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A Guide to Logistical/Ethical Considerations in Thesis/Dissertation Writing

A Guide to Logistical/Ethical Considerations in Thesis/Dissertation Writing

4-minute read

  • 14th May 2023

Why include a section on logistical/ethical considerations in your thesis/dissertation?

Ethical and logistical considerations are the guidelines that marshal your research practices and activities. With so many necessary steps to planning your dissertation , it may be tempting to dash off your logistical and ethical considerations section. However, don’t make that mistake! Including a thorough section on logistical and ethical considerations in your thesis shows that you have carefully considered your research plan, from the ethical implications of your research findings to the impact of performing the study itself.

And above all else, not providing well-thought-out ethical and logistical considerations in your research plan could derail your entire dissertation and have other grave consequences . But not to worry! Here, we offer a step-by-step guide to writing your logistical and ethical considerations section so that you can tick another essential item off your thesis checklist .

Steps for creating a logistical/ethical considerations section

  • Clarify your ethical and logistical principles.

Your ethical and logistical principles will depend on many factors, such as research topic, fieldwork, and the possibility of direct interaction with vulnerable populations.

However, several overarching research principles are always helpful to remember. For example, the Belmont Report lists three often invoked principles: respect for persons, beneficence (i.e., maximize potential benefits to research subjects and minimize potential harm), and justice (i.e., people should be treated fairly). However, many other principles exist (and we offer a few other frequently cited principles below that might apply to your research).

If you haven’t done so already, discuss the ramifications of your dissertation work from an ethical standpoint with your adviser, who may bring up concerns that you’ve overlooked. You should also check with your organization’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) to confirm that there are no policies you need to be aware of.

  • Evaluate each step of your research plan, as well as its potential risks and implications, and plan how you will ensure the ethical treatment of all persons involved.

Now that you have clarified your ethical and logistical principles, go through each stage of your research plan and consider the ethical impact of each step. Come up with a systematic plan to make sure that you’re protecting the ethical standards you’ve laid out for each one of the people affected by your research.

  • Record your practices thoroughly and carefully during your research.

During the course of your study, keep detailed records of how you made sure the practices that address the ethical and logistical considerations were completed.

For example, if you should be obtaining verbal consent before conducting an interview, maintain a system to record that the consent was received.

Or, if it’s necessary to keep your digital data secure, be sure to make a note of the hardware and software you use. Plenty of online templates can help you keep these details organized.

  • Write the ethical and logistical considerations section.

If you’ve kept detailed records, writing up your ethical and logistical considerations should be a straightforward process. It’s more common these days to see a section devoted to research ethics in dissertation structures .

Once again, check with your adviser to make sure you follow the proper protocol when you add your section on ethical and logistical considerations to your dissertation.

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Potential ethical and logistical considerations

This is not a comprehensive list, but here are a few more common ethical and logistical considerations that may apply to your research work:

●  Informed consent : Participants should be able to voluntarily join the study and know what the study is about and what the implications of the work are.

●  Anonymity, confidentiality, and data protection : Participants should have a reasonable expectation that their confidential data will remain private.

●  Nondiscrimination : You should avoid discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or any other factor.

●  Social responsibility : Research should contribute to the common good.

Following the four steps outlined in this post will help you write an ethical and logistical considerations section in your dissertation:

1. Define your principles

2. Evaluate the risks and implications of each stage of your research

3. Record your practices carefully

4. Write up your considerations in the appropriate format for the dissertation.

Although ethical considerations vary from study to study, our guide should get you through another step in writing your thesis! Remember to include enough time for editing and proofreading your dissertation , and if you’re interested in some help from us, you can try a sample of our services for free . Good luck writing your dissertation!

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Ethical Considerations

Ethical Considerations can be specified as one of the most important parts of the research. Dissertations may even be doomed to failure if this part is missing.

According to Bryman and Bell (2007) [1] the following ten points represent the most important principles related to ethical considerations in dissertations:

  • Research participants should not be subjected to harm in any ways whatsoever.
  • Respect for the dignity of research participants should be prioritised.
  • Full consent should be obtained from the participants prior to the study.
  • The protection of the privacy of research participants has to be ensured.
  • Adequate level of confidentiality of the research data should be ensured.
  • Anonymity of individuals and organisations participating in the research has to be ensured.
  • Any deception or exaggeration about the aims and objectives of the research must be avoided.
  • Affiliations in any forms, sources of funding, as well as any possible conflicts of interests have to be declared.
  • Any type of communication in relation to the research should be done with honesty and transparency.
  • Any type of misleading information, as well as representation of primary data findings in a biased way must be avoided.

In order to address ethical considerations aspect of your dissertation in an effective manner, you will need to expand discussions of each of the following points to at least one paragraph:

1. Voluntary participation of respondents in the research is important. Moreover, participants have rights to withdraw from the study at any stage if they wish to do so.

2. Respondents should participate on the basis of informed consent. The principle of informed consent involves researchers providing sufficient information and assurances about taking part to allow individuals to understand the implications of participation and to reach a fully informed, considered and freely given decision about whether or not to do so, without the exercise of any pressure or coercion. [2]

3. The use of offensive, discriminatory, or other unacceptable language needs to be avoided in the formulation of Questionnaire/Interview/Focus group questions.

4. Privacy and anonymity or respondents is of a paramount importance.

5. Acknowledgement of works of other authors used in any part of the dissertation with the use of Harvard/APA/Vancouver referencing system according to the Dissertation Handbook

6. Maintenance of the highest level of objectivity in discussions and analyses throughout the research

7. Adherence to Data Protection Act (1998) if you are studying in the UK

In studies that do not involve primary data collection, on the other hand, ethical issues are going to be limited to the points d) and e) above.

Most universities have their own Code of Ethical Practice. It is critically important for you to thoroughly adhere to this code in every aspect of your research and declare your adherence in ethical considerations part of your dissertation.

My e-book,  The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance  offers practical assistance to complete a dissertation with minimum or no stress. The e-book covers all stages of writing a dissertation starting from the selection to the research area to submitting the completed version of the work within the deadline. John Dudovskiy

Ethical Considerations in dissertation

[1] Bryman, A. &  Bell, E. (2007) “Business Research Methods”, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press.

[2] Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2012) “Research Methods for Business Students” 6th edition, Pearson Education Limited.

The Research Whisperer

Just like the thesis whisperer – but with more money, how to write a successful ethics application.

how to write the ethics section of a dissertation

She has a particular interest in tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, adolescent health, and the health of people in criminal justice settings.

Kat advises colleagues from diverse backgrounds on research ethics, study design, and data analysis.

She tweets from @epi_punk .

Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

The word “ethics” strikes fear into the hearts of most early career researchers.

Some of the reasons are beyond our control, but there’s actually a lot we can do to make our own experiences of the ethics approval process less painful.

I’m writing this from two perspectives: as an early career researcher (I finished my PhD in 2019), and as a committee member (I’ve sat on an ethics advisory group since the start of my PhD in 2014).

The job of ethics committees is to identify the possible risks in a project, and then assess whether the research team:

  • are aware of the risks.
  • are taking appropriate steps to minimise them.
  • have a plan to handle anything that does go wrong.

To do this, ethics committees need information. If you want your ethics application to get through the process as quickly as possible, you need to give the committee enough detail so that they understand your project and how you are managing any risks.

Getting your application as right as possible the first time makes the whole process go more quickly. If you don’t provide enough information, the committee will come back with questions. You may need to resubmit your application to the next meeting, which could be a month or two away.

