informants’ lived experiences. These scholars may, therefore, have difficulty getting their articles accepted. Hopefully, this chapter will facilitate the writing of research reports that show consistency across their many parts and save scholars from rejections of work over which they have taken much care.

Details on These General Principles

In this section, I provide more detail on writing up qualitative research. I begin with a discussion of the need for high-quality data, high-quality analysis, and grab. I then move on to the details of the report, such as the place of prior research and theory, contents of methods sections, organization of findings, and the balance between descriptive material and authors’ interpretations. Dilemmas abound. Writing up qualitative research is not for the faint of heart.

High-Quality Data

Since qualitative researchers seek to understand the subjective experiences of research informants in various contexts, high-quality data result in large part from the degree that researchers practice immersion and to the degree that both researchers and informants develop rapport and engage with each other. Through active engagement, informants share their experiences with the kind of detail that brings their experiences to life. How to develop rapport is beyond the scope of this article, but openness and acceptance of whatever informants say are fundamental to engagement. Interviewers do not have to agree with the values that informants’ accounts convey, as when I interview murderers and rapists ( Gilgun, 2008 ), but we do maintain a neutrality that allows the dialogue to continue ( Gilgun & Anderson, 2013 ). The content of interviews is not about us and our preferences, but about understanding informants.

Prolonged engagement can result in quality data. In interview research, prolonged engagement allows for informants’ multiple perspectives to emerge, including inconsistencies, contradictions, ambiguities, and ambivalences. In addition, prolonged engagement facilitates the kind of trust needed for informants to share personal, sensitive information in detail, which are the kinds of data that qualitative researchers seek. Prolonged engagement also gives researchers time to reflect on what they are learning and experiencing through the interviews. This provides opportunities to develop new understandings and test new understandings through subsequent research. Their understandings thus deepen and broaden. Informants, too, can reflect, reconsider, and deepen the accounts they share.

Prolonged engagement means in-depth interviews, typically multiple interviews of more than an hour each. As mentioned earlier, time between interviews allows researchers and informants to reflect on the previous interview and prepare for the next. Researchers can do background reading, discuss emerging ideas with others, and formulate pertinent new questions. Informants may retrieve long-forgotten memories and interpretations through interviews. If they have only one interview, they have no opportunity to share with researchers the material that arises after the single interview is concluded.

There are exceptions to multiple interviews as necessary for immersion and high-quality data. When researchers have expertise in interviewing and when the topic is focused, one interview of between ninety minutes to two hours could provide some depth. Even under these conditions, however, more than one interview is ideal. I did a study that involved one ninety-minute interview with perpetrators of child sexual abuse in order to understand the circumstances under which their abusive behaviors became known to law enforcement. Thus, the interview was focused. The interviewees were volunteers who had talked about the topic many times in the course of their involvement in sex abuse treatment programs. They shared their stories with depth and breadth. I, too, was well-prepared. By then, I had had about twenty-five years of experience interviewing people about personal, sensitive topics. The informants provided accounts not only because the topic was focused, but because they were willing to share and I was willing to listen and to ask questions about their sexually abusive behaviors. With one interview, however, I knew relatively little about their social histories and general worldviews. Thus, I did not have the specifics necessary to place their accounts into context. The material they provided remained valuable and resulted in one publication ( Sharma & Gilgun, 2008 ) and others in planning stages. I prefer two or more interviews because of the importance of contextual data.

In observational studies, prolonged engagement means that researchers do multiple observations over time to obtain the nuances and details that compose human actions. Observational studies often have interview components and also may have document analysis as well. In document analysis, prolonged engagement means researchers base their analyses on an ample storehouse of documents and not just flit in and out of the documents. The quality of document analysis depends on whether the analysis shows multiple perspectives, patterns, and variations within patterns. Ethnographies have these characteristics. Block’s (2012) ethnographic research on AIDS orphans in Lesotho, Africa, is an example of a well-done ethnography.

Sample Size

In principle, the size of the sample and the depth of the interview affect whether researchers can claim immersion. The more depth and breadth each case in a study has, the smaller the sample size can be. For example, researchers can engage in immersion through a single in-depth case study when they do multiple interviews and if multiple facets of the case are examined. Case studies are investigations of single units. The case can be composed of an individual, a couple, a family, a group, a nation, or a region. Single case studies are useful in the illustration, development, and testing of theories, as well as in in-depth descriptions.

The more focused the questions, the larger the sample will be. A study on long-term marriage would require a minimum of two or three interviews because the topic is complicated. The sample would include at least ten participants and up to twenty or thirty, depending on the number of interviews, to account for some of the many patterns that are likely to emerge in a study of a topic this complex. In the one-interview study I did of how sexual abuse came to the notice of law enforcement, one interview was adequate because of the tight focus of the question. Yet, I used a sample size of thirty-two to maximize the possibility of identifying a variety of patterns, which the study accomplished. As mentioned, the one interview, however, did not allow me to contextualize the stories the informants told. Fortunately, I have another large sample that involved multiple, in-depth interviews in which informants discussed multiple contexts over time. This other study was helpful to me in understanding the accounts from the single-interview study.

Recruitment can be difficult. When it is, researchers may not be able to obtain an adequate sample. For example, a sample of seven participants engaging in a single sixty- to ninety-minute interview may not provide enough data on which to base a credible analysis. In a similar vein, articles based on a single or even a few focus groups may not provide enough depth to be informative. Some depth is possible if, in a single-interview study of less than fifteen or twenty interviewees, researchers meet with informants a second time to go over what researchers understand about informants’ accounts. This sometimes is called member-checking , and it provides additional data on which to base the analysis. In summary, the more depth and breadth to a study, the smaller the sample size can be—even as small as one or two—depending on the questions and the complexity of the cases.

Quality of the Analysis

A quality analysis begins with initial planning of the research and continues until the article is accepted for publication. An excellent research report has transparency , meaning the write-up is clear in what researchers did, how they did it, and why. I often tell students they can do almost anything reasonable and ethical, as long as they make a clear account in the write-up.

During planning, some researchers identify those concepts that they can use as sensitizing concepts once in the field. Transparency about the sources of sensitizing concepts characterizes well-done reports. The sources are literature reviews and reflexivity statements. Most researchers, however, have only a limited awareness of the importance of being clear about the sources of sensitizing concepts and other notions that become part of research coding schemes. Sensitizing concepts are notions that researchers identify before beginning their research and that help researchers notice and name social processes that they might not have noticed otherwise ( Blumer, 1986 ). Other researchers wait until data analysis to begin to identify concepts that they may use as codes and that may also become core concepts that organize findings. Either approach is acceptable and depends on purpose and methodologies.

During data collection, researchers reflect on what they are learning, typically talk to other researchers about their emerging understandings, and read relevant research and theory to enlarge and deepen their understandings. Researchers also keep fieldnotes that are a form of reflection. Based on their various reflections, researchers can reformulate interview and research questions and formulate new ones, do within—and across—case comparisons while in the field, and develop new insights into the meanings of the material.

Also, while in the field, researchers identify promising patterns of meanings and identify tentative core concepts, sometimes called categories , which are ideas that organize the copious material that they amass. Once researchers identify tentative core concepts, they seek to test whether they hold up, and, when they do, they further develop the patterns and concepts. Sometimes researchers think they have “struck gold” when they identify a possible core concept or pattern, only to find that the data—or metaphorical vein of gold—peter out (Phyllis Stern, personal communication, November 2002). They then go on to identify and follow-up on other concepts and patterns that show promise of becoming viable.

Core concepts become viable when researchers are able to dimensionalize them ( Schatzman, 1991 ) through selective coding ( Corbin & Strauss, 2008 ). This means that researchers have found data that show the multiple facets of concepts, such as patterns and exceptions to any general patterns. Authors may use other terms to describe what they did, such as thematic analysis. What is important is to describe the processes and produces; and what researchers call them is of less importance.

Core concepts may begin as sensitizing concepts. Researchers sometimes identify, name, and code core concepts through notions that are part of their general stores of knowledge but were not part of the literature review or reflexivity statement. Glaser (1978) called the practice “theoretical sensitivity.” The names researchers choose may be words or phrases informants have used. However derived, core concepts are central to the organization of findings ( Gilgun, 2012 a ).

At some point, data collection stops, but analysis does not. Researchers carry analysis that occurred in the field into the next phases of the research. Immersion at this point means that researchers read and code transcripts of interviews, observations, and any documentary material they find useful. They carry forward the core concepts they identified in the field. An example of a core concept is “resilience,” which in my own research organized a great deal of interview material. The concept of resilience has been an organizing idea in several of the articles I have written and plan to write ( Gilgun, 1996 a ; 1996 b ; 2002 a ; 2002 b ; 2004 a ; 2004 b ; 2005 a ; 2006 , 2008 ; 2010 ; Gilgun & Abrams, 2005 ; Gilgun, Keskinen, Marti, & Rice, 1999 ; Gilgun, Klein, & Pranis, 2000 ).

Corbin and Strauss (2008) stated that selective coding helps researchers to decide if a concept can become a core concept, meaning it organizes a great deal of data that have multiple dimensions. An example of dimensionalization is a study of social workers in Australia whose clients were Aboriginal people. The researchers identified several core concepts, among them critical self-awareness ( Bennet, Zubrzycki, & Bacon, 2011 ). The dimensions of critical self-awareness included understanding motivations to work with Aboriginal people, fears of working with Aboriginal people, and personalization and internalization of the anger that some Aboriginal people express.

Like many other researchers, Bennet et al. (2011) were not working within an explicit Chicago School tradition. They therefore do not use terms such as core concepts, dimensionalization, and selective coding. Instead, they described their procedures as thematic analysis, conceptual mapping, and a search for meaning. However, they did use the term “saturation,” which is part of the Chicago School tradition.

A single core concept or multiple related core concepts compose research reports. The Bennet et al. (2011) article, for example, linked multiple core concepts. The authors showed how critical self-awareness leads to meaningful relationships that in turn connect to “acquiring Aboriginal knowledge” (p. 30).

With viable core concepts and rich data, researchers are positioned to present their findings in ways that are memorable and interesting; that is, with “grab” ( Glaser, 1978 ). “Grab” requires compelling descriptive material: excerpts from interviews, field notes, and various types of documents, as well as researchers’ paraphrases of these materials. An example of a research report with grab is Irvine’s (2013) account of her study of the meanings of pets to homeless people. She provided vivid descriptions of her interactions with the participants and compelling quotes that show what pets mean. Here, an example from Denise’s account of her relationship with her cat Ivy:

I have a history with depression up to suicide ideation, and Ivy, I refer to her as my suicide barrier. And I don’t say that in any light way. I would say, most days, she’s the reason why I keep going.... She is the only source of daily, steady affection and companionship that I have. (p. 19)

These and other quotes, as well as Irvine’s well-written, detailed descriptive material, show what grab means.

