Good thesis writing: methods section hints

What’s in a thesis?

A master’s thesis is the final cornerstone of most Master’s degree programs, particularly two-year programs that culminate in an MA or MS degree. It is a piece of novel, personally-conducted research or criticism, which must be reviewed and approved by a committee of at least two academic personnel at the university (typically the student’s adviser and one other member of the faculty).

The thesis itself is a long piece of written work that sets up, describes, and reviews the research that the student has conducted. It is the document that demonstrates the student’s learning and work within the program, and by passing the thesis, the student passes the degree program itself and is awarded a degree. As such, a master’s thesis follows a very particular formula. The chapters include: the Introduction, the Methods, the Results, and the Conclusion (as well as a bibliography). With that in mind, here are some tips for the Methods section.

The Methods

In this chapter, the student describes in a highly specific manner how they went about collecting data or accruing information in support of their hypotheses (or their thesis). The documents that are considered, the data sources that are used, the procedure of information collection that was followed, and the rough timeline should be described clearly. The method section should function like a “recipe” for those who might want to reproduce the student’s work.

Make it Clear

The Methods section should be explicit about which measures are used, which resources were consulted, how the data was collected, when it was collected, and how long it took to be collected. Nothing should be vague, theoretical, or ambiguous in this section of the paper. Do not worry about discussing theory or the questions outlined in the Introduction when writing this section. Just focus on the discrete, accomplishable tasks.

Think of it as a Recipe

Part of the point of a Methods section in a thesis is to outline the step-by-step process of the study so that another researcher can replicate (reproduce) it in the future. Thus, the Method section should be straightforward and chronological, written in a step-by-step manner like a recipe for the study at hand. Try giving your Method section to another student in the same area as you, and ask if they can understand and repeat what you’ve done based just on the paper. If they can, you have succeeded.

Do Not Discuss Results

It can be tempting to delve into what you found in your thesis, particularly if the results are interesting or exciting. But do not jump the gun. Do not mention the results at all in your Methods section. This will only overwhelm and confuse the reader, and keep the punch line from being as strong.

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