Spending more time on your application for the first meeting can save you months later on!

Here are the main questions ethics committees will ask themselves when they assess your project:

  • Are there any risks to the researchers? (e.g. Injuries in the lab, safety risks  travelling to study sites, exposure to distressing topics during interviews or data analysis.)
  • Are there any risks to the study participants? (From the study procedures themselves; risks to their privacy; risks of distress if they are asked about or exposed to upsetting content)
  • Are there any risks to third parties? (i.e. people who aren’t directly participating)
  • Could anybody’s privacy be invaded by the data collection process?
  • Are there other staff in a lab who might be hurt if there were an accident?
  • Are the research team aware of these risks, are they taking steps to minimise them, and do they have a plan if things go wrong?

The only way for the ethics committee to assess this is from the information you put into your application. Carefully think through your project and ask yourself those questions. And then put all of the answers into your application.

Here’s an example:

I am planning a project at the moment that involves interviewing health care providers about vulnerable people that they work with.

What are the risks to me? There aren’t any physical safety risks – I’ll be sitting in my office on the phone.

What about psychological risks? Could I be distressed by the content of the interviews? It’s possible. Some of the people I’ll interview are working with clients who have experienced child abuse, and some of their stories about their work might be upsetting.

What am I doing about these risks? I’m conducting interviews on the phone, rather than travelling to other people’s workplaces or homes. I won’t ask specifically about any distressing topics (minimising the risk), although they might come up anyway. If I get upset about the content of the interviews, I will probably be okay: I’ve worked in this area for many years, and I have strategies for dealing with it when my work upsets me (taking a break, talking to a colleague on the same project later on to help me process my feelings about it).

All of this goes into my application! I don’t write “I will conduct interviews with providers” and then say there are no risks, or that I have managed the risks. I give the committee all the details about each of the foreseeable risks I’ve identified, and exactly what I’m doing about them.

What about the risks to my participants? They could also find the content of the interviews upsetting. Again, my interview tool doesn’t ask directly about any distressing topics (minimising the risk), but it may come up. What’s my plan if my participants get upset? I’ll offer to change the topic, take a break, or stop the interview entirely. I mention this risk in the consent form, and the form will tell participants that they will have these options if they feel distressed. I will repeat this to them verbally at the start of the interview, and remind them that they don’t need to discuss anything with me that they don’t want to. Again, all these details go into my application.

What about risks to other people? Some health care providers might tell me private or sensitive information about their clients, by giving me specific examples instead of talking in general terms. To avoid this, I will ask them at the start of the interview not to talk about specific individuals, but to rather keep their answers general. If a participant does start to talk about an individual, I’ll remind them that this isn’t appropriate. I’ll also erase that part of the recording later on, so that those information isn’t transcribed. Again, all these details go into my application so that the ethics committee can see that I’m aware of the risk and I have a plan to manage it if it occurs.

As a committee member, I see applications get into trouble for a few common reasons.

The first is a lack of information , giving a very brief description of what will be done, without enough detail for the committee to understand the risks and what is being done about them.

The second is inconsistency , when a researcher says one thing on their application form, and something else in their consent form. Check carefully for consistency across all your documents before you submit.

A third is when a researcher proposes to do something that directly goes against the national ethical standards for research (e.g. collecting data without consent when they could get consent, or storing sensitive data in an insecure manner). Do not do this.

Some general tips:

  • Find out the deadlines for your committee now, and start your application well in advance. It’s very hard to do a good job at the last minute, especially if you need details from your supervisor or other people in the project.
  • Ask a colleague for a previous successful application for a similar project. Take note of the risks they identified, and how they managed them. Look at their consent forms and other documents, and see what you can adapt and reuse.
  • Use grant applications for the project as a source of information on background, aims, methods, and outcomes. The format and level of detail required by the ethics committee is often similar.
  • Read your country’s ethical guidance for research projects: this is what the ethics committee is working off. Think about which issues apply to your project, and how you can meet each of the standards. Spell this out for the committee.
  • Find out whether your institution has specific requirements regarding wording in consent forms, storage of data, handling chemicals in the lab, etc. In your application, tell the committee that you are aware of these requirements and say how your project will meet them. Make sure that your consent forms and other documents are consistent with your institution’s standards. If your institution offers templates, use them!
  • Ethics committees also assess the technical soundness of the research because poor quality research wastes time and resources, and exposes people to risks that aren’t justified by adequate benefits. Most committees include statistician and methods experts specifically for this reason (I’m one of them). Give a detailed explanation of your methods, and make sure they are appropriate to your research question. Get advice from a methods expert or a statistician to check that your project is sound – it’s much better to identify problems at the planning stage, rather than after you’ve gotten approval and collected your data.
  • If you are doing an application for the first time, get help from your supervisor or thesis advisor. They shouldn’t make you do the application on your own. The more help you can get before you submit, the more quickly your project will get approved.

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Also I suggest doing the ethics training offered by your institution, or professional body. Recently I attended ANU’s Human Ethics training session. While I occasionally teach ethics, and have been a Chief Investigator on a project, I still found it useful. https://services.anu.edu.au/training/aries-human-ethics-training-sessions

Another useful resource is The Research Ethics Application Database (TREAD), an online database of successful research ethics applications from around the world, some of which include supporting documents such as consent forms and information sheets. (TREAD is also glad to have new submissions so if you have made a successful application, please consider sharing your paperwork – fully anonymised of course.) Info here https://tread.tghn.org/

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University of Derby

Dissertations - Skills Guide

  • Where to start
  • Research Proposal

Ethics Form

  • Primary Research
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Downloadable Resources
  • Further Reading

What is it?

An ethics form is a document that prompts you to provide information about your research to ensure you are meeting set standards. Readers usually expect to see ethics in a research proposal, or mentioned in your writing, even if there doesn't appear to be any problematic ethical issues to be addressed. 

Why do I need to do it?

When someone embarks on a piece of research there is a chance of doing harm, even if harm isn't intended. Setting ethical guidelines ensures there are set standards for conducting research to ensure the research will not harm people physically or emotionally. 

How do I do it?

You can find more information about completing your ethics form from the research ethics page of the university website ( click here ).

Ethics Further Reading

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Addressing ethical issues in your research proposal

This article explores the ethical issues that may arise in your proposed study during your doctoral research degree.

What ethical principles apply when planning and conducting research?

Research ethics are the moral principles that govern how researchers conduct their studies (Wellcome Trust, 2014). As there are elements of uncertainty and risk involved in any study, every researcher has to consider how they can uphold these ethical principles and conduct the research in a way that protects the interests and welfare of participants and other stakeholders (such as organisations).  

You will need to consider the ethical issues that might arise in your proposed study. Consideration of the fundamental ethical principles that underpin all research will help you to identify the key issues and how these could be addressed. As you are probably a practitioner who wants to undertake research within your workplace, consider how your role as an ‘insider’ influences how you will conduct your study. Think about the ethical issues that might arise when you become an insider researcher (for example, relating to trust, confidentiality and anonymity).  

What key ethical principles do you think will be important when planning or conducting your research, particularly as an insider? Principles that come to mind might include autonomy, respect, dignity, privacy, informed consent and confidentiality. You may also have identified principles such as competence, integrity, wellbeing, justice and non-discrimination.  

Key ethical issues that you will address as an insider researcher include:

  • Gaining trust
  • Avoiding coercion when recruiting colleagues or other participants (such as students or service users)
  • Practical challenges relating to ensuring the confidentiality and anonymity of organisations and staff or other participants.

