Research Methodology Help for Dissertation Students


Jeffrey W. Braunstein, Ph.D.


Dissertation students routinely experience frustration when writing the method section of their dissertation proposal. When providing doctoral students with dissertation assistance, I help students to understand that the methodology of a dissertation can be constructed very simply, just like a "template."

Method sections are easy to write because they tend to be very similar in structure and format. For example, go ahead and read the methodologies of several studies by the same author. You will probably discover that the method sections by this author are very similar in structure and content. Below, please find an overview of how to construct a research methodology section:

The method section consists of the following parts:

1. Participants
2. Instruments
3. Procedure
4. Data Analysis

Here's a review of what should go into each section:

1. Participants: Review the targeted population and participants in your dissertation. Most studies review targeted demographics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, socioeconomic status) and other important issues that describe your population (medical history, medication use, legal history). Remember to include the mean, standard deviation, median, frequency and range when reporting your demographic variables.

2. Instruments: Provide an overview and description of each instrument or measure. When describing your instruments, remember to review issues such as the number of questions, length of administration, readability and scoring. You can rely on the instrument's manual and early normative articles to obtain a lot of this information. After you describe the instrument, you will then need to review the reliability (e.g. alpha coefficients, inter-rater reliability, test retest reliability, split half reliability) and validity of the instrument (content validity, external validity and discriminant validity). Remember to clearly label and review all of these components in the text for all your instruments or measures.

3. Procedure: Describe how you will collect the data. You will want to review issues such as the agencies or organizations you will approach for participant recruitment, the order of the instrument administration, testing procedures and informed consent. If you are conducting a dissertation based upon archival research, you will need to review how the data was collected and how you received permission to utilize another agency's database.

4. Data Analysis: Provide an overview of how each hypothesis will be analyzed. Specifically, review which statistical procedures will be used to analyze the data. When you write your data analysis section, you need to clearly state how the independent variables (IVs) and dependent variables (DVs) will be manipulated in the analyses. For example, "An analysis of variance (ANOVA) will be conducted to examine the differences between the fixed factors (IVs) of Group A and Group B on the dependent variable or measure X." In this section, you can also discuss potential post-hoc analyses issues that will be conducted to provide information for future research.

Remember, when writing your methodology, the main focus should be on the organization of the subsections. Think of your dissertation methodology section as a puzzle and work towards "dropping the pieces" into the puzzle one by one until you are finished.

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