Grab equates with excellence in writing. Irvine’s (2013) article is an example. In terms of the grab of her article, her work is in the Chicago School tradition. She wrote in the first person. She told complete stories in which she quoted extensively from the interviews, described the persons she interviewed and the settings in which she interviewed them, and provided biographical sketches. Robert Park and Ernest Burgess, both of whom trained generations of graduate students in qualitative research at the University of Chicago in the first quarter of the twentieth century, held seminars on the use of literary techniques, such as those used in novels and autobiographies, in writing up research ( Bulmer, 1984 ; Gilgun, 1999 d ; 2012 a ). These educators wanted researchers to report on their “first-hand observation.” Park told a class of graduate students to

[g]o and sit in the lounges of the luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of the flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and on the slum shakedowns; sit in the Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter Burlesk. In short, gentlemen [sic], go get the seat of your pants dirty. ( McKinney, 1966 , p. 71)

Park suggested to Pauline Young (1928 ; 1932) to “think and feel” like the residents of Russian Town, the subject of her dissertation, published in 1932 ( Faris, 1967 ). Irvine’s work shows these qualities. She immersed herself in the settings, she conducted in-depth interviews, and she conveyed her first-hand experiences in vivid terms.

The Chicago School also encouraged students to write in the first person. A good example is a report by Dollard (1937) , who was concerned about the racial practices of the Southern town where he was doing fieldwork. He said he was afraid that other white people watched as he talked to “Negroes” on his front porch, when he knew that custom regarding the “proper” place of “Negroes” was at the back door. He wrote

My Negro friend brought still another Negro up on the porch to meet me. Should we shake hands? Would he be insulted if I did not, or would he accept the situation? I kept my hands in pockets and did not do it, a device that was often useful in resolving such a situation. (p. 7)

This description is a portrait of a pivotal moment in Dollard’s fieldwork, and it is full of connotations about the racist practices of the time ( Gilgun, 1999 d ; 2012 a ).

Irvine (2013) also wrote in the first person. Here’s an example:

I met Trish on a cold December day in Boulder. She stood on the median at the exit of a busy shopping center with her Jack Russell Terrier bundled up in a dog bed beside her. She was “flying a sign,” or panhandling, with a piece of cardboard neatly lettered in black marker to read, “Sober. Doing the best I can. Please help.” (p. 14)

These two excerpts illustrate a methodological point Small (1916) made in his chapter on the first fifty years of sociological research in the United States: namely, the importance of going beyond “technical treatises” and providing first-person “frank judgments” that can help future generations interpret sociology. Without such contexts, “the historical significance of treatises will be misunderstood” (p. 722). Throughout his chapter, Small wrote in the first-person and provided his views—or frank judgments—on the events he narrated. From then until now, research reports in the Chicago tradition are vivid and contextual, conveying to the extent possible what it was like to be persons in situations.

There are many other examples of well-done research reports. Eck’s (2013) article on never-married men includes the basic elements that are present in almost all reports based on qualitative methods. It is transparent in its procedures, situated within scholarly traditions, well-organized, vivid, and instructive both for those new to qualitative research and for long-term researchers like me. The other articles I cite in this chapter also show many desirable qualities in research reports.

Research Report Sections

The main sections of standard reports based on qualitative methods are the same as for articles based on other types of methods: Introduction, Methods, Findings, and Discussion. The American Psychological Association (APA) manual (2009) provides information on what goes into each of these sections. Research reports in sociology journals follow a similar format, although the citation style is slightly different. The American Sociological Association uses first and last names in the reference section, a practice I support. In articles based on qualitative approaches, researchers sometimes change the names of sections, add or omit some, or reorder them. When changes are made, the general guideline is whether the changes make sense and are consistent with the purpose of the research. As Saldaña (2003) pointed out, researchers choose how to present their findings on the basis of credibility, vividness, and persuasive qualities and not for the sake of novelty. Because some articles report findings as fictionalized accounts, poetry, plays, songs, and performances (including plays), it makes sense that the sections on these findings vary from the standard format that I discuss here.

Although there are no rigid rules about how to write journal articles based on qualitative research, much depends on the methodological perspectives, purposes of the research, and the editorial guidelines of particular journals. For example, if researchers want to develop a theory, it is important to be clear from the beginning of the article to state this as the purpose of the research. The entire article should then focus on how the authors developed the theory. Research and theory cited in the literature review should have direct relevance to the substantive area on which the authors theorized. The methods section should explain what the researchers did to develop the theory. The findings section should begin with a statement of the theory that the researchers developed. The rest of the findings section should usually be composed of three parts. The first is composed of excerpts from those data that support the concepts of the theory. This is the grounding of the theory in something clear and concrete. The second is the authors’ thinking or interpretation of the meanings of each of the concepts. The third is an analysis of how the theory contributes to what is already known, such as how the findings elaborate on and call into question what is known. Thus, a research report on the development of a theory should contain a lot of scholarship that others have developed.

A report based on narrative principles or one based on an ethnography should contain copious excerpts from interviews, citing less scholarship than an article whose purpose is to develop theory. However, it is good practice to bring in related research and theory in the results section when this literature helps in interpretation, when findings have connections to other bodies of thought, and when findings are facets of a larger issue. In my now older publication on incest perpetrators ( Gilgun, 1995 ), the editors suggested that I show that when therapists engage in sexual relationships with clients, they are engaging in abuses of power similar to those of incest perpetrators. I was at first indignant that the editors wanted me to do even more work on the article, but I soon was glad they did. It is important to show that incest or any human phenomenon is not isolated from other phenomenon but is part of a larger picture. Doing so fit my purposes, which was to show how to do theory-testing/theory-guided qualitative research. Showing how findings fit into related research and theory is part of this type of research.

Whenever researchers are ready to submit an article for publication, it is wise to read recent issues of journals in which they would like to publish. If they can identify an article whose structure, methodologies, and general purpose are similar to theirs, they could study how those authors presented their material. If, for example, in a report on narrative research, the introductory material is relatively brief, and the findings and discussion sections compose most of the pages, researchers would do well to format their articles in similar ways. I study journals in which I have interest and model much of my own articles after those published in these journals. I make sure, however, that I cover topics that in my judgment are important to cover.

Prior Research and Theory

In my experience, something as simple as the place of prior research and theory can get complicated in the writing of reports based on qualitative research, even when the purpose of the article is primarily descriptive and is not to construct an explicit theory. In general, related research and theory literature can be presented at the beginning of a report as part of a review of pertinent research and theory, in the findings section when prior work helps in the interpretation and analysis of findings, or in the discussion section, where authors may reflect on how their findings add to, undermine, or correct what is known and even add something new.

Readers expect and journal editors typically want articles to begin with literature review, with some exceptions. A perusal of journals that publish qualitative studies shows this. Yet there are exceptions. Valásquez (2011) began her report on her encounter with scientology with an extended and rather meandering first-person narrative. Her literature review began toward the end of the article. She tailored the review to the report that preceded it. In this article and others, the literature review helped in the interpretation of findings and helped to situate the report in its scholarly contexts. In other articles, the literature review appears in the introductory section. This sets the scholarly context of the research, highlights the significance of topics, and identifies gaps in knowledge. Neither authors nor reviewers should have rigid expectations about where the scholarship of others belongs. It belongs where it makes the most sense and has the most impact.

For many, the placement of literature reviews seems self-evident. Yet, some well-known approaches, such as grounded theory, can set authors up for confusion about where the literature review belongs. This can result in delays in writing up their results. The procedures of grounded theory are open-ended and designed to find new aspects of phenomena—often underresearched—and then develop theories from the findings. At the outset of their work, researchers cannot anticipate what they will find. Therefore, teachers such as Strauss and Glaser advised students not to do literature reviews until they had identified basic social processes that become the focus of the research ( Covan, 2007 ; Glaser & Strauss, 1967 ).

How, then, do researchers write up research reports when they are doing an open-ended study that, by definition, will culminate in unanticipated findings? Do they write their reports as records on how they proceeded chronologically, or do they follow APA style and the dominant tradition that says the literature review comes first? For the most part, I follow the tradition, as, apparently, do most researchers. However, to structure reports in this way sometimes feels strained and artificial. I would prefer to write a more chronological account, in which I can share with readers the lines of inquiry and procedures I followed. The literature review at the beginning of the report, therefore, would be brief. The methods section is quite detailed in how I went about developing the theory. The findings section would have the three-part format I discussed earlier: statement of the theory, presentations of excerpts that support assertions that certain concepts compose the theory, my interpretation of the meanings of the concepts and the excerpts that support them, and then the use of related research and theory to further develop the theory and to situate it in its scholarly traditions.

In all but one of the research reports that I have published, I did the literature after I had identified findings. The one exception was research I did based on the method of analytic induction, in which researchers can use literature reviews to focus their research from the outset ( Gilgun, 1995 , 2007 ). In this research, I used concepts from theories on justice and care to analyze transcripts of interviews I had previously conducted on how perpetrators view child sexual abuse. Even though I was familiar with the transcripts, I found that the concepts of justice and care and their definitions sensitized me to see things in the material that I had not noticed as I did data collection and during previous analyses of the data.

Furthermore, in writing up the results, I brought in research that was not part of the literature review to help me to interpret findings and to show how findings fit with and added to what was already known. I did not place this material in the introductory literature review. Placing related research and theory as parts of the results and discussion sections is common and may be necessary in articles that are reporting on a theory that the authors developed. For descriptive studies whose purpose is not theory-building, such as ethnographies, some findings sections include the addition of research and theory not present in the introductory section. Often, however, authors do not follow this pattern. An example is found in Ahmed (2013) , who described how migrants experience settling into a new country. She presents excerpts from interviews and her interpretation of them, including organizing them into a typology, but she does not bring additional research and theory into her interpretations.

Tensions can arise between how much space to give to literature reviews and how much to allot to presentation of informants’ accounts/findings ( Gilgun, 2005 c ). This happened in the most recent article I co-wrote, which is on mothers’ perspectives on the signs of child sexual abuse ( Gilgun & Anderson, 2013 ). We believed the literature review was important because it not only set up our research but summarized a great deal of information that was important to our intended audience of social service professionals. We also wanted to anticipate the expectations of reviewers and the journal editor. Yet, we put much effort into making the literature review as concise as possible in order to have reasonable space for findings. We wrote the literature review before we did data analysis. When we wrote up the results, the first draft was probably three times longer than any journal article could be.

We had written case studies first to be sure that we understood each case in detail. We had wanted to share what the women said in the kind of detail that had helped us deepen our own understandings, so we cut back on the case material. The article was still too long. We decided to exclude the few instances we had in which women knew of the abuse but tried to handle it themselves or did not believe the children when told. We did more summarizing of the literature review. We eliminated many references.

After much effort, we finally had a manuscript that was the required length of twenty-two pages. It included a literature review that set up the research in good form, an adequate accounting of the method, and findings that conveyed with grab the complexities of the signs and lack of signs of child sexual abuse. We wove points made in the literature review into our interpretations, yet we had to leave out important patterns for the sake of space. The editor’s decision was a revise and resubmit, which we did. The main recommendation was to elaborate on applications. This was a great suggestion, and we dug deep to think about this. We are pleased with the results. We had to do further reading on topics we had not anticipated at the onset of our project, and we squeezed in a few new citations in the discussion section that related to implications of the research. This additional material greatly enhanced the meanings and usefulness of the research.