(Heslop et al, 2018)

A fuller discussion of ethical principles is available from the British Psychological Society’s Code of Human Research Ethics (BPS, 2021).

You can also refer to guidance from the British Educational Research Association and the British Association for Applied Linguistics .

Pebbles balance on a stone see-saw

Ethical principles are essential for protecting the interests of research participants, including maximising the benefits and minimising any risks associated with taking part in a study. These principles describe ethical conduct which reflects the integrity of the researcher, promotes the wellbeing of participants and ensures high-quality research is conducted (Health Research Authority, 2022).  

Research ethics is therefore not simply about gaining ethical approval for your study to be conducted. Research ethics relates to your moral conduct as a doctoral researcher and will apply throughout your study from design to dissemination (British Psychological Society, 2021). When you apply to undertake a doctorate, you will need to clearly indicate in your proposal that you understand these ethical principles and are committed to upholding them.  

Where can I find ethical guidance and resources? 

Professional bodies, learned societies, health and social care authorities, academic publications, Research Ethics Committees and research organisations provide a range of ethical guidance and resources. International codes such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underpin ethical frameworks (United Nations, 1948).  

You may be aware of key legislation in your own country or the country where you plan to undertake the research, including laws relating to consent, data protection and decision-making capacity, for example, the Data Protection Act, 2018 (UK).  If you want to find out more about becoming an ethical researcher, check out this Open University short course: Becoming an ethical researcher: Introduction and guidance: What is a badged course? - OpenLearn - Open University  

You should be able to justify the research decisions you make. Utilising these resources will guide your ethical judgements when writing your proposal and ultimately when designing and conducting your research study. The Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (British Educational Research Association, 2018) identifies the key responsibilities you will have when you conduct your research, including the range of stakeholders that you will have responsibilities to, as follows:   

  • to your participants (e.g. to appropriately inform them, facilitate their participation and support them)
  • clients, stakeholders and sponsors
  • the community of educational or health and social care researchers
  • for publication and dissemination
  • your wellbeing and development

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (no date) has emphasised the need to promote equality, diversity and inclusion when undertaking research, particularly to address long-standing social and health inequalities. Research should be informed by the diversity of people’s experiences and insights, so that it will lead to the development of practice that addresses genuine need. A commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion aims to eradicate prejudice and discrimination on the basis of an individual or group of individuals' protected characteristics such as sex (gender), disability, race, sexual orientation, in line with the Equality Act 2010.  

The NIHR has produced guidance for enhancing the inclusion of ‘under-served groups’ when designing a research study (2020). Although the guidance refers to clinical research it is relevant to research more broadly.  

You should consider how you will promote equality and diversity in your planned study, including through aspects such as your research topic or question, the methodology you will use, the participants you plan to recruit and how you will analyse and interpret your data.    

What ethical issues do I need to consider when writing my research proposal?

Camera equipment set up filming a man talking

You might be planning to undertake research in a health, social care, educational or other setting, including observations and interviews. The following prompts should help you to identify key ethical issues that you need to bear in mind when undertaking research in such settings.  

1.     Imagine you are a potential participant. Think about the questions and concerns that you might have:

  • How would you feel if a researcher sat in your space and took notes, completed a checklist, or made an audio or film recording?
  • What harm might a researcher cause by observing or interviewing you and others?
  • What would you want to know about the researcher and ask them about the study before giving consent?
  • When imagining you are the participant, how could the researcher make you feel more comfortable to be observed or interviewed? 

2.     Having considered the perspective of your potential participant, how would you take account of concerns such as privacy, consent, wellbeing and power in your research proposal?  

[Adapted from OpenLearn course: Becoming an ethical researcher, Week 2 Activity 3: Becoming an ethical researcher - OpenLearn - Open University ]  

The ethical issues to be considered will vary depending on your organisational context/role, the types of participants you plan to recruit (for example, children, adults with mental health problems), the research methods you will use, and the types of data you will collect. You will need to decide how to recruit your participants so you do not inappropriately exclude anyone.  Consider what methods may be necessary to facilitate their voice and how you can obtain their consent to taking part or ensure that consent is obtained from someone else as necessary, for example, a parent in the case of a child. 

You should also think about how to avoid imposing an unnecessary burden or costs on your participants. For example, by minimising the length of time they will have to commit to the study and by providing travel or other expenses. Identify the measures that you will take to store your participants’ data safely and maintain their confidentiality and anonymity when you report your findings. You could do this by storing interview and video recordings in a secure server and anonymising their names and those of their organisations using pseudonyms.  

Professional codes such as the Code of Human Research Ethics (BPS, 2021) provide guidance on undertaking research with children. Being an ‘insider’ researching within your own organisation has advantages. However, you should also consider how this might impact on your research, such as power dynamics, consent, potential bias and any conflict of interest between your professional and researcher roles (Sapiro and Matthews, 2020).  

How have other researchers addressed any ethical challenges?

The literature provides researchers’ accounts explaining how they addressed ethical challenges when undertaking studies. For example, Turcotte-Tremblay and McSween-Cadieux (2018) discuss strategies for protecting participants’ confidentiality when disseminating findings locally, such as undertaking fieldwork in multiple sites and providing findings in a generalised form. In addition, professional guidance includes case studies illustrating how ethical issues can be addressed, including when researching online forums (British Sociological Association, no date).

Watch the videos below and consider what insights the postgraduate researcher and supervisor provide  regarding issues such as being an ‘insider researcher’, power relations, avoiding intrusion, maintaining participant anonymity and complying with research ethics and professional standards. How might their experiences inform the design and conduct of your own study?

Postgraduate researcher and supervisor talk about ethical considerations

Your thoughtful consideration of the ethical issues that might arise and how you would address these should enable you to propose an ethically informed study and conduct it in a responsible, fair and sensitive manner. 

British Educational Research Association (2018)  Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research.  Available at:  https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/ethical-guidelines-for-educational-research-2018  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

British Psychological Society (2021)  Code of Human Research Ethics . Available at:  https://cms.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/BPS%20Code%20of%20Human%20Research%20Ethics%20%281%29.pdf  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

British Sociological Association (2016)  Researching online forums . Available at:  https://www.britsoc.co.uk/media/24834/j000208_researching_online_forums_-cs1-_v3.pdf  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

Health Research Authority (2022)  UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research . Available at:  https://www.hra.nhs.uk/planning-and-improving-research/policies-standards-legislation/uk-policy-framework-health-social-care-research/uk-policy-framework-health-and-social-care-research/#chiefinvestigators  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

Heslop, C., Burns, S., Lobo, R. (2018) ‘Managing qualitative research as insider-research in small rural communities’,  Rural and Remote Health , 18: pp. 4576.

