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Research Methodology Chapter in Dissertation or Thesis (Example) 

Research Methodology Chapter in Dissertation or Thesis (Example)

What (exactly) is the methodology chapter in a dissertation or thesis?

The methodology chapter for your dissertation is a detailed description of the research methodology employed in a study. It outlines the research design, sampling techniques, data collection procedures, and analysis strategies. This often comes after a literature review chapter. You can learn more on how to conduct a critical literature review here.

This chapter justifies the chosen approaches, detailing the steps taken to gather and analyze data. It also addresses measures for ensuring validity and reliability, ethical considerations, and limitations of the study.

The methodology chapter provides transparency, enabling others to evaluate the rigor and replicability of the research. It serves as a comprehensive blueprint, guiding the reader through the systematic processes undertaken to address the research questions or hypotheses.

Outline of Research Methodology Chapter
Outline of Research Methodology Chapter

Tips for writing a methodology chapter in a dissertation

This section outlines some tips that you can use to learn how to write the research methodology chapter for your thesis or research paper:

  • Provide a clear rationale and justification for your chosen research methodology.
  • Use precise language and maintain a logical flow in describing the research procedures.
  • Cite relevant literature to support your methodological choices.
  • Be transparent about limitations, assumptions, and potential biases.
  • Clearly explain data collection tools, analysis techniques, and ethical considerations.
  • Ensure alignment between your methodology and research questions or hypotheses.

Steps in Writing a Successful Methodology Chapter in a Dissertation or Thesis

When writing a dissertation, make sure that your methodology chapter is structured in s specific manner to enable the reader understand the specific approaches and procedures that were followed in the entire study. An extensive structure of this chapter is often presented in research onion format.

Information you present in this chapter should be consistent with those in the introduction chapter of your dissertation.

In this section, I will outline and explain the purpose of each section of the methodology chapter, with examples. You can easily use this guide to write your methodology and ensure validity of your research.

All the examples will be structured based on the research topic:

Topic: Exploring the Lived Experiences of First-Generation College Students Navigating Campus Life and Academic Challenges

Step 1: Introduce the Research Methodology

In this section, you should reinform your readers about the purpose and importance of conducting research and explain all the methods you adopted in your dissertation writing process.

  • State the research purpose, questions, and objectives.
  • Provide the rationale for selecting the specific research methodology.
  • Discuss the underlying philosophical assumptions guiding the methodology.
  • Give an overview of the research design.
  • Explain the scope, delimitations, and significance of the study.

Example of introduction section of methodology chapter

The primary aim of this qualitative study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the lived experiences of first-generation college students and the challenges they faced in navigating campus life and academics. A phenomenological approach guided the methodology, aligning with the interpretive philosophical paradigm to explore the essence of participants’ subjective experiences. Semi-structured interviews allowed for rich data collection on students’ perspectives, obstacles encountered, coping strategies employed, and the meaning ascribed to their journeys. The research sought to shed light on this underrepresented population’s realities, contributing insights to inform supportive practices and interventions within higher education institutions.

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Step 2: Define Your Research Philosophy

You can successfully write your research philosophy section by following these simple steps:

  • State the type of research philosophy that you have adopted in your study. Remember, different philosophies align with different research methods.
    • If you are conducting a qualitative research methodology then you will adopt interpretivism.
    • If using quantitative research then you will adopt positivism.
    • If using mixed methods research you will adopt pragmatist philosophy.
  • Explain or discuss the fundamental assumptions associated with the chosen paradigm regarding the ontology, epistemology and axiology of the adopted philosophy and provide scholarly citation or referencing.
  • Justify the paradigm’s alignment by explaining how the selected paradigm aligns with your research purpose and questions.
  • Describe why this philosophical stance is appropriate for your study

Here is an example of the research philosophy section:

The present study adopted an interpretive/constructivist research philosophy. The interpretive/constructivist paradigm views reality as subjective and socially constructed by individuals based on their experiences and interactions (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This philosophy was adopted because the aim was to deeply understand the lived experiences and meaning-making of first-generation college students, which aligns with the interpretivist worldview. Alternative philosophies like positivism were not suitable as they view reality as objective and independent of human experience (Scotland, 2012).  The interpretive philosophy was justified for this study as it enabled exploring the contextualized experiences and perceived challenges through the voices and perspectives of first-generation students themselves. This aligned with the goal of deeply understanding this phenomenon from the participants’ viewpoint.