There is much more to say about qualitative research and literature reviews. Sometimes researchers get stuck, as I have more than once. I have research that I have not yet published because I have been unable to figure out how to do the multiple literature reviews I think I must show how my theory builds on, adds to, and challenges what is already known. I have written up this research as conference papers, where expectations about literature reviews are more relaxed ( Gilgun, 1996c , 1998 , 1999c , 2000 ). One of these. papers was on a comprehensive theory of interpersonal violence ( Gilgun, 2000 ). I wanted to write my theory first and then show how the findings contribute to what is already known. Doing so doesn’t seem so outlandish today, and I now can imagine writing it up exactly as I would want to. At the same time, I wonder if I would? I really don’t know if any journal that would publish a theory of violence would also accept an article that places a literature review after findings. Furthermore, my writing up of the theory would take so many pages that I would not have enough space to do a comprehensive literature review. As of today, the theory I am developing has links to sixteen or more bodies of literature. No way can I publish a journal-length article that will accommodate that much research and theory!

So, here I am, many years into the development of a comprehensive theory, still reflecting on how to create journal articles out of my analysis. I have published many articles in social media outlets exploring ideas that are the basis for the theory. I have put these articles into collections that are available on the internet ( Gilgun, 2012 b ; 2012 c ; 2013 a ). The theory is so complex that writing bits and pieces over the years and having a place to put them have been very helpful.

Finally, some articles may cite few if any related research and theory. This may fit articles whose purpose is to convey lived experience that stands on its own. These articles feature performances, plays, autoethnographies, fictionalized accounts, poetry, and song, among others. Egbe (2013) wrote two poems that she explained were accounts of her experiences of doing research in Nigeria with young smokers. She said she was “dazed by the vast opportunity this method gives a researcher to dig deep into a research problem and be submerged into the world of participants” (p. 353). Her two-page article is composed of two poems and her explanation. The article showed grab, evidence of immersion, experiences in contexts, and multiple perspectives. Her work, therefore, followed well-established guidelines for writing up qualitative research. Egbe not only omitted a literature review, but she did not write about how to use the results of her research, assuming that its uses are self-evident. Obviously, she thought a literature review unnecessary; the reviewers and journal editors agreed with her.

Reflexivity Statements

A growing number of journals encourage researchers to include reflexivity statements in research reports. Researchers may place these in the introductory material of an article, after the literature review and before the methods section; this probably is the most important place to put them because reflexivity statements often influence the focus and design of the research, including the choice of sensitizing concepts and codes. Reflexivity statements may also appear in the methods and findings and methods sections when important. Reflexivity statements are accounts of researchers’ experiences with the topic of research; accounts of their expectations regarding informant issues and their relationships to informants, especially in regard to power differentials and other ethical concerns; and accounts of their reflections on various issues related to possible experiences that informants may have had. They also may include the experience they had while participating in the research ( D’Cruz, Gillingham, & Melendez, 2007 ; Presser, 2005 ). My article on doing research on violence is an extended reflexivity statement ( Gilgun, 2008 ). There appears to be no standard content for reflexivity statements and no standard places for them to appear. Personal and professional experiences and reflections on power differentials may be the emergent standard. Whatever decisions researchers make about reflexivity statements, they alert audiences to researchers’ perspectives, which can be helpful to readers as they attempt to make sense of research reports.

An example of a reflexivity statement is found in Winter (2010) work. Winter is a practitioner turned researcher who had a previous relationship as a guardian ad litem with the children with whom she later conducted the research that she was reporting. Winter was reflexive about the implications of her prior relationship with these children. I imagine, based on my own experience, that she put only a fraction of her thinking into her article. Not only did she write in her reflexivity statement that she had a prior relationship with the children, but she also wrote about the ethical issues involved.

Ethical issues have a place in reflexivity statements. I have run into ethical questions over the course of my research career. One situation that stands out is the encounter I had with a mother and her eleven-year-old daughter who had participated in my dissertation research on child sexual abuse ( Gilgun, 1983 ). The mother cried and told her daughter how sorry she was that she had been unable to protect her from sexual abuse. The girl was touched but did not seem to know what to do. I suggested that she go stand by her mother. When she got close, the mother and daughter hugged each other and cried. This is a significant event with ethical implications that I included in the findings section of my dissertation and in a subsequent research report ( Gilgun, 1984 ). The ethical issue is, first, whether I should have stepped out of my role as detached researcher and guided the girl to go to her mother, and, second, whether I should have made my blurring of boundaries public by publishing them.

As far as the placement of reflexivity statements, the initial statement has a logical location after the literature review because the reflexivity statement contributes to the development of the research questions, the identification of sensitizing concepts, the interview schedule, and the overall design of research procedures. Accounts of ongoing reflexivity could be part the findings section and of the discussion section. Reflexivity statements are not a standard part of research reports, but they can contribute to readers’ understandings of the research.

Along with the literature review, reflexivity statements contribute to practical and applied significance statements and may also help to identify gaps in knowledge. Literature reviews and reflexivity statements contain key concepts. The concepts that researchers define at the end of introductory sections typically become codes during analysis, although researchers may not label the concepts as codes either in the introductory section or in the methods section. I am unsure why such labeling has not become routine. When concepts carry the label code , this clarifies where codes come from. Without naming codes and stating where they come from, much of analysis is mystified. Many reports read as if the codes appear out of nowhere during analysis. Even Glaser’s (1978) notion of theoretical sensitivity mystifies the origins of codes. How, for example, do researchers become theoretically sensitive? What if researchers are beginning their scholarly careers? How theoretically sensitive are they ( Covan, 2007 )? What are the implications for the quality of the analysis?

Research Questions, Hypotheses, and Definitions

The final part of the introductory section of a research report is devoted to research questions, hypotheses to be tested (if any), and definitions of core concepts. In general, in qualitative research, hypotheses are statements of relationships between concepts. Theories usually are composed of two or more hypotheses, although, at times, some researchers may use the term theory to designate a single hypothesis ( Gilgun, 2005 b ). Concepts are extractions from concrete data. Sometimes concepts are called second-order concepts and data first-order concepts .

Research questions may be absent. In their place are purpose statements that make the focus of the report clear. Hypotheses are rarely present in qualitative research. When they are, the purpose of the research is to test them and typically to develop them more fully. This type of research has in the past been called analytic induction ( Gilgun, 1995 e), whereas a more up-to-date version of qualitative hypothesis testing and theory-guided research is called deductive qualitative analysis ( Gilgun, 2005 d ; 2013 ). Analytic induction and deductive qualitative analysis are part of the Chicago School tradition.

Methods Section

Most methods sections for reports based on qualitative approaches have the same elements as any other research report. Descriptions of the sample, recruitment, interview schedule, and plans for data analysis are standard. The APA manual provides guidelines ( American Psychological Association, 2009 ) that fit many types of qualitative research reports. However, reports based on autoethnographies, poetry, and performances may have brief or no methods sections. As is clear by now, the report’s contents depend on the purposes and methodologies of the research and on the editorial requirements of journals.

Accounts of Methodologies

In writing up qualitative research, methods sections usually contain a brief overview of the research methodology, which is the set of principles that guided the research. The following is an account of the methodology used in a research report on cancer treatment in India:

For this project we drew upon interpretive traditions within qualitative research. This involved us taking an in-depth exploratory approach to data collection, aimed at documenting the subjective and complex experiences of the respondents. Our aim was to achieve a detailed understanding of the varying positions adhered to, and to locate those within a broader spectrum underlying beliefs and/or agendas. ( Broom & Doron, 2013 , p. 57)

Sometimes, statements of methodology are much more elaborate, but in research reports, such a statement is sufficient, again depending on the editorial policies of particular journals. A few citations, which this article had, round out an adequate statement of methodology.

However, many reports are written in a clear and straightforward way with scant or no account of methodologies. Examples are the work of Eck (2013) and Spermon, Darlington, and Gibney (2013) . These kinds of well-done write-ups might eventually be considered generic. Spermon et al. said their study was phenomenological, which sets up assumptions that the report will be primarily descriptive. In actuality, the intent was to develop theory. Such mixing of methodologies may be the wave of the future; in many ways, distinctions between phenomenological studies whose purposes are descriptive and those whose purposes are to build theory are blurred. Such blurring may have been the case for decades because it is possible and often desirable to build theories based on phenomenological perspectives; that is, in-depth descriptions of lived experience. However, authors are wise to state in one place what their methodologies are and how they put them to use, such as for descriptive purposes or for theory-building.

Description of Sample

Placing descriptions of sample size and the demographics of the sample in the methods sections is typical. As mentioned earlier, evaluation of sample size depends on the depth and breadth of the study. The more depth a study has, the smaller the number of cases can be. The more breadth and the sharper the focus, the larger sample sizes typically are. Samples on which a study is based must provide enough material on which to base a credible article. A sample size of one may be adequate if researchers show their work demonstrates the basic principles of almost all forms of qualitative research: perspectives of persons who participate in the research, researcher immersion into the settings or the life stories of persons interviewed, multiple perspectives, contextual information of various types, and applications. Autoethnographies often have an n of one, but joint autoethnographies are possible. Ethnographies may not give a sample size, as was the case in the performance ethnography of Valásquez (2011) who wrote in the first person about her experience with scientology. In her first-person ethnography, Irvine (2013) also did not mention sample size. She said that the narratives she used for the article were from a larger study on the meanings of animals to people who have no homes. She did not describe the usual demographics of age, gender, social class, and ethnicity.

Most articles describe the demographics of the sample. In a recently accepted article ( Gilgun & Anderson, 2013 ), I saw no relevance in mentioning the size of the larger sample from which we drew in order to tell the stories of how mothers responded to their learning that their husbands or life partners had sexually abused their children. We included an exact count of the larger sample because we assumed that it would be the journal’s expectations. We also gave particulars of the demographics. Except for social class and ethnicity, we saw little relevance for the other descriptors. These status variables were relevant to us because most of the sample was white and middle or upper class. This is important because much research on child sexual abuse is done with poor people, and there are stereotypes that poor families and families of color are more likely to experience incest than are white middle and upper class families. Overall, as with some other issues related to writing, the adequacy of the sample description depends on the methodological principles of the research and the journal’s editorial policies.

Recruitment

Accounts of recruitment procedures are important because researchers want to show that their work is ethical. Respect for the autonomy or freedom of choice of participants needs to be demonstrated. In addition, often the persons in whose lives we are interested have vulnerabilities. To show that the research procedures have not exploited these vulnerabilities is part of ethical considerations. Most articles have these accounts. Furthermore, when there are accounts of recruitment procedures, it becomes obvious why the sample is not randomly selected. Irvine’s (2013) account of recruitment is exemplary. She recruited through veterinary clinics that took care of the pets of homeless persons. She did not approach potential participants herself. Doing so risked making refusals difficult. The staff informed persons of the research and its purposes. If individuals said they were interested, they gave permission for the staff to give their names to researchers. The research interviews took place in the clinics.

