Application tips: how to write a simple, effective research methods section

Research and Innovation Development Office

Category: Research news

17 March 2015

When supporting researchers in writing proposals, we find ourselves asking one vital question over and over: What exactly are you planning to do?

The answer to this query is the backbone of any research application, the key to the castle - the ever-illusive Research Methods Section.

One of our favourite bloggers, the Research Whisperer, offers excellent advice to ease the Research Methods writing process. His full post is definitely worth a gander, but here's a list of the major takeaways.

  1. Write what you know. First, write down what you know you want to do as a list.
  2. Phone a friend. Give your list to a colleague or friend and tell them what you plan to do. Ask them to make a quick note of anything that isn't on the list. Revise your list to add the extra information from the conversation.
  3. Work out your timeline and your budget. Working up a Gantt chart for your project will force you to think about how long different phases of the project will take. This is important because it gets you to the level of specificity that you need for a detailed methods section. Similarly, working out a budget for your workshops will force you to be specific about how many people will be attending (venue size), how long they will be there for (catering) and where they will be coming from (travel costs).
  4. On data, and the analysis of data. Each activity should gather data, analyse data, write up your results, or disseminate them. You need to know exactly what data you are gathering before you can do any of the other things. So, think hard about which activities will gather data, and what data will come out of each activity. Now, describe in detail how you will analyse the data.
  5. Now tell us why. Go back to the start and tell us why you have made every single decision. Tell us why in a very special way – tell us how each item on your list will help you answer your research question and achieve your research aims.
  6. Aren't you a clever clogs? Finally, tell us why your methods are cleverer than anyone else who has tried to answer this question. There are very few completely new questions – someone will have had a crack at this issue, or something related, before. What is clever about your method?

If you don't want to go through these steps alone or you need someone to fill the void for point number 2, please feel free to contact the ARU Research Services Team. We're happy to be your phone a friend!


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