Step 3: Define Your Research Methodology

You can successfully write your research methodology section by following these simple steps:

  • State the research methodology that you have adopted in your study. This is the section you specify whether your research is qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods research.
  • Define the adopted research methodology and support your explanation with scholarly literature. You must cite or reference sentence explaining the meaning or defining your selected methodology. The information should support quantitative and qualitative knowledge in research.
  • Justify selection or adoption of the defined methodology and support your arguments with evidence from the existing literature.
  • Compare and contrast efficiency of your adopted methodology with the existing alternatives, and justify why your methodology was the most appropriate for the research.

Here is an example of the research methodology section:

The present study adopted a qualitative research methodology. According to Creswell and Poth (2018), qualitative research methodology is an approach for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem. A qualitative methodology was selected as it aligns with the aim of exploring the lived experiences and meaning-making of first-generation college students navigating campus life and academic challenges. While quantitative methods are valuable for testing hypotheses and analyzing numerical data (Bowling, 2014), they are limited in capturing the nuanced, contextualized realities of individuals. In contrast, the inductive and flexible nature of qualitative inquiry enabled an open and in-depth examination of the participants’ subjective experiences (Maxwell, 2013; Patton, 2015). This approach facilitated a richer understanding of the multifaceted challenges faced by first-generation students, which may not have been possible through quantitative techniques alone. Compared to mixed methods, which combine qualitative and quantitative approaches, a solely qualitative methodology was deemed most appropriate for this exploratory study. The emphasis was on gaining a comprehensive understanding of a specific phenomenon rather than triangulating different data sources or methods.

Step 4: Define Your Research Approach

You can successfully write your research approach section by following these simple steps:

  • State the research approach adopted in your study. Remember, deductive approach is for quantitative research, inductive approach is for qualitative research methodology, and abductive approach is for mixed-methods research.
  • Define the adopted approach and support your explanations with scholarly literature by properly citing or referencing.
  • Justify selection or adoption of the specific research approach in your study compared to the other types available.

Here is an example of the research approach section:

The present study adopted an inductive research approach, which is aligned with qualitative inquiry. An inductive approach involves building from the data to broad themes to a generalized model or theory (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This approach was selected as it enables an open exploration of the lived experiences of first-generation college students, without being constrained by predetermined theories or hypotheses. Unlike a deductive approach used in quantitative studies to test existing theories (Timmermans & Tavory, 2012), the inductive nature of this qualitative research methodology allowed for a rich understanding of the participants’ perspectives and meaning-making. Compared to an abductive approach, a solely inductive qualitative approach was deemed most appropriate for the in-depth examination of this understudied phenomenon.

Step 5: Define Your Research Design

You can follow these simple steps when writing the methodology chapter to define the design for your research project:

  • State the research design adopted in your study. Remember, the design should align with the adopted research methodology.
    • If you adopted qualitative research methodology, then these are the designs that you can adopt: Grounded theory, ethnographic, narrative research, historical, case studies, and phenomenology.
    • If you adopted quantitative research method, then these are the designs that you can adopt: descriptive, correlational, quasi-experimental, and experimental design.
    • If you adopted mixed-methods research, then these are the designs that you can adopt: sequential explanatory design, sequential exploratory design, sequential transformative design, concurrent triangulation design, concurrent embedded design, and concurrent transformative design.
  • Define the adopted research design and support your explanations with scholarly literature by properly citing or referencing.
  • Justify selection or adoption of the specific research design in your study compared to the other types available.