The ethics of recruitment revolve around values, such as respect for autonomy, dignity, and worth. Other ethical issues that are important to mention in reports include the use of incentives for participation. Although many human subjects committees now require monetary incentives for participation, this has ethical implications. Irvine (2013) solved this by giving gift cards after the interviews were completed. Reports on ethical issues have a place in methods sections.

Data Collection and Analysis

Accounts of data collection and analysis are part of the methods section. Data collection procedures should be detailed for many reasons. Primary among them is the need for transparency in terms of the ethical standards the researchers followed, as well as the need to allow for replication of the study. Such details also provide guidelines for others who might be interested in using the methods. In addition, there are many different schools of thought and procedures for each of the methods used with the three general types of data collection: interviews, observations, and documents. It is helpful to state which particular data collection procedures the researchers used. Researchers often provide examples of the kinds of questions asked and procedures used for recording observations and excerpts from documents. Some researchers may omit such an accounting, as with some autoethnographies and articles that turn research material into performances.

How researchers analyzed data is part of the methods sections. As with data collection, there are so many types of analysis that researchers need to describe the particular forms that they used. For figuring out how to report on data analysis, researchers would do well to study articles in journals in which they want to publish. Irvine (2013) used a method of analysis I have never heard of called “personal narrative analysis” (p. 8). She gave enough detail to provide the general idea of what she did and a sufficient number of citations for additional information.

The level of detail can vary. In some sociology journals, for example, researchers may say little about analysis and sometimes little about data collection. This is because the journal editors, reviewers, and those who publish in and read the articles have assumptions that they for the most part take for granted. Even in these journals, however, researchers may want to account for their analytic procedures, especially if they are writing on topics outside of what is usual in such journals.

Other journals require a great deal of detail. In those instances, researchers first decide what they think is essential and then shape their accounts to fit what appears to be usual practice in the journal. The following paragraphs describe data analysis in a recently accepted article on signs of child sexual abuse in families ( Gilgun & Anderson, 2013 ).

Data Analysis

In the analysis of data, the first author read the transcripts multiple times and coded them for instances related to disclosures of child sexual abuse and associated signs of the abuse, such as how and when the women first learned of the abuse or suspected it was occurring in their families, their responses, and their reflections on the signs of abuse they might have missed, as well as child and perpetrator behaviors that they did not realize were related to child sexual abuse. Their initial and longer term responses and reflections were also coded. The second author independently read and coded about one-third of the transcripts using this coding scheme to arrive at a 100 percent agreement.

Sources of the codes were our professional experiences in the area of child sexual abuse, the review of research, and the first author’s familiarity with the content of the interviews because she had been the interviewer. These codes served as sensitizing concepts, which, as Blumer (1986) explained, are ideas that guide researchers to see aspects of phenomena that they might otherwise not notice. Although altering researchers’ ideas to what might be significant serves an obvious useful purpose, sensitizing concepts might also may blind researchers to other aspects of phenomena that might be important. Therefore, we also used negative case analysis, which is a procedure that guides researchers to look for aspects of phenomena that contradict or do not fit with emerging understandings. In this way, researchers are positioned to see patterns, variations within patterns, exceptions, and contradictions in findings ( Becker et al., 1961 ; Bogdan & Biklen, 2007 ; Cressey, 1953 ; Lindesmith, 1947 ).

As we wrote this section, we were aware of the limited space that we had to fill. Yet we were committed to accounting for where our codes came from for reviewers and editors who may be unfamiliar with pre-established codes. As discussed earlier, many reports are written as if codes appear by magic. We decided that, in this report, we would be as clear as possible about where our codes came from. We also reasoned that we would have to call on the authority of well-respected methodologists if reviewers and editors had questions about what we had done. Furthermore, we were aware of the dated nature of the references; we could do nothing about that because there has not been much written recently about pre-established codes. I have written about this quite a bit, but as one of the authors, I not only had to be anonymous during the review process, but I could not be the sole authority.

Generalizability

Many reviewers and editors have questions about the generalizability of the results of qualitative research. Authors themselves sometimes question the generalizability of their own findings. That’s why it remains important to provide clear guidelines in research reports about how the authors view the usefulness of their findings. The following ideas may be helpful to authors as they write their reports and to reviewers who are positioned as gatekeepers. The results of qualitative research are not meant to be generalized in a probabilistic sense. But because dropouts and refusals limit the randomness of samples, most forms of research can’t be generalized in a probabilistic sense.

Conversely, as Cronbach (1975) wrote almost forty years ago, the results of any form of research are working hypotheses that must be tested in local settings. Thus, the applicability of qualitative or any other kind of research can be demonstrated only through attempts at application. Do the findings illuminate other situations? Do the results provide researchers, policy makers, and direct practitioners with ideas on how to proceed? Those who apply the research expect to have to adjust findings to fit particular new situations. Many researchers and some journal editors and reviewers know through common sense and everyday experience how to use the results of qualitative research. Our personal lives are extended case studies. What we learn in one situation, we carry over into another. We know we have to test what we have learned in past situations for fit with new situations. If we do not, we impose our ideas on situations that may demand new perspectives. This common practice of applying results to all situations is disrespectful of local conditions and autonomy of persons. We want to avoid such disrespect in how we suggest readers use the results of our research.

Trustworthiness and Authenticity

Pointing out the trustworthiness of procedures and the findings that result from them sometimes are parts of methods sections. Related to trustworthiness are issues of authenticity ( Guba & Lincoln, 2005 ). Both trustworthiness and authenticity arise from immersion, seeking to understand the perspectives of others in context, reflexivity, and seeking multiple points of view. Researchers who have applied these principles will produce reports that are trustworthy and authentic. In addition, the reports will have grab. Extended discussions related to these issues are beyond the scope of this chapter and the scope of research reports as well.

I get more requests for revisions of methods sections, especially for accounts of data collection and analysis, than for any other parts of a manuscript. This is not surprising, given the multiple possible variations. I never know who the reviewers will be and what their expectations are. I rely first on my beliefs about what I want in the procedures section and then I study articles the journal has already publishes. I include what journal editors appear to expect, but I also add information that I think is important, even when it is not part of what I see in methods sections.

Findings Sections

Findings sections in research reports include both descriptive and conceptual material. Descriptive material is composed of researchers’ paraphrasing and summarizing of what they found and excerpts from interviews, fieldnotes, and documents. The descriptive material, at its best, is detailed and lively; it not only is informative, it has grab. This material contributes to understandings of human experiences in context. In addition, descriptive material is the basis of researchers’ theorizing and it also provides documentation and illustrations of assertions that researchers make.

Conceptual material comprises the analysis and is made up of inferences such as the general statements, concepts, and hypotheses that researchers develop from the material (data). One way to think about the relationship between descriptive and conceptual material is to think of descriptive material as composed of first-order concepts and conceptual material as composed of second-order concepts. Each type depends on the other. Credible conceptual material is based on descriptive material, some of which is contained in the article. Qualitative research yields mountains of data, a fraction of which can be placed into a published article.

As with other sections of research reports, findings sections have many possible variations that depend on the purpose of the research and the methodologies on which the research is based. Thus, the findings can range from heavily descriptive to heavily conceptual. Heavily conceptual research reports arise from research whose purpose is theoretical, in which researchers set out to test, refine, reformulate, or develop theory. Theoretical reports require some descriptive material to show the basis of theoretical statements, but they are often relatively short on descriptive material.

Reports that are primarily descriptive are composed of excerpts from data. Theoretical material appears in often subtle ways, such as in the form of concepts that organize findings. Irvine’s (2013) study of homeless people and their pets is largely descriptive, composed of excerpts from the interviews and Irvine’s paraphrases and narration of what she did, how, and when. The findings were narrative case studies based on interviews and observations. The details of the narratives were vivid and had the kind of grab that Glaser (1978) recommended. They showed multiples perspectives and variations on what it meant to homeless informants to have pets in their lives. The first three pages were a review of relevant literature and a presentation of method. The last five pages were a discussion of the findings.

As lengthy as the descriptive material is, conceptual material frames the entire report. In the literature review, Irvine introduced notions of positive identity, generativity, and redemption. She used them to analyze her data and organize findings, which were the narrative case studies. She used the concept of redemption as the core or organizing concept, going into some detail about how the research material supports the significance of this idea of pets as redemptive for homeless people.

This analysis is based squarely on the descriptive material. For instance, Irvine wrote that in the stories she presented in her article, “animals provide the vehicle for redemption.” She illustrated this point with a quote from one of the narratives and then reminded readers that the narratives “contain variations on the theme” of “ life is better because this animal is in it ” (p. 20; emphasis in original). Readers do not take this on faith because the basis of this general statement in presented multiple times in the case studies. Irvine has much more material on which she based these ideas, but there is not enough room in a journal-length article to show all of her evidence.

An example of an article that is theoretical in purpose and short on descriptive material is found in the work of Cordeau (2012) . She developed a grounded theory of the “transition from student to professional nurse” when student nurses work with “mannequins as simulated patients” (p. 90). Based on interviews, observations, and reports that the students wrote on their clinical experiences, the study was composed of about 10 percent descriptive material. This material included excerpts interviews and student reports. In the results section, she used this descriptive material to illustrate and possibly document the grounded theory she constructed. The theory’s “core category” was “linking,” which had four components, called properties. She documented the properties, primarily with her own thinking about her research material and also with excerpts from interviews, observations, and student reports.

Like Irvine’s (2013) study, the purpose of Cordeau’s (2012) work was applied where she wanted to build theory that would contribute to the development of clinical expertise in nursing students. She also devoted about one page of her study to applications.

Core Concepts

I’ve previously provided an extended discussion of core concepts. This section highlights some key points and illustrates them. Core concepts, often called core categories , organize findings. I prefer the term concept because concept is the term used in discussing theory, such as “concepts are the building blocks of theory,” and theory is one of several possible products of qualitative research. Researchers decide on which concepts are core in the course of analysis. Researchers are ready to write up their reports when they have settled on, named, and dimensionalized one or more core concepts. The terms “core concepts” and “core categories” are associated with grounded theory ( Charmaz, 2006 ; Corbin & Strauss, 2008 ), but they are useful in other types of qualitative research, such as interpretive phenomenology and narrative analysis. Core concepts both organize findings and, typically, bring together a great deal of information. The term “dimension” means that researchers account for as many aspects of the core concepts as they can in order to show the multiple perspectives and patterns that typically compose concepts.

In reporting on core concepts, I recommend that researchers name them, introduce them, describe them using excerpts from the research material, comment on them, and then situate each of the concepts and their commentaries within their scholarly contexts. As discussed earlier, this shows how the findings fit with what is already known, or add to, force modification of, or refute what is known. Although many researchers, do not situate findings in their scholarly contexts, they usually cover the other topics.