Equality Act 2010, c. 15.  Available at:   https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/introduction   (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

National Institute for Health and Care Research (no date)  Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) . Available at:  https://arc-kss.nihr.ac.uk/public-and-community-involvement/pcie-guide/how-to-do-pcie/equality-diversity-and-inclusion-edi  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

National Institute for Health and Care Research (2020)  Improving inclusion of under-served groups in clinical research: Guidance from INCLUDE project.  Available at:   https://www.nihr.ac.uk/documents/improving-inclusion-of-under-served-groups-in-clinical-research-guidance-from-include-project/25435  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

Sapiro, B. and Matthews, E. (2020) ‘Both Insider and Outsider. On Conducting Social Work Research in Mental Health Settings’,  Advances in Social Work , 20(3). Available at:  https://doi.org/10.18060/23926

Turcotte-Tremblay, A. and McSween-Cadieux, E. (2018) ‘A reflection on the challenge of protecting confidentiality of participants when disseminating research results locally’,  BMC Medical Ethics,  19(supplement 1), no. 45. Available at:   https://bmcmedethics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12910-018-0279-0

United Nations General Assembly (1948)  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights . Resolution A/RES/217/A. Available at:  https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights#:~:text=Drafted%20by%20representatives%20with%20different,all%20peoples%20and%20all%20nations . (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

Wellcome Trust (2014)  Ensuring your research is ethical: A guide for Extended Project Qualification students . Available at:  https://wellcome.org/sites/default/files/wtp057673_0.pdf  (Accessed: 9 June 2023).

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  • Volume 36, Issue 7
  • Research ethics in dissertations: ethical issues and complexity of reasoning
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  • S Kjellström 1 ,
  • S N Ross 2 , 3 ,
  • B Fridlund 4
  • 1 Institute of Gerontology, School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden
  • 2 Antioch University Midwest, Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA
  • 3 ARINA, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  • 4 Department of Nursing, School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden
  • Correspondence to Sofia Kjellström, Institute of Gerontology, School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University, PO Box 1026, SE-551 11 Jönköping, Sweden; sofia.kjellstrom{at}hhj.hj.se

Background Conducting ethically sound research is a fundamental principle of scientific inquiry. Recent research has indicated that ethical concerns are insufficiently dealt with in dissertations.

Purpose To examine which research ethical topics were addressed and how these were presented in terms of complexity of reasoning in Swedish nurses' dissertations.

Methods Analyses of ethical content and complexity of ethical reasoning were performed on 64 Swedish nurses' PhD dissertations dated 2007.

Results A total of seven ethical topics were identified: ethical approval (94% of the dissertations), information and informed consent (86%), confidentiality (67%), ethical aspects of methods (61%), use of ethical principles and regulations (39%), rationale for the study (20%) and fair participant selection (14%). Four of those of topics were most frequently addressed: the majority of dissertations (72%) included 3–5 issues. While many ethical concerns, by their nature, involve systematic concepts or metasystematic principles, ethical reasoning scored predominantly at lesser levels of complexity: abstract (6% of the dissertations), formal (84%) and systematic (10%).

Conclusions Research ethics are inadequately covered in most dissertations by nurses in Sweden. Important ethical concerns are missing, and the complexity of reasoning on ethical principles, motives and implications is insufficient. This is partly due to traditions and norms that discount ethical concerns but is probably also a reflection of the ability of PhD students and supervisors to handle complexity in general. It is suggested that the importance of ethical considerations should be emphasised in graduate and post-graduate studies and that individuals with capacity to deal with systematic and metasystematic concepts are recruited to senior research positions.

  • Research ethics
  • human development
  • dissertation
  • graduate education
  • applied and professional ethics
  • scientific research


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Research has a potential to encroach on people's lives, autonomy and integrity. To prevent or mitigate the potential for such effects, the research community has created ethics codes and regulations, institutionalised ethics review boards and formalised ethics requirements in scientific journals. 1–3 However, how do we know whether the formalisations of research ethics actually result in researchers' ability to operationalise ethics in the ways intended? One way is to analyse how they write about research ethics.

Including a well-written section about research ethics in a dissertation is important for several reasons. Compared to protocols written for research ethics committees, this section allows a comparison of the expected and actual research ethics as reflected in the entire research process. Scientific journals increasingly require that ethical considerations are elucidated, but most journals severely limit space for elaboration. 4 Since studies have questioned the ethical skills of doctoral students, dissertations provide a forum for students to expound on ethics and enable an assessment of acquired proficiencies. One purpose of graduate school is to train doctoral students in skills necessary for future research careers, including more critical thinking and more complex reasoning. The quality and depth of the research ethics section is essential to examine whether a researcher has acquired necessary skills to reflect and report on ethics.

Despite an increasing interest in research ethics, surprisingly little is known about the quality of research ethics in dissertations, particularly in nursing research. Research on written materials focuses primarily on research review boards 5–9 and journals—for example, ethics guidelines 10 and research ethics in articles. 4 Research on Turkish nursing dissertations showed deficiencies in informing participants and protecting privacy. 11 A study on Swedish nurses' dissertations from 1987 to 2007 showed that an increase in occurrence and proportions of reported ethical considerationsand that the texts were short, had few references and covered a narrow range of topics. 12 We found no other studies that address the design of the research ethics section and how different topics were combined.

The study's purpose was to examine which research ethical topics were addressed and how these were presented in terms of complexity of reasoning in Swedish nurses' dissertations approved in 2007. The research questions were: Which research ethics issues are reported? How is the research ethics section organized around different ethical issues? How is the information coordinated in terms of the complexity of reasoning that structures the text? What is the relationship between ethical issues and complexity of reasoning in the text?

Design and methodological approaches

The study used a mixed-methods approach to address the four research questions. 13 We performed a qualitative content analysis and a quantitative analysis of the hierarchical complexity of ethics-related content. The quantification method was the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (HCSS) (Commons, et al , unpublished manual), which derives from the Model of Hierarchical Complexity, a mathematics-based, formal general theory applicable to all actions in which information is organised. 14 15 All reasoning involves organising information. The theory and validated scoring method enable reliable measures of discrete stages of reasoning complexity. 16–20 In accord with Swedish law, ethical approval was not obtained for this study, 21 but ethical principles were used and issues were addressed in ongoing reflective processes.

Data collection

The sample consisted of 64 dissertations from Swedish universities in 2007 (Appendix 1). The primary inclusion criteria were that the dissertation was written by a nurse and that it was a PhD dissertation (4 years of full-time studies). Suitable dissertations were identified from the Swedish Society of Nursing's list of self-reported dissertations (n=65) followed by a systematic comparative analysis with the Swedish National Library (n=1). One of the self-reported dissertations discussed no research ethics and one was by an unsuccessful doctoral candidate: they were not included in the sample. Dissertation languages were English (n=48), Swedish (n=15) and Norwegian (n=1). Dissertations were retrieved via full-text online access or as books from the university library.

Data analysis

The dissertations were examined to identify research ethics sections, often under the subheadings “Ethical considerations” or “Ethical approval”. The texts were analysed for the topics addressed and how they were reported. An unstructured matrix of research ethics issues was created and grounded in the data. The coded texts were further analysed for subcategories through an inductive process. Descriptions of meanings of quantitative and qualitative character, that is manifest and latent content analysis, were sought. The analysis was performed by SK with BF—with extensive experience in qualitative methods.

In hierarchical complexity scoring, such content is “seen through” to examine its underlying structure. The method measures the levels of abstraction and how information is coordinated. Each section and subsection of a research ethics discussion was assessed on stage of hierarchical complexity. The overall discussion was scored based on the highest stage of performance the text demonstrated. The correlation of content and its complexity indicated which topics were addressed at different stages of complexity. Scoring was performed independently by SK and SR, then discussed to reach consensus. Both authors scored the English texts, and SK scored the ones in Scandinavian languages and discussed with SR. SR is an expert HCSS stage-and-transition scorer while SK is a qualified HCSS scorer of stages 8 through 11. See table 1 for stage complexity information. 22

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Common range of stages of performance in adult tasks' hierarchical complexity

Research ethics issues in dissertations

Dissertations contained one to seven research ethics topics: approval of research ethics board (94%); information process and informed consent (86%); confidentiality (67%); ethical aspects of methods (61%); use of ethical principles and regulations (39%), rationale for the study (20%) and fair participant selection method (14%; table 2 ). All but three of the dissertations involved direct interaction with study participants; three were register-based studies.