Here is an example of the research design section:

The present qualitative study employed a phenomenological research design. Phenomenology is defined as “a study that describes the common meaning for several individuals of their lived experiences of a concept or a phenomenon” (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 75). This design was chosen as it aligns with the aim of exploring the essence of first-generation college students’ experiences navigating campus life and academics. Unlike other qualitative designs like grounded theory or ethnography, phenomenology focuses on understanding the shared lived realities of a particular group (Patton, 2015). By engaging participants who have directly encountered the phenomenon under investigation, a phenomenological approach enabled an in-depth examination of their perspectives, challenges, and meaning-making processes (Moustakas, 1994). This design facilitated a rich understanding of the common experiences within this understudied population.

Step 6: Specify Your Study Population and Sampling Approach

You can successfully write your study population and sampling approach section by following these simple steps:

  • State the study population for your research. This is the general population which your study is about. And justify why this population is important for your research.
  • State the sampling approach adopted in your research.
  • Define the sampling approach and support your arguments with scholarly evidence by citing or referencing appropriately.
  • Justify the adoption of that specific sampling approach.
  • Define the inclusion criteria that were used for identifying and selecting the most appropriate members of the study population in your research.
  • Describe how the participants were identified and selected. How were the participants contacted or informed about the study?
  • You must also define and support with scholarly literature the method used for recruiting the participants.
  • State the number of number of participants initially targeted in your proposal and the number of participants included in the actual study. This is the sample size in your methodological approach.

Here is an example of the study population and sampling approach section:

The study population comprised first-generation college students, defined as individuals whose parents did not complete a bachelor’s degree (Redford & Mulvaney Hoyer, 2017). Exploring the experiences of this underrepresented group is crucial for understanding the unique challenges they face and informing supportive practices within higher education institutions. A purposive sampling approach was adopted, which involves “selecting individuals and sites for study because they can purposefully inform an understanding of the research problem and central phenomenon in the study” (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 158). This approach aligns with the phenomenological design’s aim of capturing rich, contextualized accounts from individuals who have directly experienced the phenomenon of interest (Patton, 2015). The inclusion criteria required participants to be currently enrolled first-generation college students navigating campus life and academics. Participants were identified and recruited through collaboration with the university’s first-generation student support services office, which disseminated study information and invitations. Snowball sampling, where existing participants recommend potential candidates (Naderifar et al., 2017), further facilitated recruitment. The initial target was 12-15 participants, and the final sample consisted of 14 first-generation students who participated in in-depth interviews.

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Step 7: Describe Your Data Collection Methods

This is a very important section of your research methodology chapter as it describes data collection methods used in your research process. The section must describe the process used to collect and analyze data in order to answer your research question.

You can successfully write your data collection methods section by following these simple steps:

  • State the method used for collecting data in your research. Remember, the adopted method should be specific and aligns with your research methods.
    • If you are conducting a qualitative study, these are some of the methods that you can use for collecting your data: interviews, focus groups, observation, participant observation, field notes, document analysis, visual methods, diaries or journals.
    • If you are conducting a quantitative study, these are some of the methods that you can use for collecting your data: surveys, experiments, observations, structured interviews, questionnaires.
  • Define and support your explanations about the adopted data collection methods using scholarly literature.
  • Describe how the actual data collection process was conducted. You must describe the procedure you adopted when collecting data to ensure replicability of your study.
  • Compare efficiency of your adopted data collection methods with alternative approaches in order to justify why you chose that specific data collection method.
  • It is a good practice to attach sample of a the tool, such as questionnaire or survey, that you used during data collection in the Appendix section of the paper.

Here is an example of the data collection methods section:

For this qualitative study exploring the lived experiences of first-generation college students, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were employed as the primary data collection method. Interviews are widely recognized as an effective means of eliciting rich, detailed accounts of individuals’ experiences and perceptions (Creswell & Poth, 2018). The semi-structured format allowed for flexibility in probing emergent themes while ensuring consistent coverage of key topics. Participants were recruited through purposive sampling and interviewed individually in a private setting. Interviews averaged 60-90 minutes, were audio-recorded with consent, and followed an interview protocol to maintain consistency. This approach yielded comprehensive, first-hand narratives that would be difficult to obtain through alternative methods like surveys or focus groups (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). While more time-intensive than quantitative methods, the depth and nuance captured through interviews was essential for fully understanding this phenomenon.