No matter how authors report findings, they should do so with grab. An example of a report exemplary for its grab is the work of Scott (2003) on what it means to be a professional with a physical disability. Scott began her article not with a literature review but with three reviewer comments on other articles she had written. She then stated that the present article was a response to these comments. She followed up with a description of three male students who waited to speak to her after class about her disability and the notion of embodiment that she discussed in class. She brought in related literature throughout the article. Through her own reflections, reports on how others have responded to her, reports on the accounts that three other women with disabilities gave to her as a person with cerebral palsy, and her literature review, Scott not only showed the meanings of disabilities to persons who have them, but also what others say about their own disabilities, what some people who are able-bodied say about women with disabilities, and how all of this connects to what is known about disabilities and to wide-spread beliefs about disabilities. Her article is full of grab, such as the header that read, “The Day I Became Human.” With the authors’ own experience as the centerpiece, this article exemplifies write-ups that demonstrate the meanings of lived experience in various contexts, immersion, grab, and implications for social action. The analysis she presented as part of her findings is exemplary.

In the production of quality research, no matter the type of write-up, there are no short cuts. Research reports based on poetry, for example, are held to the same standards as any other article: grab, immersion, lived experience in context, and implications for action. In addition, such research reports typically locate themselves within social and human sciences traditions. Furman’s (2007) reflections and analysis of poetry that he wrote over the course of many years provide an example of how poetry can be used in qualitative analysis. This kind of research is a type of document analysis. In performance studies, researchers create a theater production of informant’s accounts of their experiences whose purpose is to transform audiences and move them to action ( Saldaña, 2003 ). The performances are the equivalent of research reports and when they are effective, they have the four characteristics of qualitative research under discussion.

Discussion Sections

In traditional research reports, the discussion section follows the results section. In discussion sections, authors reflect on findings, including what the findings are, how findings contribute to understandings of phenomena of interest, the lines of inquiry the results open up, and implications for policy and practice. Other generic topics to consider are those related to the focus of the journal. For example, if the journal’s focus is related to health, then authors show how findings are related to health.

Discussion sections present the author with opportunities to advocate for how his or her research can be used. The applied purposes of Irvine’s (2013) research come through when she devoted an entire page to make observations about implications. She pointed out how her research contributes to a transformation of images of homeless persons as isolated to images of them as engaged in relationships not only with their pets but with other persons, too. She noted that rehousing homeless persons requires a change in policy that would allow them to have pets. Furthermore, she said that caring for a pet “can turn things around” (p. 24).

In the discussion section I wrote with Anderson ( Gilgun & Anderson, 2013 ), we addressed methodological issues, such as the probable existence of other patterns in addition to those we identified and the nonrandom nature of our sample. We also acknowledged the difficulties in working with families in which child sexual abuse has occurred. Since qualitative researchers want to understand lived experiences, we had to prepare ourselves to deal effectively in research areas that are difficult emotionally for us as researchers. Although we may acknowledge the emotional challenges of some topics in reflexivity statements, discussion sections are opportunities for authors to acknowledge the difficulties of using the results we produce. In the article I wrote with Anderson, we made such an acknowledgment, one that we hoped would facilitate more effective practice. We wrote

Practitioners themselves may experience shock, rage, and disgust. The practice of neutrality, in its therapeutic sense, is important in these cases ( Gil & Johnson, 1993 ; Rober, 2011 ). Neutrality means that practitioners maintain their analytic stances while at the same time they remain attuned not only to service users but also to themselves. When practicing neutrality, service providers regulate their own emotional responses in order to remain emotionally available to service users. Neutrality also means that service providers remain open-minded so that they can hear stories that they may not expect to hear; in other words, to make room for the unexpected ( Rober, 2011 ). Attunement to inner processes is a form of reflection that can facilitate the development of trust between service users and providers. When providers are reflective, they are less likely to tune out, close down, and otherwise stop listening to what services users express. When they listen and hear what service users say, they are more likely to facilitate the best possible outcomes in difficult situations ( Weingarten, 2012 ).

Doing research on lived experience can be difficult for informants and for researchers. Acknowledgment of the implications of these difficulties for users of the research has a place in discussion sections.

In summary, most articles are fairly straightforward in their write-ups: focused literature reviews, reflexivity statements in many cases, clear statements of purpose, clarity about sources of research questions and/or hypotheses, identification and definition of key concepts, identification of codes the researcher develops from literature reviews and reflexivity statements, succinct accounting of methods, and findings organized logically by core concepts around which the researcher organizes the multiple dimensions of those concepts. Excellent writing makes articles interesting and accessible. Some kinds of write-ups deviate from these components, but they are held to the same standards of immersion, experiences in context, multiple perspectives, and implications for action and other applications. When authors have the good fortune to have a recommendation to revise and resubmit, suggestions for revisions often improve the quality of the article.

The seemingly endless variations that are possible in the write-up of qualitative research makes writing and reviewing manuscripts challenging, especially when compared to traditions in which rigid rules prevail. However, it is important that approaches to qualitative research continue to evolve to meet with our ever-changing understandings of human phenomena. The clarity and transparency of reports are the fundamental guidelines for making judgments about quality. I often tell my students that the guidelines for doing qualitative research are flexible, and what is important is to be clear about what you did, why you did it, and what you came up with.

The notion of grab is central to write-up. Since qualitative research seeks to understand lived experiences, it is logical that findings report on the lived experiences in vivid terms, replete with quotes from data. This is not to undermine the importance of analysis, but grab is possible even in write-ups that require a great deal of analysis. Grab becomes possible because researchers must provide the evidence for the theories and concepts they develop.

When there are questions about priorities related to informants’ voices, researchers’ interpretations, and prior research, I hope that authors, reviewers, and editors remember that as important as analysis and previous work may be, the voices of informants bring these other important parts of manuscripts to life. Researchers make decisions about whose voices take priority.

There is no one way to respond to these dilemmas. Authors must make their own decisions about what is important to them and then search for journals that will welcome what they want to convey. It’s important to consider pushing the boundaries and writing an article in a way that the researcher thinks will best convey his or her findings.

The importance of quality data, quality analysis, and “grab” are foundational. I began this chapter with a discussion of the balance between description and analysis. I then considered core concepts as organizers of findings, the place of literature reviews, styles of presenting methods and methodologies, and the balance between the voices of informants and researchers. I concluded with the many variations in types of reports that result from the various purposes that qualitative research projects can have. There are many different types of qualitative research and many styles of write-ups. This chapter may sensitize readers to enduring issues in the writing of research reports. Like qualitative research itself, there are multiple points of view on how to write up qualitative research.

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How to Write Research Methodology

Last Updated: May 21, 2023 Approved

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. and by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 517,565 times.

The research methodology section of any academic research paper gives you the opportunity to convince your readers that your research is useful and will contribute to your field of study. An effective research methodology is grounded in your overall approach – whether qualitative or quantitative – and adequately describes the methods you used. Justify why you chose those methods over others, then explain how those methods will provide answers to your research questions. [1] X Research source

Describing Your Methods

Step 1 Restate your research problem.

  • In your restatement, include any underlying assumptions that you're making or conditions that you're taking for granted. These assumptions will also inform the research methods you've chosen.
  • Generally, state the variables you'll test and the other conditions you're controlling or assuming are equal.

Step 2 Establish your overall methodological approach.

  • If you want to research and document measurable social trends, or evaluate the impact of a particular policy on various variables, use a quantitative approach focused on data collection and statistical analysis.
  • If you want to evaluate people's views or understanding of a particular issue, choose a more qualitative approach.
  • You can also combine the two. For example, you might look primarily at a measurable social trend, but also interview people and get their opinions on how that trend is affecting their lives.

Step 3 Define how you collected or generated data.

  • For example, if you conducted a survey, you would describe the questions included in the survey, where and how the survey was conducted (such as in person, online, over the phone), how many surveys were distributed, and how long your respondents had to complete the survey.
  • Include enough detail that your study can be replicated by others in your field, even if they may not get the same results you did. [4] X Research source

Step 4 Provide background for uncommon methods.

  • Qualitative research methods typically require more detailed explanation than quantitative methods.
  • Basic investigative procedures don't need to be explained in detail. Generally, you can assume that your readers have a general understanding of common research methods that social scientists use, such as surveys or focus groups.

Step 5 Cite any sources that contributed to your choice of methodology.

  • For example, suppose you conducted a survey and used a couple of other research papers to help construct the questions on your survey. You would mention those as contributing sources.

Justifying Your Choice of Methods

Step 1 Explain your selection criteria for data collection.

  • Describe study participants specifically, and list any inclusion or exclusion criteria you used when forming your group of participants.
  • Justify the size of your sample, if applicable, and describe how this affects whether your study can be generalized to larger populations. For example, if you conducted a survey of 30 percent of the student population of a university, you could potentially apply those results to the student body as a whole, but maybe not to students at other universities.

Step 2 Distinguish your research from any weaknesses in your methods.

  • Reading other research papers is a good way to identify potential problems that commonly arise with various methods. State whether you actually encountered any of these common problems during your research.

Step 3 Describe how you overcame obstacles.

  • If you encountered any problems as you collected data, explain clearly the steps you took to minimize the effect that problem would have on your results.

Step 4 Evaluate other methods you could have used.

  • In some cases, this may be as simple as stating that while there were numerous studies using one method, there weren't any using your method, which caused a gap in understanding of the issue.
  • For example, there may be multiple papers providing quantitative analysis of a particular social trend. However, none of these papers looked closely at how this trend was affecting the lives of people.

Connecting Your Methods to Your Research Goals

Step 1 Describe how you analyzed your results.

  • Depending on your research questions, you may be mixing quantitative and qualitative analysis – just as you could potentially use both approaches. For example, you might do a statistical analysis, and then interpret those statistics through a particular theoretical lens.

Step 2 Explain how your analysis suits your research goals.

  • For example, suppose you're researching the effect of college education on family farms in rural America. While you could do interviews of college-educated people who grew up on a family farm, that would not give you a picture of the overall effect. A quantitative approach and statistical analysis would give you a bigger picture.

Step 3 Identify how your analysis answers your research questions.

  • If in answering your research questions, your findings have raised other questions that may require further research, state these briefly.
  • You can also include here any limitations to your methods, or questions that weren't answered through your research.

Step 4 Assess whether your findings can be transferred or generalized.

  • Generalization is more typically used in quantitative research. If you have a well-designed sample, you can statistically apply your results to the larger population your sample belongs to.

Template to Write Research Methodology

how to write methodology for qualitative research paper

Community Q&A

AneHane

  • Organize your methodology section chronologically, starting with how you prepared to conduct your research methods, how you gathered data, and how you analyzed that data. [13] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Write your research methodology section in past tense, unless you're submitting the methodology section before the research described has been carried out. [14] X Research source Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Discuss your plans in detail with your advisor or supervisor before committing to a particular methodology. They can help identify possible flaws in your study. [15] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to write methodology for qualitative research paper

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  • ↑ http://expertjournals.com/how-to-write-a-research-methodology-for-your-academic-article/
  • ↑ http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/methodology
  • ↑ https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/dissertation-methodology.html
  • ↑ https://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/4245/05Chap%204_Research%20methodology%20and%20design.pdf
  • ↑ https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/FYP/html/method.htm

About This Article

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

To write a research methodology, start with a section that outlines the problems or questions you'll be studying, including your hypotheses or whatever it is you're setting out to prove. Then, briefly explain why you chose to use either a qualitative or quantitative approach for your study. Next, go over when and where you conducted your research and what parameters you used to ensure you were objective. Finally, cite any sources you used to decide on the methodology for your research. To learn how to justify your choice of methods in your research methodology, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Qualitative Research Paper

October 25, 2023

A qualitative research paper is a type of academic paper that focuses on exploring and understanding a phenomenon in depth, often using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of textual or visual data. Unlike quantitative research which relies on numerical data and statistical analysis, a qualitative research paper aims to provide detailed insights, interpretations, and subjective understandings of the research topic. The purpose of writing a qualitative research paper is to delve into the complexity of the subject matter and provide a rich and comprehensive understanding of it. To write a qualitative research paper effectively, it is crucial to carefully select a research topic, formulate pertinent research questions, conduct a thorough literature review, select an appropriate methodology, collect and analyze data, and present well-supported interpretations and conclusions.

