What to Include in the METHODOLOGY Chapter of Your Thesis

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Can you cook?

I will admit: I am a terrible cook. I know how to make a decent salad, incredible popcorn (to me it counts as cooking. Do not judge.) and the classic “scrambled eggs with a lot of cheese”. Apart from this, do not count on me for a fancy meal.

One day, I asked my mother (true story, by the way!) for a recipe of a lasagna. My friend, I swear I followed every single step she said and in the end what I had was so far from it that I was even embarrassed to call it a lasagna. The white sauce was not thick enough, the meat was raw and the overall it all got a bit burnt.

Result? I ordered a burger with fries.

INSIGHT: The logic of a recipe is that if you follow every single step, you should be able reproduce it exactly every time and make great meals. But as I just explained, it does not work exactly like that.

In science, the recipe is our methodology chapter. And the logic is: it should describe how your study was done, step by step to the point that anyone else would be able to replicate it.


Why Is The Methodology Chapter So Important?

The methodology is of extreme importance because it shows the recipe you followed during the development of your research.

So remember: in case you use an inaccurate or weak methodology, everything else on your thesis (results, conclusions and managerial recommendations) WILL BE WRONG.

Why? Because it is irrelevant that you had an incredible research question or aim. If you measured things incorrectly, if the data was collected incorrectly, if you did not apply the most suitable method and chosen the right sample, EVERY RESULT WILL BE INACCURATE.

You will have findings, but they will have very little validity.

Imagine this bizarre scenario for a second: You go to the doctor because you are feeling weak and without energy (the research problem). The doctor will then apply a method to gather data, interpret it and come with conclusions and recommendations to tell you so that you can get better.

But imagine that in order to identify the causes and symptoms of your weakness, he/she takes an X-ray of your foot and tells you everything is fine. Would that be accurate? NO. And why? Because taking an X-ray of a foot will not tell you the causes and symptoms of a weakness. The doctor should at least measure your blood pressure or measure your heart (My friend, don’t judge my medical knowledge. I’m not a doctor, just trying to convey a point here!).

But do you get what I mean? What I am trying to say is that your methodology chapter is SUPER important because it will tell the reader HOW the research aim/question of your thesis or research paper was addressed.

So if it so important, what should you include in your methodology chapter? Now we got to the juicy part of this article.

Let me take you through it! Here we go!


EXTREMELY IMPORTANT SECTIONS TO INCLUDE

If you noticed, I wrote the title of this section in capital letters. That means that the information is very important and that you must pay attention (It’s like when your girlfriend texts you saying: “Francisco, I am NOT UPSET WITH YOU”. What does it mean? That she is extremely upset! CAPS LOCK can convey a lot of emotion).

So yes, pay attention to what is about to come.

Oh, just one more thing (I promise): I am not here trying to explain to you what your methodology should be. The designs, methods, measurements, sample and so on of your study will depend on your RESEARCH AIM/QUESTION/HYPOTHESIS. So make sure to discuss with your supervisor the methodology you should apply to your study. I am simply making clear all the relevant sections you should include in your chapter so that you do not forget any relevant information, ok?

Finally, here we go:

  1. Research Design (s)

This section will inform the reader the NATURE of your study. In other words, broadly speaking: are you aiming to describe a phenomena (descriptive design), are you aiming to explore a topic (exploratory design), are you looking to identify causal relationships between factors (causal design)?

Ps: It is beyond the scope of this article to explain to you what every design is and how it should be applied. So make sure to gather good methodology books and do two things in this section:

– First, explain the research designs, using academic references (use research methods books to reference it);

– Second, explain WHICH design you have used (or more than one, in case it is a mixed-design study) and WHY it suits your research aim.

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? YESSSSSS.


I have also created a mind map with an overview of research designs to help you!

DOWNLOAD:  MusicStats.org - Defining the Research Plan Research Design Mind Map.pdf


2. Research Method (s)

Following the description of your research design, you should also devote a section to describing the research method (s) you applied during your study. Each design will provide you with many possibilities of methods to use.

Which one should you use? Read about it, reflect and discuss with your supervisor, ok?

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? MOST CERTAINLY YES.