Step 8: Describe Your Data Analysis Methods

You can successfully write your data analysis section by following these simple steps:

  • State the method used for analyzing data in your research. Remember, the adopted method should be specific and aligns with your research methods.
    • If you are conducting a qualitative study, these are some of the methods that you can use for analyzing your data: thematic analysis, content analysis, narrative analysis, grounded theory, phenomenological analysis, and discourse analysis.
    • If you are conducting a quantitative study, these are some of the methods that you can use for analyzing your data: descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, regression analysis, factor analysis, cluster analysis, and structural equation modeling (SEM).
  • Define and support your explanations about the adopted data analysis methods using scholarly literature.
  • State the specific tools or software used for analyzing your data.
    • If you are conducting a qualitative study, these are some of the tools or software that you can use for analyzing your data: NVivo, Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, Dedoose, QDA Miner.
    • If you are conducting a quantitative study, these are some of the tools or software that you can use for analyzing your data: SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences), SAS (Statistical Analysis System), and R.
  • Describe how the actual data analysis process was conducted. You must describe the procedure you adopted when analyzing data to ensure replicability of your study.
  • Compare efficiency of your adopted data analysis methods with alternative approaches in order to justify why you chose that specific data collection method.

Here is an example of the data analysis methods section:

The data analysis process for this qualitative study exploring first-generation college students’ experiences employed thematic analysis, a method well-suited for identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns within data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Interview transcripts underwent open coding to inductively derive initial codes grounded in the data. These codes were then categorized into broader themes that captured key concepts and experiences. Constant comparative methods were used, continually comparing data segments to refine the developing codes and themes (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Researcher triangulation, with multiple researchers analyzing the data, enhanced the credibility of findings. This rigorous thematic approach provides a systematic yet flexible technique for thoroughly interrogating rich qualitative data (Nowell et al., 2017). While more time-intensive than software-driven methods, the iterative thematic analysis process enabled a nuanced understanding that numeric coding struggles to capture. Overall, thematic analysis aligned well with the study’s exploratory aims and interpretive paradigm.

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Step 9: Discuss all the Applied Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations in research are vital to protect the rights, dignity, and well-being of participants, maintain scientific integrity, adhere to legal and institutional policies, mitigate potential risks, ensure informed consent, maintain confidentiality, and uphold ethical principles like beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, and respect for persons.

You can successfully write your ethical consideration section by following these simple steps:

  • Outline the process followed to obtain ethical approval from the relevant committee(s) or institutional review board(s) for conducting the research.
  • Describe the procedures for ensuring informed consent, voluntary participation, and providing necessary information to the research participants.
  • Explain the measures taken to maintain confidentiality, anonymity, data security, and protect the privacy of participants throughout the research process.
  • Identify any potential risks to participants and the strategies employed to mitigate or minimize these risks, as well as the potential benefits of the research.
  • State the ethical principles, guidelines, regulations, and institutional policies adhered to throughout the research, ensuring respect for persons, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.

Here is an example of the ethical consideration section:

The study adhered to ethical protocols, with approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB #2023-0812). Informed consent detailing study procedures, risks/benefits, and withdrawal rights, as described in the study by Creswell and Poth (2018) was obtained. Anonymity was preserved through de-identification of transcripts. Interviews were conducted privately and empathetically to minimize psychological risks. Secure data storage and destruction timelines were followed. The researcher reflected on potential biases and power dynamics, building trust and giving voice to participants’ perspectives (Karnieli-Miller et al., 2009). Participants received university counseling resources. Overall, the study upheld ethical principles of beneficence, respect, and justice, with protocols in place for voluntary participation, confidentiality, minimizing harm, and authentic representation of participant experiences.