Choosing a Research Topic

Choosing a research topic is a critical first step in writing a qualitative research paper. The topic should be of interest to the researcher and align with their expertise and passion. It is important to select a topic that is specific, manageable, and aligned with the research objectives. One approach is to identify gaps in existing literature and areas that require further exploration. Brainstorming, consulting with peers and mentors, and reviewing recent publications can help in generating ideas.

Once potential topics are identified, it is necessary to evaluate their feasibility and relevance. Consideration should be given to the availability of resources, access to data, ethical considerations, and potential impact. The research topic should be significant, addressing a research gap or contributing to the existing body of knowledge. It is also beneficial to choose a topic that allows for in-depth exploration and provides opportunities for meaningful analysis and interpretation.

Narrow down the topic by clarifying the research questions and objectives. This will refine the focus and guide the research process. It is essential to ensure that the chosen topic is ethically sound and aligns with the research guidelines and regulations. By carefully selecting a research topic, researchers can lay a solid foundation for their qualitative research paper and set themselves up for a successful and impactful study.

Qualitative Research Paper Topics Examples:

  • The lived experiences of nursing home residents
  • An exploration of the impact of social media on mental health
  • Understanding the perspectives of parents of children with autism spectrum disorder
  • The influence of cultural values on leadership styles in multinational organizations
  • The role of spirituality in addiction recovery
  • A phenomenological study of the experience of chronic pain
  • Investigating the benefits and drawbacks of remote working for employees
  • The experiences of international students in higher education
  • The impact of mindfulness practices on stress and anxiety
  • Exploring the factors that contribute to a positive work-life balance in healthcare professionals.

Formulating Research Questions and Objectives

Formulating clear research questions and objectives is a crucial step in writing a qualitative research paper. These questions and objectives guide the research process and provide focus for the study. Here are some tips for formulating research questions and objectives:

  • Start with a broad research question: This will allow for exploration of the research topic and help in identifying key areas of focus.
  • Refine the research question: Narrow down the research question by considering its relevance, feasibility, and practicality.
  • Consider the research objectives: The research objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Use the SMART criteria to refine the research objectives.
  • Ensure coherence between research questions and objectives: The research questions and objectives should work together to provide clarity and direction for the research.
  • Use open-ended questions: Qualitative research involves exploring in-depth subjective experiences and perspectives. Open-ended questions allow for this exploration and provide rich data.
  • Keep the target audience in mind: Formulate research questions and objectives that are relevant and meaningful to the intended audience.

Examples of research questions and objectives:

Research question: How do teachers cope with the challenges of remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Research objectives:

  • To explore the experiences of teachers with remote teaching during the pandemic.
  • To identify the strategies used by teachers to overcome the challenges of remote teaching.
  • To understand the impact of remote teaching on the well-being of teachers.

Conducting a Literature Review

Conducting a literature review is a critical aspect of writing a qualitative research paper. It involves reviewing existing literature on the chosen research topic and identifying gaps or areas that require further exploration. Here are some tips for conducting a literature review:

  • Develop a search strategy: It is essential to develop a search strategy to ensure that relevant literature is captured. Databases such as PubMed, Scopus, and PsycINFO can be used to search for relevant literature.
  • Use keywords: Keywords are essential for ensuring that relevant literature is identified. Start with a broad search, and then narrow down the search using specific keywords.
  • Review the literature: Review the identified literature and assess its quality, relevance, and validity. Identify and summarize key themes, concepts, and findings.
  • Identify gaps in the literature: Identify areas where further research is required. This will provide a basis for formulating research questions and objectives.
  • Document all sources: Keep accurate records of all sources reviewed, including the author, title, publication date, and source.
  • Evaluate the relevance of the literature: Ensure that reviewed literature is relevant by evaluating the date of publication and the credibility of the author and publisher.

Conducting a literature review is a crucial step in writing a qualitative research paper. The review provides a basis for understanding existing knowledge and identifying areas for future research. By carefully reviewing literature, researchers can ensure that their writing is informed and current, and that their research objectives are relevant and significant.

Selecting a Methodology

Selecting the appropriate methodology is a critical step in writing a qualitative research paper. The methodology chosen should align with the research questions and objectives and provide a suitable approach to collect relevant data. Qualitative research methodologies include ethnography, case study, grounded theory, phenomenology, and content analysis.

Researchers need to consider which methodology is best suited for their research questions and objectives. Ethnography and grounded theory are useful when researchers need to explore and describe complex social phenomena. Phenomenology is suited for understanding how individuals perceive or experience specific phenomena. Case study research is appropriate when researchers need to understand or explain a specific case or context. Content analysis is helpful when researchers need to analyze textual or visual data.

Selecting an appropriate methodology is essential to ensure high-quality research that can effectively answer the research questions and objectives. Careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology will ensure that the chosen methodology is best suited to the research project for writing a qualitative research paper.

Collecting Data

Collecting data is a crucial step in a qualitative research project. Data collection methods should be carefully chosen, based on the research questions, objectives, and methodology selected. The most common data collection methods in qualitative research include interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis.

Interviews are common in qualitative research and gather data through structured, semi-structured, or unstructured questions. Focus groups use group discussions to gather data from participants on specific topics. Observation involves collecting data through direct observation of behavior, while document analysis involves analyzing existing documents such as newspapers, journals, or reports.

When selecting a data collection method, it is essential to consider the research question and objective, the availability of participants, and the time and resources available. It is important to ensure that the data collection method is ethical and respects participants’ privacy and confidentiality.

In addition to collecting data, it is essential to document the data obtained. Data documentation should include information such as the date and time of data collection, the data collection method used, the participants’ demographics, and their responses. Further, it is crucial to ensure that the data collected is reliable and valid.

Overall, collecting data is a critical step in a qualitative research project, and researchers must carefully select appropriate data collection methods and document and analyze their data accurately.

Analyzing Data

Analyzing data is a crucial step in writing a qualitative research paper. It involves reviewing and interpreting the data collected to answer the research questions and objectives. Researchers must ensure that the data is analyzed consistently, systematically, and accurately.

Qualitative data analysis methods include thematic analysis, content analysis, and narrative analysis. Thematic analysis involves identifying themes and patterns within the data, while content analysis involves analyzing the frequency and distribution of specific words or phrases. Narrative analysis involves analyzing and interpreting the stories told by participants in the research project.

During data analysis, the researcher must document and track the findings and conclusions in a clear and concise manner. Writing can help to organize thoughts and ideas, making it easier to identify and summarize key themes and patterns.

It is essential to maintain transparency throughout the data analysis process, clearly outlining the steps taken to analyze the data. Researchers must also ensure that the analysis remains true to the data collected and avoid introducing personal bias.

Overall, analyzing data is a critical step in writing a qualitative research paper. By carefully analyzing and interpreting data, researchers can answer research questions and objectives and provide new insights into a specific topic or phenomenon. Writing is crucial throughout the process as it guides the analysis and ensures that the findings are documented and transparent.

Interpreting Results

Interpreting results is a crucial step in writing a qualitative research paper. It involves analyzing the data, identifying key themes, and drawing conclusions based on the findings. Researchers must ensure that the results are accurately and transparently reported.

During the interpretation of results, it is essential to keep an open mind, question assumptions, and support findings with strong evidence from the data collected. The analysis should consider different perspectives, such as the participants’ views and cultural background.

Qualitative research is often subjective, and interpretations of results can vary widely. Therefore, it is crucial to incorporate alternative interpretations and acknowledge any potential limitations or biases in the research process.

Researchers should use writing to convey the findings clearly and concisely, including a comprehensive summary of key themes and conclusions drawn from the data. The discussion of results should connect the research findings to previous literature and highlight the study’s contributions to the field.

In addition, researchers must also consider any practical implications of the research, including suggestions for future research and recommendations for policy or practice. Finally, researchers should ensure that the results are presented in a way that is accessible to a wide audience, including both academic and non-academic communities.

In conclusion, interpreting results from qualitative research is a multi-step process that involves analyzing the data collected, drawing conclusions and taking into account the research limitations, and presenting the findings in a clear, concise, and accessible manner.

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Research Paper Guide

Qualitative Research Method

Nova A.

Qualitative Research - Methods, Types, and Examples

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Qualitative research

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How to Write a Research Methodology for a Research Paper

There are various methods for conducting scientific research. The two broad approaches to data collection include qualitative and quantitative research methods. 

However, it is not easy to decide which one to choose while writing a research paper .

If you know the basic difference between both methods, you will produce a well-written and structured paper. 

In this blog, we have explored what is qualitative research, its nature, purpose, and methods of data collection. By reading this, students can gain a good understanding of qualitative research, enhancing their ability to conduct in-depth studies. 

So keep reading!

Arrow Down

  • 1. What is Qualitative Research - Definition
  • 2. Qualitative Research Methods
  • 3. Types of Qualitative Research
  • 4. Steps in Conducting Qualitative Research
  • 5. Qualitative Research vs Quantitative Research
  • 6. Qualitative Research Topics
  • 7. Qualitative Research Examples

What is Qualitative Research - Definition

Qualitative research is a research methodology that aims to explore and understand the complexities of human behavior, emotions, and experiences through non-numerical data.

Unlike quantitative research, which deals in numbers and statistics, qualitative research is all about revealing the stories, and perspectives that make us uniquely human.

Let's dive deeper and discover why it's a powerful tool in the researcher's arsenal.

Purpose of Qualitative Research Design

Qualitative research simplifies the understanding of complex human behavior and experiences. Its purpose is to:

  • Explore Complex Phenomena: Qualitative research allows us to delve deep into intricate human experiences and behaviors.
  • Understand Motivations: It helps uncover the 'whys' behind actions, shedding light on underlying motivations.
  • Capture Richness: By collecting narratives and stories, qualitative research captures the richness of human life.
  • Generate Hypotheses: It often serves as a foundation for hypothesis generation in further quantitative studies.
  • Inform Decision-Making: Qualitative findings guide decisions in fields like psychology, sociology, and market research.
  • Contextualize Quantitative Data: It provides context to quantitative data, explaining the 'how' and 'why' behind the numbers.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

The following are the main characteristics of qualitative research.

