As you know from your previous courses, research methods are simply the tools that we use to gather data (e.g., surveys, interviews, case studies, diaries etc.). The methods section allows you to contribute to a reflective conversation in your field so that others can assess, replicate and validate your findings. A clearly written methods section allows others to attest to the integrity of your assertions, apply our methods in new and different works, thereby furthering scholarship in the discipline. Writing effectively about our methods tells the reader that: (1) they can trust us, (2) we have comprehensively engaged with the background of our research and, (3) have attempted to avoid the obstacles, ambiguities, and hubris that tend to corrupt assertions on any complex subject (such society). A clear methods section will allow your reader to formulate a clear understanding of the merits and limitations of your method, and correspondingly, the merits and limitations of your findings. If all is done well, a capable researcher should be able to replicate your procedure exactly and then decide for themselves whether the findings were similar enough to your research, therefore providing outside accountability.
This chapter offers a general guide to writing the methods section of your paper. We avoided detailed consideration of any one genre because that is covered in the qualitative and quantitative analysis chapters (Chapter 9 and Chapter 10). Rather, we decided to break the methods section down into five common components that are shared amongst many different social science genres. Each element has examples of the different concerns/weaknesses/strengths of the different genres, to help you understand the difference between various methods while maintaining a consistent sense of the methods section. We finish with checklists to help you review and ensure your methods section has addressed the key concerns of your audience.