Design of research ethics sections in Swedish nurses' dissertations

Ethics approval

The ethics approval category included descriptions of whether the dissertation has been vetted by an ethics review board. Almost all dissertations included a discussion of ethics approval (n=60), and a majority stated they had been approved by a research ethics review board (n=55). A quality and transparency concern was that several sections included no name of the ethics board and/or registration number (n=13). A minority related the issue of ethics approval to ethical codes, the Helsinki declaration or current national research ethics laws (n=14) by either stating that studies were performed in accordance with ethics regulations (n=8) or by arguing against the need for an ethics approval due to national laws (n=6).

Information and informed consent

We broadened the traditional informed consent category to accommodate information-giving processes discussed but not always expressed in terms of informed consent. Most dissertations discussed information-giving and informed consent (n=56). A third of these explicitly mentioned the concept of informed consent (n=19). A substantial amount of space was typically used to detail the informing phase of research, including the information's form (written and/or verbal) (n=41) and type. The most often-given information was freedom to withdraw from the study (n=33) and a declaration of voluntariness (n=30). Other information included confidentiality (n=22), withdrawals' non-interference with further treatment (n=7), the right to not answer questions (n=4), aim of the study (n=2), risks and benefits (n=2) and feedback of results (n=1). Those responsible for providing information as well as those receiving the information were described. Some informed consent discussions included an ethical rationale for the information process by referring to principles, codes or laws (n=16).


Items coded in the confidentiality category reported that information was accessible to only authorised persons. Confidentiality procedures were succinctly reported (n=43). Besides describing confidentiality as something that participants were guaranteed and informed about, some researchers identified how confidentiality had been handled: data were safely stored protecting participant's identity (n=12); data were analysed and reported without identifying participants (n=19) and participants in focus group interviews were counselled in ways to promote freedom of expression and confidentiality (n=2).

Ethical aspect of the methods

The category for ethical aspect of the methods included the research ethics issues in collecting data, except for questions regarding informing participants. Ethical aspects of study methods were comprised of descriptions of interviews and questionnaires (n=37). Explanations of why interviews were ethically problematic were done by referring to principles or risks of harm (n=17). The negative aspects stated (n=24) were physical and psychological with an emphasis on emotional. Strategies to impede negative consequences were depicted (n=20): adopt a sensitive attitude, adapt to the physical and mental status of the interviewee, reduce questions, provide time to reflect on the interview and arrange for a contact person. Sometimes, statements about how the participants seemed to enjoy the interview experience were included (n=14). A few sections described problems that appeared during the research interview (n=14)—for example, interviewees who cried or did not answer all questions. The most comprehensive sections covered all these issues, but the most common strategy was to mention the potential laboriousness of the interview yet argue that participants benefited from practical solutions that were provided in the interview situation or by claiming that research participants appreciated the opportunity to tell their stories. The reported ethical problems with questionnaires were primarily the tedium of answering questions and how researchers adjusted the number of requests for completion out of respect and concern for participants' possible fatigue.

Use of ethical principles and regulations

Discussions that included the usage of principles and ethical regulations like laws and research ethics codes were coded to the category of ethical principles and regulations. This category was analytically different from others because it revealed how ethics were applied in the research sections. Explicit report of laws, ethics codes and principles occurred in fewer than half of the dissertations (n=25). Principles were employed but performed in qualitatively different ways (n=17). The simplest form was to state that the study had been performed in accordance with a research ethics declaration, code or rules outlined in a research ethics book. The most elaborate ones integrated the principles and described how they were used as compasses for research procedures (n=8).

Rationale for the study

To provide an ethical rationale for the study means to justify why the study is important in a wider perspective. Thirteen dissertations featured an ethical rationale for the study, and when included, it was framed in terms of risks and benefits. The need for new and valuable knowledge that could potentially improve conditions for other people weighed heavier than the extra demand and little direct gain that the research subjects gained from participating. Some reported that the value of pursuing the research outweighed the disadvantages but entailed the necessity of protecting the autonomy of the research participants.

Fair participant selection

Fair selection of participants signifies reflections on a justified choice of participants. The reason to include vulnerable groups and groups that previously has been excluded from research was sometimes given (n=9). A few sections justified the choice of participants (n=8). The importance of including important and vulnerable groups so their voices would be heard was the main reason reported.

Design of the research ethics section

The topics of the research ethics sections are outlined in table 2 . Most frequent was to report four ethics issues (n=16), followed by three (n=14) or five issues (n= 14). The majority (72%) included 3–5 issues. Four sections stated one topic and only one dissertation section reported seven issues. The most common composition of a section about research ethics discussed five topics: the approval from a research review board, information and informed consent, ethical aspects of the methods, confidentiality and principles.

Complexity of reasoning

The analysed texts demonstrated three stages of performance as measured by hierarchical complexity: abstract (n=4), formal (n=54) and systematic (n=6).

Abstract stage text performances consisted of declarative statements ( table 3 ). Unsupported categorical assertions were made and justified by invoking another assertion. Generalisations were created by quantifying people and events. Often-used quantifications in the sample were “all participants” and “all studies”. Research ethics sections included mainly generalisations about actions that had been performed.

Representative examples of reasoning in research ethics at three stages of complexity

Reasoning at the formal stage of performance used empirical or logical evidence ( table 3 ). Assertions were supported by explicit logic or evidence to justify the assertion—for example, by providing a logical explanation—for example, using such terms as because, in order to, since, if, then, therefore. Descriptions of hypothetical or alternative options in the future were sometimes included. The logic was linear. Such linear logic took the form of if–then constructions or chains of logic. Some used principles as logical reasons for actions.

Systematic stage performances were characterised by the ability to coordinate at least two logical relations into a system ( table 3 ); in other words, they demonstrated reasoning about complex causation and ability to understand a system of logical relationships. For example, one researcher described procedures for finding the “right people” by invoking a multivariate system that required the coordination of multiple variables. Systemic stage performances were characterised by more fluid reasoning than the linear, logical performances.

Comparing content and complexity

Few dissertations demonstrated abstract reasoning and systematic reasoning, four and six, respectively, but showed interesting patterns. The texts with abstract stage reasoning reported either one or two topics. All four mentioned approval; information and methodological issues were raised by only two. Texts with systematic reasoning introduced three to five ethical issues. Half of them discussed principles (as compared to merely citing a principle as the reason for an action), and the other three reported the rationale for the study, indicating that the topic and study could perhaps be viewed in a wider context. Among the majority of texts demonstrating formal reasoning, the topics varied from one to seven, meaning at least formal reasoning was needed to explain all conceivable aspects. Formal reasoning is required to report such tasks as fair selection of participants, rationale for the study and principles, ethics codes and laws.

Our study demonstrates that research ethics are insufficiently reported and inadequately described in many nursing dissertations. Few ethical topics are considered, and they are not discussed in a thorough way. While most note official approval and describe informed consent issues, other issues like the rationale for the study and how the participants were selected are infrequently reported. The level of complexity of reasoning was inadequate in most dissertations. The majority of the dissertations used formal reasoning, although by their nature, the ethical issues introduced in them require more complex reasoning to be satisfactorily addressed.