  • The real-world setting is the first important characteristic. It involves various qualitative research methods to study the behavior of participants.
  • Researchers play an essential role in choosing a method and making a plan for conducting research.
  • All qualitative approaches have their significance and are used for different scenarios.
  • Qualitative research questions are beneficial for complex reasoning to get the right results.
  • It is also used to explain the outcome of quantitative research methods.
  • The role of participants is essential as it brings meaning to the study.
  • Qualitative research is flexible and can be changed at any stage of the research work.
  • It also describes the research problem by developing a complex cause-and-effect relationship between the variables. 
  • Data analysis in qualitative research is an ongoing process.
  • Conclusions can be drawn based on the outcomes of the research process.
  • Participants are selected from a particular and relevant group.

Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods - MyPerfectWords.com

A detailed description of the major qualitative approaches to collecting data is given below.

In-depth Interview

In-depth interviews involve one-on-one conversations to gather detailed information about a specific topic. This method allows researchers to explore participants' motivations, inspirations, and body language.

Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, via email, or over the phone for flexibility.

Focus Groups

Focus groups consist of small group discussions (5-15 participants) on specific topics, ideal for 'what,' 'why,' and 'how' questions about society and the environment. They can be conducted in-person or online, offering versatility in data collection.

Direct Observation

Direct observation collects subjective data through the five senses without interference. It focuses on characteristics, not measurements, often in public settings where privacy isn't a concern.

Open-Ended Surveys

Open-ended surveys use structured or unstructured questions to collect information on respondents' opinions and beliefs, providing insights into their perspectives.

Participant Observation

Participant observation involves researchers actively participating in events while observing people in natural settings, offering firsthand experience and insights.

Literature Review

The literature review method interprets words and images from published works to analyze social life. It examines word usage in context to draw inferences and identify meanings.

Types of Qualitative Research

Types of Qualitative Research - MyPerfectWords.com

The following is a comprehensive overview of the types of qualitative research methods.

The case study research method has now become the most valuable method of conducting research. It has evolved in recent years and is used to explain an entity in detail.

Moreover, it also involves a thorough understanding of different types of data sources. These include interviews, documents, reports, and observations.  Mainly, this research type is used in different areas like education, social sciences, etc.

Ethnographic Research

The ethnographic research method is the most familiar and in-depth observational method. It focuses on people and their behaviors in the natural environment.

Here, a researcher needs to adapt to the environment and society of the target audience to conduct better research. It helps to get a first-hand experience of the natural setting, including the customs, traditions, and culture of the subjects.

This type of research is a challenging and time-consuming process as it can last from days to years. However, geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.

Grounded Theory

While other methods discuss and focus on an event or activity. The grounded theory method deeply looks into the explanation and the main theory behind the event.

It requires the researcher to observe the interviews and documents to build a theory. Moreover, it usually starts with a question or collection of data.  However, the sample sizes in this method are usually larger than in other methods. 

Phenomenological Method

This type is used in the description of an event, phenomenon, and activity. Here, methods like interviews, reading documents, visiting places, and watching videos are used.

This will help to add new insights to the existing data analysis by checking its reliability and validity.

Check out the video to learn more about the phenomenological method of qualitative research!

Narrative Method 

The narrative method is used to gather data from subjects through interviews or documents. Later, the gathered information is used to derive answers and suggestions for future research. 

Historical Method

The historical method involves the examination of past events to draw conclusions and predictions about the future. The steps included in the method are formulating a plan, gathering data, and analyzing the sources. 

Steps in Conducting Qualitative Research

Conducting qualitative research is a systematic process that involves several key steps to ensure the collection of meaningful data.

Here's a chronological guide to conducting qualitative research:

Step 1: Define Research Objectives

Begin by clearly defining the research objectives and questions. What do you want to learn, explore, or understand through your qualitative research? This step sets the direction for your study.

Step 2: Select a Research Design

Choose an appropriate research design based on your objectives. Common designs include case studies, ethnography, grounded theory, or phenomenology. The design informs your data collection and analysis methods.

Step 3: Sampling Methods

Decide on your sampling strategy. Will you use purposive sampling to select specific participants who are most relevant to your research question? Or will you employ snowball sampling to find participants through referrals?

Step 4: Data Collection Techniques

Determine the data collection techniques that align with your research design. Depending on your approach, this may involve conducting in-depth interviews, facilitating focus groups, observing participants, or analyzing existing documents and content.

Step 5: Plan Interviews and Questions

If conducting interviews, create interview guides with open-ended questions. These questions should allow participants to share their thoughts, experiences, and perspectives freely. Ensure that questions are related to your research objectives.

Step 6: Conducting Data Collection

Collect data according to your chosen methods. For interviews, arrange and conduct interviews with participants, ensuring a comfortable and open environment. If using other techniques, follow the procedures outlined in your research design.

Step 7: Data Recording and Management

Record data meticulously. This may involve audio or video recordings, note-taking, or transcribing interviews. Organize and store data securely to maintain confidentiality.

Step 8: Data Analysis

Qualitative data can be in the form of interviews, transcripts, surveys, videos, audio, etc. The steps involved in qualitative data analysis are given below.   

  • Organize the Data: This can be done by transcribing interviews or making detailed notes.
  • Review the Data: Examine the data, ideas, and patterns.
  • Establish a Data Coding System: Generate a set of codes that you can apply to classify your data.
  • Assign Codes to the Data: For qualitative survey analysis, create codes, and add them to your system.
  • Identify Themes: Link the codes together into cohesive themes.

Similarly, the following are different approaches to analyzing qualitative data. 

  • Content Analysis – It is used to categorize common words and ideas.
  • Thematic Analysis – thematic analysis in qualitative research is used to identify and interpret different themes and patterns.
  • Textual Analysis – This type of analysis is used to examine the structure, content, and design of text.
  • Discourse Analysis – It is used to study how a language is used to achieve specific results.

Step 9: Validity and Reliability

Ensure the validity and reliability of your findings. Consistently apply your chosen analysis methods and cross-check interpretations with colleagues or participants to validate your results.

Step 10: Ethical Considerations

Throughout the research process, uphold ethical principles. Protect the privacy and anonymity of participants, obtain informed consent, and address any ethical concerns that may arise.

Qualitative Research vs Quantitative Research

Qualitative and quantitative research are two distinct approaches to conducting research. Here are the main differences between qualitative vs. quantitative research.

Looking for a more detailed comparison between these 2 types of research? Check out our qualitative vs. quantitative research blog.

Qualitative Research Topics

To write an amazing qualitative research paper, here are some interesting topics for you.

  • The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children's Education
  • Social Isolation and Loneliness Among the Elderly
  • Factors Influencing Consumer Choices in Sustainable Fashion
  • Coping Mechanisms for Stress Among College Students
  • Experiences of Immigrant Workers in Low-Wage Jobs
  • The Role of Music in Expressing Emotions and Well-being
  • Perceptions of Mental Health Stigma in Ethnic Communities
  • Exploring the Transition to Parenthood: Challenges and Joys
  • How Cultural Differences Influence Conflict Resolution Styles
  • The Influence of Family Dynamics on Eating Habits and Nutrition in Children

We have also compiled a list of research paper topics in case you need more unique ideas.

Qualitative Research Examples

Check out the examples of qualitative research to get a better idea of writing a qualitative research study.

Qualitative Research Example

Qualitative Research Paper Sample

Qualitative Research Limitations

The following discussed are the qualitative research limitations. 

  • The qualitative research data involve fewer expenses and time. 
  • It does not have large-scale data.
  • It requires a lot of time to manage, gather, and analyze data.
  • It is not possible to verify the results as it is open-ended research. 
  • It is difficult to analyze the credibility and validity of data because of its subjective nature.
  • Expert knowledge of the area is necessary to understand the collected information.

In Conclusion, the qualitative research method shows the idea and perception of your targeted audience. However, not every student is able to choose the right approach while writing a research paper. It requires a thorough understanding of both qualitative research and quantitative research methods.

This is where the professional help from  MyPerfectWords.com comes in. We are a legit paper writing service that provides reliable help with your academic assignments. 

Contact our customer support and place " write my research paper " order today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the two methods in research study.

FAQ Icon

There are two types of studies that involve observing people during a study, participant observation and non-participant observation. 

Why is qualitative research better?

Because qualitative research includes the ability to gain unique insights through deep exploration. Survey respondents are able to disclose their experiences, thoughts, and feelings without constraint or influence from an outside source. 

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Nova Allison is a Digital Content Strategist with over eight years of experience. Nova has also worked as a technical and scientific writer. She is majorly involved in developing and reviewing online content plans that engage and resonate with audiences. Nova has a passion for writing that engages and informs her readers.

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Scope and Delimitations in Academic Research

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Table of contents

  • 1.1 Examples of Elements Included in the Scope
  • 2.1 Examples of Delimitations in Research
  • 3 Determining the Scope and Delimitation
  • 4 Writing the Scope and Delimitations Section
  • 5 Conclusion

Understanding the scope and delimitations of a study is crucial for defining its parameters and ensuring focused research efforts. What are delimitations in a research study? These components establish the boundaries within which the research will operate and clarify what the study aims to explore and achieve. This article delves into the significance of clearly defining the scope and every delimitation, how they guide the research focus, and their roles in shaping the research process. Additionally, it provides insights into determining these aspects and articulating them effectively in a research proposal or paper. Transitioning smoothly into the main discussion, let’s explore the importance of scope in research, guiding the focus.

The importance of Clearly Defining the Scope of the Study for Guiding Research Focus

The scope of research delineates its extent or range of inquiry, setting clear parameters for what the study will cover. It’s a foundational aspect that guides every step of the research process, from the formulation of research questions to the interpretation of results. Defining the scope helps in focusing the research efforts, ensuring that the study remains manageable and within realistic bounds.

Understanding the scope and limitation of the study allows researchers to allocate resources efficiently, ensuring that every aspect of the study receives adequate attention. It also helps in avoiding the common pitfall of overreaching, which can dilute the research’s impact and make findings less actionable. By setting a defined scope, researchers can more easily communicate their work’s relevance, limitations and delimitations in the research process to stakeholders, enhancing the credibility and applicability of their findings. Furthermore, a well-defined scope can facilitate a more targeted and effective literature review, laying a solid foundation for the research study.

When navigating the complexities of defining a study’s scope, researchers might seek external support to ensure their research is concise, well-structured, and impactful. A writing service , PapersOwl offers a spectrum tailored to meet academic research’s unique demands. Their expertise can be particularly beneficial in refining research proposals, ensuring the scope is clearly communicated and aligned with academic standards. Engaging with such a service allows researchers to benefit from professional insights, which can enhance the coherence and focus of their work. This collaboration can be instrumental in identifying the most relevant study areas and avoiding unnecessary diversions. With PapersOwl’s support, researchers can ensure their project’s scope is well-defined and compellingly presented, making a strong case for its significance and feasibility. This partnership can be a strategic step towards achieving a study’s specific objectives, ensuring it contributes valuable insights within its defined boundaries.