Step 10: Report the Limitations and Delimitations

Limitations are potential weaknesses or shortcomings of the study that are often beyond the researcher’s control.

Delimitations are conscious boundaries or exclusionary criteria set by the researcher to narrow the study’s scope.

Limitations can affect generalizability, while delimitations define the parameters within which findings apply.

You can successfully write your limitations and delimitations section by following these simple steps:

For the limitations:

  • Identify potential weaknesses or issues that could impact the study’s internal/external validity
  • Discuss constraints on sample size, demographics, methodology, etc.
  • Explain how limitations may affect interpretation or generalizability of findings
  • Acknowledge any potential researcher biases or assumptions
  • Please remember to support your arguments with evidence from scholarly literature and cite or reference accordingly

For the delimitations:

  • State the intentional boundaries set for the study
  • Explain the rationale for excluding certain groups, variables, contexts
  • Describe how the delimitations narrowed the scope and defined the parameters
  • Justify why the delimitations were necessary/appropriate for the research aims
  • Please remember to support your arguments with evidence from scholarly literature and cite or reference accordingly

Here is an example of the limitations and delimitations section:

A key limitation of this qualitative study was its focus on a single university setting, potentially limiting transferability of findings to other institutional contexts (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Additionally, the self-reported nature of interview data poses risks of retrospective bias or social desirability influencing participant responses (Brutus et al., 2013). The study was delimited to first-generation students currently enrolled and pursuing bachelor’s degrees, excluding other student populations like transfers, non-traditional, or graduate students whose experiences may differ (Wilbur & Roscigno, 2016). Furthermore, the sample was delimited by criteria such as being of traditional college age and not having accessibility needs, which narrows the scope of transferability (LeCompte & Goetz, 1982). While these delimitations aligned with the study’s aims, future research spanning multiple sites and diverse student groups could enhance understanding of this phenomenon.

Step 11: Now Summarize all Your Methods Discussed in “Chapter Summary” Section

This section is always very short and precise.

  • It should outline all the methods and methodologies you included in your research.
  • You should restate justifications for their inclusion or adoption.
  • The last sentence of this section should provide transition to the next chapter by outlining the key purpose of the following chapter, probably “Results/Findings” or the research findings.

Here is an example of the chapter summary section:

This chapter provided an overview of the methodology employed in this qualitative study exploring the lived experiences of first-generation college students. It detailed the study’s phenomenological approach utilizing in-depth, semi-structured interviews for data collection and thematic analysis techniques. The chapter also discussed key ethical considerations adhered to, such as informed consent, confidentiality protocols, and risk mitigation procedures. Limitations regarding the single-site context and self-reported data were acknowledged, as were delimitations around the scope of the participant sample. With the methodological framework established, the next chapter will present the study’s findings. A rich description of the emergent themes and an interpretation grounded in the participants’ voices will elucidate the essence of their experiences navigating campus life and academics.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the significance of the methodology chapter in a dissertation or thesis?

The research methodology chapter in a dissertation or thesis is crucial as it outlines the systematic approach the researcher will use to undertake the study. It provides a clear explanation of the research methods, design, data collection techniques, and analytical procedures.

How do you write the methodology section for your research project?

When writing the research methodology section for your research project, ensure to detail the type of research (whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods), the sampling techniques employed, the process of data collection, and the methods for data analysis. It is also essential to discuss the validity and reliability of your research methodology.

What are the key components of a research methodology chapter?

The key components of a research methodology chapter include the methodological choices made, the research design, methodological framework, data collection methods, data analysis techniques, and discussions on the validity and reliability of the research methodology.

How do you determine the sample size in your research methodology?

Determining the sample size in your research methodology involves considering factors such as the research question, the type of research methodology being conducted, the level of confidence required, and the desired statistical power. It is essential to ensure that the selected sample size is appropriate for the study’s objectives.

Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow
Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow
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