A methodological strength of our study is its inclusion of a large number of dissertations, which are likely representative of dissertations by Swedish nurses. A major advantage of our method is that the analytical approach permits assessments and comparisons of the coverage of ethical issues and the complexity of reasoning.

A methodological shortcoming is that the analysis was primarily focused on the section denoted “Ethical considerations/approval”, thus some ethics topics and reasoning might have passed undetected if they were treated in other parts of the dissertation. The analysis is thus limited to what the authors define as belonging to ethics sections. Our analysis identified the most complex stage of reasoning as a criterion for analysis because ethical considerations are complex matters. A more extensive analysis could have also analysed the entire low to high range of reasoning demonstrated in each ethics section. An implication of the language analyses is that we do not know which and how the ethical issues were applied in reality. Some issues could have been omitted from the dissertation text even though the issue was dealt with in practice and vice versa. The consistency between writing about ethics and ethical behaviour in the field—for example, in contact with research subjects and patients, should be investigated in future studies.

The first main finding is the incompleteness of the elaboration of topics and details in several dissertations, which is consistent with several studies in the domain of research ethics. A previous study showed a high level of errors in research ethics committee letters; that is, procedural violations, missing information, slip-ups and discrepancies. 8 Earlier research on Swedish nurses' dissertations demonstrate the questionable quality due to short length, few references and a narrow range of topics. 12

In our study, few topics were addressed. Emanuel et al argued for seven requirements to be considered and met in the conduct of ethical research: scientific value, validity, fair subject selection, favourable risk–benefit ratio, independent review, informed consent and respect for potential and enrolled subjects. 23 Applied to our findings, some requirements may be treated in other parts of a dissertation, but several dissertations leave out topics that are necessary for judging their ethical quality.

Informing potential participants and pursuing informed consent was reported in almost 90% of the dissertations' ethics sections. This frequency is higher than that reported in a study of Turkish nurses' dissertations where subjects were not informed about the study (72.7%) and the researchers had not obtained permission from the subjects (73.6%). 11

The second main finding is the insufficient level of complexity of reasoning, with which research ethics are handled. Findings from a discourse analysis of research ethics committee letters showed that there was “the lack of formal reasoning” (p 258) and ethical arguments—for example, informed consent are described as procedural norms rather than an ethics principle possible to dispute. 9 This is consistent with our findings, because a significant number invoked research ethics principles to justify procedures taken, rather than to use principles to support ethical arguments for and against certain procedures. However, our findings also showed that the great majority used at least some formal reasoning, as measured by hierarchical complexity.

Unfortunately, formal reasoning is necessary but not sufficient for adequacy in ethical matters. The analysis showed that formal reasoning and systematic reasoning were needed to elaborate on topics, and the comparison of complexity reasoning and content indicated that higher levels of reasoning involved more elaborated use of ethics principles. Very few used systematic reasoning, and none used metasystematic, which would be preferable because several of the research ethics concepts are metasystematic stage principles. For example, informed consent is a metasystematic stage concept because it coordinates the system of informing a research subject and the system of obtaining consent from the person. 24 This means that metasystematic reasoning is needed for a full understanding and use of these concepts.

What are possible explanations for the low levels of reasoning on research ethics? One possibility is that ethical issues are dealt with at a sufficiently high level of complexity in practice, whereas the text of the dissertation merely reflects a research tradition that discounts the importance of performing and explaining ethical reasoning. Disciplinary norms for terse writing styles are presumably promoted by supervisors and department guidelines. For example, nurses' dissertations in social science use more references to methods, ethics and philosophy of science than dissertation in the medical science tradition. 23 In addition, poor writing may occur because researchers mimic previous dissertations or regard ethical considerations as bureaucratic hurdles rather than moral requirements to protect participants. The supervisor role is an important factor since they sometimes acknowledge a considerable lack of knowledge about research ethics. 25 Another conceivable explanation is that the level of ethical reasoning corresponds rather accurately to the level of complexity the doctoral students and their supervisors use to handle complex issues in general. In other words, they are arguing on ethical issues at their highest complexity level. In that case, the scientists' (PhD students' and supervisors') ability to discuss at more complex levels must be improved for ethical issues to be sufficiently managed in the future. All these possibilities suggest further research is needed to account for our findings, since ethics have long been an important part of nurses' education and occupation.

There are several implications of insufficient ethical reasoning. Integrity of the research subjects and patients are at risk, and patients, if they participate, may be informed without understanding the implications. From the perspective of the readers of the scientific literature, it is impossible to assess how and why the authors dealt with various ethical issues. A crucial implication is the consequences of selection of research questions, methods and participants/sample. Scientists performing at abstract or formal stages are less likely to integrate relevant ethical aspects into their research aims than scientists at higher complexity levels. This is because such integration, by its nature, is multivariate at minimum. They will differ quite dramatically in the way they understand principles as principles, “risks” and “benefits”, rationale of the investigation, etc. Researchers with systemic or metasystematic stage reasoning are able to ask more complex questions, juggle ethics, research questions, and methods and design more complex research projects. 26

Our conclusion is that if the established praxis to include discussion of research ethics in Swedish nurses' dissertations is going to be valuable, and if its purpose is to indicate that the research complied with expected ethics, then the reporting must exhibit a certain quality, comprehensiveness and sufficiently significant treatment of ethics. Our study illustrates that factors that improve the quality include: appropriately thorough consideration of several ethical issues while avoiding minutiae; use of ethical principles in appropriate contexts to justify choices and reasons to support actions taken and use of at least formal and systematic reasoning. In addition, we would like to see more reflection and a critical stance to what has been done in the dissertation work.

In order to accomplish the intent of reporting research ethics, several improvements are needed. The most straightforward solution is to enhance the research ethics teaching in graduate education. Students must learn how to perform ethically sound research from the first steps of planning and performing to writing up the results and their potential and ability to report and reflect on ethical aspects of the research process must be enhanced. A more profound resolution is to emphasise metasystematic thinking in post-graduate studies and recruit senior researcher and post-graduate students who already have developed a systematic or metasystematic way of reasoning. This longer-term solution will also constitute the foundation for further development of complexity in handling ethics issues in the future.


We would like to thank professor Per Sjölander for valuable comments on the discussion.

  • Emanuel EJ ,
  • Wendler D ,
  • Dixon-Woods M ,
  • Ashcroft RE
  • Finlay KA ,
  • Fernandez CV
  • Angell EL ,
  • Jackson CJ ,
  • Ashcroft RE ,
  • Dixon-Woods M
  • O'Reilly M ,
  • Rowan-Legg A ,
  • Ulusoy MF ,
  • Kjellström S ,
  • Creswell JW
  • Commons ML ,
  • Smith JEV ,
  • Goodheart EA ,
  • Dawson TL ,
  • Swedish law
  • Rodriguez JA ,
  • Szirony TA ,
  • Richards FA

Supplementary materials

Web only appendix.

Files in this Data Supplement:

  • web only appendix

Competing interests None.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Read the full text or download the PDF:

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Dissertations 4: methodology: structure.

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Indicative Chapter Structure

If your department have given you guidance as to the structure of your methodology chapter, make sure you adhere to it.  

If not, a typical structure might look something like this (but not necessarily including all these elements, and in this order!): 


Research philosophy 


Primary and/or secondary sources? 

Quantitative or/and qualitative method(s)? 

Procedural method 


Reflection on the methods 


Limitations and delimitations 


Each section is addressed in the tabs of this guide.  

Always  check with your supervisor or consult the assignment guidelines posted on Blackboard if you are unsure about which sections you will need to include in your dissertation.   

