Describing Methodology & Reporting Results in Academic Writing
Once the focus and aims of the research presented in an article have been introduced and the necessary background information has been provided, an explanation of the methodology used to approach the topic, problem or phenomenon under investigation is in order. The methodology should be described carefully and precisely, and while the description need not be long, it should outline the overall design and provide as much detail as necessary to clarify your procedures for your readers. It is also wise to explain (at least briefly) why the methodology you use is the most appropriate, innovative or effective for your study, perhaps by stating specifically how it will answer and test your research questions and hypotheses and achieve the aims and objectives of your research. A description of methodology often includes a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various aspects of the research design, the reliability and limitations of instruments and procedures, and the use of controls and other rigorous methods for checking and guaranteeing the validity of the results. If you are using unusual or complex equipment in your research, you may want to include figures to illustrate it, and tables and diagrams can be extremely effective for showing the procedural processes you have followed. Communicating complicated information in immediately discernible visual forms is only successful, however, if those visual forms clearly and concisely show what they are intended to show, so do construct your tables and figures as carefully as you construct your argument.
The description of methodology in an academic or scientific article is usually followed by a factual report and analysis of the results discovered through that methodology. Qualitative research will require a very different approach here than quantitative research will, but results are usually presented in a straightforward narrative form that is often supplemented by tables for reporting data and perhaps by figures such as graphs, charts and maps. An effective approach is to decide immediately which information would be best included in tables and figures, and then to prepare those tables and figures before you begin writing the text. Because it is important (especially in a short paper) to avoid repetition as much as possible, writing your text with your tables and figures in hand can prove particularly efficient, and this approach also allows you to review and test the clarity and effectiveness of your tables and figures. Be sure to refer to each table and figure by number in your text and to make it absolutely clear what you want your readers to see or understand in the table or figure. Beyond combining textual narration with the data presented in tables and figures, you will need to organise the report of your results in a manner best suited to the material. You may choose to arrange the presentation of your results chronologically or in a hierarchical order that represents their importance; to separate the findings generated by different kinds of methodology (quantitative versus qualitative, for instance) or by different tests, trials, surveys, case studies and so on; or to discuss the results in relation to specific themes, patterns or categories or in relation to your research questions and/or hypotheses. Whatever structure you choose should accurately reflect the nature of your results and highlight their most important and interesting trends, and it should also lead effectively into the discussion of your findings that follows.
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