Examples of Elements Included in the Scope

Defining the scope of a research project is akin to drawing a map for a journey; it outlines the terrain to be explored and the boundaries within which the exploration will occur. This clarity is essential for guiding the research process, ensuring the investigation remains focused and relevant. The scope encompasses various elements, each contributing to the overall direction and integrity of the study. Let’s delve into some of these key elements:

  • Research Objectives : The specific aim the study is designed to achieve.
  • Geographical Coverage: The physical or virtual locations where the research is conducted.
  • Time Frame: The period during which the study takes place, which could range from a few days to several years.
  • Subject: The specific topics or issues the research intends to address.
  • Population Being Studied: The group of individuals, organizations, or phenomena being investigated.

These components of the scope serve as critical navigational tools in the research journey. They ensure that the study remains grounded in its objectives, relevant to its intended audience or population, and manageable within its temporal and geographical constraints. By carefully defining these elements at the outset, researchers can avoid common pitfalls such as scope creep, where the study’s focus broadens uncontrollably, potentially diluting its impact and significance. A well-defined scope is instrumental in crafting a focused, coherent, and impactful research project.

Role of Delimitations in Qualitative Research

Delimitations in research examples specify the boundaries set by the investigator on what the study will not cover, distinguishing them from limitations, which are potential weaknesses in the study not controlled by the researcher. Delimitations are choices made to narrow the scope of a study, focusing on specific aspects while excluding others. In the intricate tapestry of research design, delimitations play a pivotal role in sharpening the focus and enhancing the clarity of a study. By explicitly stating what the research will not explore, delimitations help prevent the dispersion of the research efforts across too broad an area, thereby increasing the depth and specificity of the investigation. This strategic narrowing allows researchers to concentrate their inquiries on areas most likely to yield impactful insights, making efficient use of available resources and time.

One might wonder how to establish these boundaries effectively without compromising the potential breadth of discovery. Here, the expertise provided by platforms like PapersOwl, particularly their research paper help service, becomes invaluable. Their seasoned professionals can offer guidance on crafting a research design that is both focused and flexible, assisting in identifying and justifying delimitations that enhance the study’s relevance and feasibility. Through such collaboration, researchers can balance the scope and delimitation of the study, ensuring that it remains grounded in its objectives while open to unforeseen insights.

Furthermore, acknowledging delimitations in a research paper demonstrates a researcher’s critical understanding of their study’s context and constraints, enhancing the credibility of their work. It shows a mindful engagement with the research process, recognizing that by setting deliberate boundaries, the study can delve more deeply and meaningfully into its chosen area of inquiry. Thus, when thoughtfully articulated with support from research paper writing help, like that offered by PapersOwl, delimitation in research becomes a testament to the rigor and integrity of its effort.

Examples of Delimitations in Research

Delimitations in research are akin to the guardrails on a highway; they keep the investigation on track and prevent it from veering into less relevant or overly broad territories. Below are some examples of how researchers can apply delimitations to fine-tune their investigations:

  • Restricting the Study to Certain Age Groups: Focusing on a specific demographic, such as teenagers or the elderly.
  • Geographic Locations: Limiting the research to a particular country, city, or region.
  • Specific Periods: Studying a phenomenon during a particular time frame, ignoring other periods.

Setting these research delimitations is not about narrowing the vision of the research, but rather about sharpening its focus. It allows for a more thorough and nuanced exploration of the chosen subjects, leading to more precise findings and general delimitation meaning in research. Delimitations highlight the researcher’s awareness of the study’s scope and commitment to conducting a focused, manageable investigation.

Determining the Scope and Delimitation

Identifying the scope and delimitations of your research involves understanding the research problem deeply and recognizing what is feasible within the constraints of time, resources, and data availability. Strategies for determining these include:

  • Reviewing existing literature to identify gaps and opportunities.
  • Consulting with experts or advisors to refine research questions.
  • Considering data availability and methodological constraints.

Balancing the scope and delimitations involves ensuring the research is neither too broad, unmanageable, nor too narrow, limiting its significance. Crafting a research project that strikes the right balance between breadth and depth is a nuanced task. It requires a researcher to be acutely aware of where their study begins and ends, what it encompasses, and what it intentionally leaves out. This equilibrium is not found in isolation but through a diligent exploration of the field and an understanding of how to best position one’s work within it. A key step in this process is identifying and sourcing relevant literature and data, which can significantly influence the scope of research.

Leveraging resources such as PapersOwl’s guide on how to find sources for research papers can prove invaluable in this phase. This platform provides insights into locating credible and relevant information, ensuring that researchers build their work upon a solid foundation of existing knowledge. By understanding how to navigate the vast, effective ocean of available data, researchers can make informed decisions about the direction and limits of their study. This meticulous preparation is crucial for defining the scope and delimitations and justifying them within the context of the research proposal or paper. It demonstrates a researcher’s commitment to rigor and depth, showing that their choices are informed by a comprehensive understanding of the subject and its existing body of literature.

Writing the Scope and Delimitations Section

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Articulating the scope and delimitations in a research paper or proposal is crucial for setting clear expectations. It should clearly define delimitations and what the study will and will not cover, providing a rationale for these choices. Effective wording and structure involve:

  • Stating the research objectives and questions upfront.
  • Describing the research methodology , data collection methods and analysis.
  • Outlining the geographical coverage, time frame, and subject matter.
  • Clearly stating the delimitations and the reasons behind them.

The presentation of the scope and delimitations within a research document not only guides the readers through the intentions of the research but also establishes a framework for evaluating the findings. It’s a critical section where transparency and precision are paramount, allowing the audience to grasp the extent of the study and the rationale behind its boundaries. This transparency is essential for the credibility of the research, as it demonstrates a conscious and deliberate effort to focus the investigation and acknowledges the existence of boundaries that the study does not cross.

To ensure clarity and impact, this section should seamlessly integrate with the overall narrative of the research proposal or paper. Researchers are advised to avoid jargon and overly technical language, making the research scope and delimitations accessible to a broader audience. This includes a layperson who may not have deep expertise in the field but an interest in the study’s outcomes. Additionally, it is beneficial to highlight how the defined study scope and delimitations contribute to addressing the research problem, filling knowledge gaps, or exploring uncharted territories.

Moreover, this part of the document offers an opportunity to discuss how the chosen delimitations enhance the study’s focus and depth. By justifying the exclusions, researchers can address potential critiques head-on, reinforcing the methodological choices and underscoring the study’s contribution to the field. This careful articulation ensures that the research is perceived as a well-thought-out endeavor, grounded in a strategic approach to inquiry.

The scope and delimitations of a study are foundational elements that guide the research process, setting clear boundaries and focusing efforts. By defining these aspects clearly, researchers can provide a clear roadmap for their investigation, ensuring that their work is both manageable and relevant. By consciously deciding what to exclude from the study, researchers can intensify their focus on the chosen subject, ensuring that the research efforts are concentrated where they are most needed and can be most effective. These self-imposed boundaries are critical for maintaining the study’s coherence and depth. This clarity not only aids in conducting the research but also in effectively communicating its implications, limits, and outcomes.

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how to write methodology for qualitative research paper

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Please note you do not have access to teaching notes, negotiating with technology: advancing the virtual in qualitative research methods.

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN : 1443-9883

Article publication date: 9 April 2024

This study aims to describe key elements that are critical to virtual qualitative research especially while working with practitioners as participants.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper takes a reflexive researcher approach using a case study to explore how researchers adopted a qualitative research approach using digital technology. We use five principles suggested by Boland et al . (2022) as a framework to consider and reflect on our experiences as researchers and those of our participants.

We highlight the gatekeeper’s support, trusted relationship with the organisations, interpersonal skills of interviewers, stringent measures of securing data and shared experiences of interviewee and interviewers helped complete virtual research. We recommend that four key factors such as digital competency, feasibility, flexibility and resilience should be considered while undertaking or commissioning virtual, qualitative research studies.

Originality/value

Social care practitioners and qualitative researchers increasingly negotiate with digital technologies to undertake their work. In this paper, we evidence how online qualitative approaches can be effective provided challenges are dealt with diligently in each stage of the research process.

  • Virtual research
  • Qualitative research
  • Remote data collection
  • Online interviews
  • Reflexive analysis

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Susie Hawkes for contributing to the data collection phase. We would also like to thank Living Without Abuse for their support in this study.

Kanjilal, M. , Davis, J. and Arnull, E. (2024), "Negotiating with technology: advancing the virtual in qualitative research methods", Qualitative Research Journal , Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRJ-12-2023-0187

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Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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ScienceDaily

After being insulted, writing down your feelings on paper then getting rid of it reduces anger

A research group in Japan has discovered that writing down one's reaction to a negative incident on a piece of paper and then shredding it or throwing it away reduces feelings of anger.

"We expected that our method would suppress anger to some extent," lead researcher Nobuyuki Kawai said. "However, we were amazed that anger was eliminated almost entirely."

This research is important because controlling anger at home and in the workplace can reduce negative consequences in our jobs and personal lives. Unfortunately, many anger management techniques proposed by specialists lack empirical research support. They can also be difficult to recall when angry.

The results of this study, published in Scientific Reports , are the culmination of years of previous research on the association between the written word and anger reduction. It builds on work showing how interactions with physical objects can control a person's mood.

For their project, Kawai and his graduate student Yuta Kanaya, both at the Graduate School of Informatics, Nagoya University, asked participants to write brief opinions about important social problems, such as whether smoking in public should be outlawed. They then told them that a doctoral student at Nagoya University would evaluate their writing.

However, the doctoral students doing the evaluation were plants. Regardless of what the participants wrote, the evaluators scored them low on intelligence, interest, friendliness, logic, and rationality. To really drive home the point, the doctoral students also wrote the same insulting comment: "I cannot believe an educated person would think like this. I hope this person learns something while at the university."

After handing out these negative comments, the researchers asked the participants to write their thoughts on the feedback, focusing on what triggered their emotions. Finally, one group of participants was told to either dispose of the paper they wrote in a trash can or keep it in a file on their desk. A second group was told to destroy the document in a shredder or put it in a plastic box.

The students were then asked to rate their anger after the insult and after either disposing of or keeping the paper. As expected, all participants reported a higher level of anger after receiving insulting comments. However, the anger levels of the individuals who discarded their paper in the trash can or shredded it returned to their initial state after disposing of the paper. Meanwhile, the participants who held on to a hard copy of the insult experienced only a small decrease in their overall anger.

Kawai imagines using his research to help businesspeople who find themselves in stressful situations. "This technique could be applied in the moment by writing down the source of anger as if taking a memo and then throwing it away when one feels angry in a business situation," he explained.

Along with its practical benefits, this discovery may shed light on the origins of the Japanese cultural tradition known as hakidashisara ( hakidashi refers to the purging or spitting out of something, and sara refers to a dish or plate) at the Hiyoshi shrine in Kiyosu, Aichi Prefecture, just outside of Nagoya. Hakidashisara is an annual festival where people smash small discs representing things that make them angry. Their findings may explain the feeling of relief that participants report after leaving the festival.

  • Anger Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Disorders and Syndromes
  • Educational Psychology
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Anger management
  • Social psychology
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Self-awareness
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Collaboration

Story Source:

Materials provided by Nagoya University . Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference :

  • Yuta Kanaya, Nobuyuki Kawai. Anger is eliminated with the disposal of a paper written because of provocation . Scientific Reports , 2024; 14 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-024-57916-z

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