Alternative Structures

The links below also suggest alternative structures: 

How to write Research Methodology 

How to Write Methodology for Dissertation 

The Method Chapter 

Writing the Methodology Chapter of a Qualitative Study 

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How to Write a Dissertation | A Guide to Structure & Content

A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research, submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter).

The most common dissertation structure in the sciences and social sciences includes:

  • An introduction to your topic
  • A literature review that surveys relevant sources
  • An explanation of your methodology
  • An overview of the results of your research
  • A discussion of the results and their implications
  • A conclusion that shows what your research has contributed

Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an argument by analysing primary and secondary sources . Instead of the standard structure outlined here, you might organise your chapters around different themes or case studies.

Other important elements of the dissertation include the title page , abstract , and reference list . If in doubt about how your dissertation should be structured, always check your department’s guidelines and consult with your supervisor.

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Table of contents

Acknowledgements, table of contents, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review / theoretical framework, methodology, reference list.

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation’s title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Many programs have strict requirements for formatting the dissertation title page .

The title page is often used as cover when printing and binding your dissertation .

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The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you.

The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150-300 words long. You should write it at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the dissertation. In the abstract, make sure to:

  • State the main topic and aims of your research
  • Describe the methods you used
  • Summarise the main results
  • State your conclusions

Although the abstract is very short, it’s the first part (and sometimes the only part) of your dissertation that people will read, so it’s important that you get it right. If you’re struggling to write a strong abstract, read our guide on how to write an abstract .

In the table of contents, list all of your chapters and subheadings and their page numbers. The dissertation contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure and helps easily navigate the document.

All parts of your dissertation should be included in the table of contents, including the appendices. You can generate a table of contents automatically in Word.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

If you have used a lot of tables and figures in your dissertation, you should itemise them in a numbered list . You can automatically generate this list using the Insert Caption feature in Word.

If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetised list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

If you have used a lot of highly specialised terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary . List the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition.

In the introduction, you set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance, and tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Establish your research topic , giving necessary background information to contextualise your work
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research
  • Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
  • Clearly state your objectives and research questions , and indicate how you will answer them
  • Give an overview of your dissertation’s structure

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. By the end, the reader should understand the what , why and how of your research. Not sure how? Read our guide on how to write a dissertation introduction .

Before you start on your research, you should have conducted a literature review to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic. This means:

  • Collecting sources (e.g. books and journal articles) and selecting the most relevant ones
  • Critically evaluating and analysing each source
  • Drawing connections between them (e.g. themes, patterns, conflicts, gaps) to make an overall point

In the dissertation literature review chapter or section, you shouldn’t just summarise existing studies, but develop a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear basis or justification for your own research. For example, it might aim to show how your research:

  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Takes a new theoretical or methodological approach to the topic
  • Proposes a solution to an unresolved problem
  • Advances a theoretical debate
  • Builds on and strengthens existing knowledge with new data

The literature review often becomes the basis for a theoretical framework , in which you define and analyse the key theories, concepts and models that frame your research. In this section you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationship between concepts or variables.

The methodology chapter or section describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to assess its validity. You should generally include:

  • The overall approach and type of research (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, experimental, ethnographic)
  • Your methods of collecting data (e.g. interviews, surveys, archives)
  • Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
  • Your methods of analysing data (e.g. statistical analysis, discourse analysis)
  • Tools and materials you used (e.g. computer programs, lab equipment)
  • A discussion of any obstacles you faced in conducting the research and how you overcame them
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as convincing the reader that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.

Next, you report the results of your research . You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Only report results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined.

For example, for qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, the presentation of the data will often be woven together with discussion and analysis, while in quantitative and experimental research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their meaning. If you’re unsure, consult with your supervisor and look at sample dissertations to find out the best structure for your research.

In the results section it can often be helpful to include tables, graphs and charts. Think carefully about how best to present your data, and don’t include tables or figures that just repeat what you have written  –  they should provide extra information or usefully visualise the results in a way that adds value to your text.

Full versions of your data (such as interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix .

The discussion  is where you explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research questions. Here you should interpret the results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data and discuss any limitations that might have influenced the results.

The discussion should reference other scholarly work to show how your results fit with existing knowledge. You can also make recommendations for future research or practical action.

The dissertation conclusion should concisely answer the main research question, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of your central argument. Wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you did and how you did it. The conclusion often also includes recommendations for research or practice.

In this section, it’s important to show how your findings contribute to knowledge in the field and why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known?

You must include full details of all sources that you have cited in a reference list (sometimes also called a works cited list or bibliography). It’s important to follow a consistent reference style . Each style has strict and specific requirements for how to format your sources in the reference list.

The most common styles used in UK universities are Harvard referencing and Vancouver referencing . Your department will often specify which referencing style you should use – for example, psychology students tend to use APA style , humanities students often use MHRA , and law students always use OSCOLA . M ake sure to check the requirements, and ask your supervisor if you’re unsure.

To save time creating the reference list and make sure your citations are correctly and consistently formatted, you can use our free APA Citation Generator .

Your dissertation itself should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents you have used that do not fit into the main body of your dissertation (such as interview transcripts, survey questions or tables with full figures) can be added as appendices .

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Home » Dissertation Methodology – Structure, Example and Writing Guide

Dissertation Methodology – Structure, Example and Writing Guide

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Dissertation Methodology

Dissertation Methodology

In any research, the methodology chapter is one of the key components of your dissertation. It provides a detailed description of the methods you used to conduct your research and helps readers understand how you obtained your data and how you plan to analyze it. This section is crucial for replicating the study and validating its results.

Here are the basic elements that are typically included in a dissertation methodology:

  • Introduction : This section should explain the importance and goals of your research .
  • Research Design : Outline your research approach and why it’s appropriate for your study. You might be conducting an experimental research, a qualitative research, a quantitative research, or a mixed-methods research.
  • Data Collection : This section should detail the methods you used to collect your data. Did you use surveys, interviews, observations, etc.? Why did you choose these methods? You should also include who your participants were, how you recruited them, and any ethical considerations.
  • Data Analysis : Explain how you intend to analyze the data you collected. This could include statistical analysis, thematic analysis, content analysis, etc., depending on the nature of your study.
  • Reliability and Validity : Discuss how you’ve ensured the reliability and validity of your study. For instance, you could discuss measures taken to reduce bias, how you ensured that your measures accurately capture what they were intended to, or how you will handle any limitations in your study.
  • Ethical Considerations : This is where you state how you have considered ethical issues related to your research, how you have protected the participants’ rights, and how you have complied with the relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Limitations : Acknowledge any limitations of your methodology, including any biases and constraints that might have affected your study.
  • Summary : Recap the key points of your methodology chapter, highlighting the overall approach and rationalization of your research.

Types of Dissertation Methodology

The type of methodology you choose for your dissertation will depend on the nature of your research question and the field you’re working in. Here are some of the most common types of methodologies used in dissertations:

Experimental Research

This involves creating an experiment that will test your hypothesis. You’ll need to design an experiment, manipulate variables, collect data, and analyze that data to draw conclusions. This is commonly used in fields like psychology, biology, and physics.

Survey Research

This type of research involves gathering data from a large number of participants using tools like questionnaires or surveys. It can be used to collect a large amount of data and is often used in fields like sociology, marketing, and public health.