3. Measurements

Once you clarified the method you used, it is time to explain exactly WHAT you measured (e.g. service quality, brand image, satisfaction, purchase intention) and HOW you measured (e.g. 3, 5, 7 point-Likert scales, previously validated scales, references of authors from the scales you used, if you developed scale items).

In case you are developing interviews or open questions for focus groups, for example, I have written a series of suggestions here that can help you.

It is super important to once more be very detailed here. Always keep in mind: If someone wants to measure the same things, will they have enough information to replicate it?

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? ARE YOU KIDDING? OF COURSE.

4. Sample

In this section you should detail (at least!) the population of your study, your sampling technique (which technique you used to select the people who took part in your study) and how you established your sample size.

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? WITHOUT A DOUBT.


I have also written in another article a few HACKS to understanding the methodology of your study. Download it !

DOWNLOAD: MusicStats.org - Defining the Research Plan Extra Hacks.pdf


5. Data Collection Process

Here you should detail exactly how the data collection process happened. You should detail, for example, when it took place (e.g. In which year and month, for how many days), in which places (e.g. if online, in which sites or platforms? If offline, where exactly and under which circumstances), what exactly was YOUR role (e.g. Did you have any participation? If so, how?), role of participants (e.g. what did they have to do?) and on average how long it took for each participant to be part of it.

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? ABSOLUTELY.

6. Validity and Reliability

Now, here is a SUPER important section that 99% (I completely made up this result, simply because I want to convey a point) get wrong. Validity ( that you measured what you intend to measure) and reliability (that the measurements used, such as your scales, are reliable) are two concepts that simply have to be addressed and have to do with your measurements.

Once again, describing what each concept is and how you should address them is beyond the scope of this article. So PLEASE go through them in research methods books, discuss it with your supervisor and write in this section WHAT the concepts are and HOW you address them in your thesis, ok?

Honestly, PLEASE do it. I have seen so many students in colloquiums that had absolutely now clue about it. They knew they had to write about it, but had no clue. PLEASE do not be one of those, ok?

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? Oh YES. No doubt.

7. Instruments or Equipment

Sometimes, especially in causal studies when researchers are developing experiments, it is important to detail the instruments or equipment that were used on the study.

For example, here at MusicStats.org we have done a series of studies on Virtual Reality (VR). During these studies, we used a particular type of VR glasses and specific VR apps.

If someone wants to replicate my study and uses a different VR glasses, would this affect the results? Of course! So for others to replicate in the same way, they must use the same instruments. Got it?

Also, the results are affected by the instruments. If I used a super high-tech-mega-awesome VR glasses, would it influence the results? Of course! So it is also important for the reader to take it into consideration when reading your results.

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? NO. ONLY if your study involved a particular equipment that was relevant to it. usually, this applies to causal studies, running experiments.

8. Experimental Procedure

Once again, in case you are running a causal study and an experiment, it is important to detail the experimental procedure.

Explain, to the reader for example, what was the experimental task (what did the participants have to do?), the extraneous variables that were controlled (variables of the environment that could affect the cause and affect relationship).

Also discuss the manipulation of the independent variable (how were the experimental conditions different from one another), if it was a between-group design or a within group design.

Ps: Should everyone include this section in their methodology chapter? NO. ONLY if your study involved an experiment.


Final Thoughts

Just to remind you: These are MY suggestions. Of course different supervisors will have other ways of defining what is relevant for you in this chapter. Nonetheless, the content I have described above is the most general that almost every management-related thesis should include in their methodology chapter.

Also remember: If you are reading this and your thesis is in a completely different field (biology, chemistry, mathematics), many things here do not apply. My focus is on management/marketing students, ok?

Another suggestion: NEVER be like those students who just send emails and ask straightaway what their methodology should be. This sends not a good signal about you. So go read a few research methods books, reflect and define what your methodology should be and once you have doubts, contact your supervisor (Supervisors out there, you are welcome!).

And one final thing: In case you want to thank me, do not send cooking books or books with recipes. I still do not enjoy cooking. Want to make me happy for helping you? Send me beer or coffee. Oh, and I do not like wheat beer (“Weizenbier”, in German). They have a strange smell and you need to have a specific glass to drink them (at least here in Germany). Too complex.

Have a great day!

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