Tips for Describing Methodology in a Thesis or Dissertation
Writing excellent scholarly text is challenging, and this is particularly the case if you are new to the composition of long and complex research-based documents, as many thesis and dissertation students are. To describe and explain the procedures and findings of advanced research effectively, an academic or scientific author must achieve accuracy and precision amidst a maze of detail and ensure that a thorough approach is guided by a clear and concise logic. This will certainly be the case when you are describing the research methods for your thesis or dissertation. There will be a great deal to think about and each research project will present its own complexities, but the general tips listed below will apply in many situations.
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• It is absolutely vital that your primary supervisor, other members of your thesis or dissertation committee and ultimately the group of specialists who examine your work understand your methodology. You will therefore need to write prose that is absolutely clear and correct in every way. If you require assistance to do so, seek it from a fellow student, a generous mentor, the writing clinic at your university or a professional proofreader or editor who specialises in working on academic or scientific documents.
• Determining before you begin writing exactly how extensive the description of your methodology should be and the format it should take is a good idea. A chapter dedicated to methodology is common and often contains several sections, but you may instead be expected to describe your research methods more briefly in a shorter section within another chapter of your thesis or dissertation. Especially complicated methodology is occasionally discussed in two or more chapters, particularly if different methods are mined or combined to form your own.
• Be as specific as possible and focus on the concrete facts, actions and details associated with your work. Describe, for example, the settings and subjects (texts, people, animals etc.) of your research. Indicate the variables you considered and the instruments you used. Explain exactly how you have collected and analysed data at each stage of the research process.
• You should also explain why your methodology is appropriate – indeed, the best methodology possible – and perhaps innovative for investigating your topic. This explanation will ideally involve a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various aspects of your design, the reliability and limitations of your instruments and procedures, and the use of controls and other rigorous methods for checking and guaranteeing the validity of your results. Returning to any research questions or hypotheses that you formulated and presented in the introductory sections of your thesis or dissertation will allow you to discuss with precision how and why you think your research methods will answer and test them.
• If you are using unusual or complex equipment in your research, you may want to include figures to illustrate it, and diagrams can be extremely effective for showing readers the procedural processes you will be following, especially when several trials and stages with slight variations must be described. Be sure to label any figures you use with care and precision, ensuring that the meanings of all nonstandard symbols and abbreviations are clarified for your readers.
• If you find yourself stuck for the right words to describe your methodology precisely or perhaps its relationship to previous scholarship in your area of specialisation, it may prove helpful to look back at your textbook, notes and assignments for research methodology or theory classes you may have taken and to reread any studies that were particularly influential as you designed your own research methods.
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