Qualitative Research

This type of research is used to explore complex phenomena that can’t be easily quantified. Methods include interviews, focus groups, and observations. This methodology is common in fields like anthropology, sociology, and education.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research uses numerical data to answer research questions. This can include statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques. It’s common in fields like economics, psychology, and health sciences.

Case Study Research

This type of research involves in-depth investigation of a particular case, such as an individual, group, or event. This methodology is often used in psychology, social sciences, and business.

Mixed Methods Research

This combines qualitative and quantitative research methods in a single study. It’s used to answer more complex research questions and is becoming more popular in fields like social sciences, health sciences, and education.

Action Research

This type of research involves taking action and then reflecting upon the results. This cycle of action-reflection-action continues throughout the study. It’s often used in fields like education and organizational development.

Longitudinal Research

This type of research involves studying the same group of individuals over an extended period of time. This could involve surveys, observations, or experiments. It’s common in fields like psychology, sociology, and medicine.

Ethnographic Research

This type of research involves the in-depth study of people and cultures. Researchers immerse themselves in the culture they’re studying to collect data. This is often used in fields like anthropology and social sciences.

Structure of Dissertation Methodology

The structure of a dissertation methodology can vary depending on your field of study, the nature of your research, and the guidelines of your institution. However, a standard structure typically includes the following elements:

  • Introduction : Briefly introduce your overall approach to the research. Explain what you plan to explore and why it’s important.
  • Research Design/Approach : Describe your overall research design. This can be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Explain the rationale behind your chosen design and why it is suitable for your research questions or hypotheses.
  • Data Collection Methods : Detail the methods you used to collect your data. You should include what type of data you collected, how you collected it, and why you chose this method. If relevant, you can also include information about your sample population, such as how many people participated, how they were chosen, and any relevant demographic information.
  • Data Analysis Methods : Explain how you plan to analyze your collected data. This will depend on the nature of your data. For example, if you collected quantitative data, you might discuss statistical analysis techniques. If you collected qualitative data, you might discuss coding strategies, thematic analysis, or narrative analysis.
  • Reliability and Validity : Discuss how you’ve ensured the reliability and validity of your research. This might include steps you took to reduce bias or increase the accuracy of your measurements.
  • Ethical Considerations : If relevant, discuss any ethical issues associated with your research. This might include how you obtained informed consent from participants, how you ensured participants’ privacy and confidentiality, or any potential conflicts of interest.
  • Limitations : Acknowledge any limitations in your research methodology. This could include potential sources of bias, difficulties with data collection, or limitations in your analysis methods.
  • Summary/Conclusion : Briefly summarize the key points of your methodology, emphasizing how it helps answer your research questions or hypotheses.

How to Write Dissertation Methodology

Writing a dissertation methodology requires you to be clear and precise about the way you’ve carried out your research. It’s an opportunity to convince your readers of the appropriateness and reliability of your approach to your research question. Here is a basic guideline on how to write your methodology section:

1. Introduction

Start your methodology section by restating your research question(s) or objective(s). This ensures your methodology directly ties into the aim of your research.

2. Approach

Identify your overall approach: qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Explain why you have chosen this approach.

  • Qualitative methods are typically used for exploratory research and involve collecting non-numerical data. This might involve interviews, observations, or analysis of texts.
  • Quantitative methods are used for research that relies on numerical data. This might involve surveys, experiments, or statistical analysis.
  • Mixed methods use a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

3. Research Design

Describe the overall design of your research. This could involve explaining the type of study (e.g., case study, ethnography, experimental research, etc.), how you’ve defined and measured your variables, and any control measures you’ve implemented.

4. Data Collection

Explain in detail how you collected your data.

  • If you’ve used qualitative methods, you might detail how you selected participants for interviews or focus groups, how you conducted observations, or how you analyzed existing texts.
  • If you’ve used quantitative methods, you might detail how you designed your survey or experiment, how you collected responses, and how you ensured your data is reliable and valid.

5. Data Analysis

Describe how you analyzed your data.

  • If you’re doing qualitative research, this might involve thematic analysis, discourse analysis, or grounded theory.
  • If you’re doing quantitative research, you might be conducting statistical tests, regression analysis, or factor analysis.

Discuss any ethical issues related to your research. This might involve explaining how you obtained informed consent, how you’re protecting participants’ privacy, or how you’re managing any potential harms to participants.

7. Reliability and Validity

Discuss the steps you’ve taken to ensure the reliability and validity of your data.

  • Reliability refers to the consistency of your measurements, and you might discuss how you’ve piloted your instruments or used standardized measures.
  • Validity refers to the accuracy of your measurements, and you might discuss how you’ve ensured your measures reflect the concepts they’re supposed to measure.

8. Limitations

Every study has its limitations. Discuss the potential weaknesses of your chosen methods and explain any obstacles you faced in your research.

9. Conclusion

Summarize the key points of your methodology, emphasizing how it helps to address your research question or objective.

Example of Dissertation Methodology

An Example of Dissertation Methodology is as follows:

Chapter 3: Methodology

  • Introduction

This chapter details the methodology adopted in this research. The study aimed to explore the relationship between stress and productivity in the workplace. A mixed-methods research design was used to collect and analyze data.

Research Design

This study adopted a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative surveys with qualitative interviews to provide a comprehensive understanding of the research problem. The rationale for this approach is that while quantitative data can provide a broad overview of the relationships between variables, qualitative data can provide deeper insights into the nuances of these relationships.

Data Collection Methods

Quantitative Data Collection : An online self-report questionnaire was used to collect data from participants. The questionnaire consisted of two standardized scales: the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to measure stress levels and the Individual Work Productivity Questionnaire (IWPQ) to measure productivity. The sample consisted of 200 office workers randomly selected from various companies in the city.

Qualitative Data Collection : Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 participants chosen from the initial sample. The interview guide included questions about participants’ experiences with stress and how they perceived its impact on their productivity.

Data Analysis Methods

Quantitative Data Analysis : Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze the survey data. Pearson’s correlation was used to examine the relationship between stress and productivity.

Qualitative Data Analysis : Interviews were transcribed and subjected to thematic analysis using NVivo software. This process allowed for identifying and analyzing patterns and themes regarding the impact of stress on productivity.

Reliability and Validity

To ensure reliability and validity, standardized measures with good psychometric properties were used. In qualitative data analysis, triangulation was employed by having two researchers independently analyze the data and then compare findings.

Ethical Considerations

All participants provided informed consent prior to their involvement in the study. They were informed about the purpose of the study, their rights as participants, and the confidentiality of their responses.


The main limitation of this study is its reliance on self-report measures, which can be subject to biases such as social desirability bias. Moreover, the sample was drawn from a single city, which may limit the generalizability of the findings.

Where to Write Dissertation Methodology

In a dissertation or thesis, the Methodology section usually follows the Literature Review. This placement allows the Methodology to build upon the theoretical framework and existing research outlined in the Literature Review, and precedes the Results or Findings section. Here’s a basic outline of how most dissertations are structured:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Literature Review (or it may be interspersed throughout the dissertation)
  • Methodology
  • Results/Findings
  • References/Bibliography

In the Methodology chapter, you will discuss the research design, data collection methods, data analysis methods, and any ethical considerations pertaining to your study. This allows your readers to understand how your research was conducted and how you arrived at your results.

Advantages of Dissertation Methodology

The dissertation methodology section plays an important role in a dissertation for several reasons. Here are some of the advantages of having a well-crafted methodology section in your dissertation:

  • Clarifies Your Research Approach : The methodology section explains how you plan to tackle your research question, providing a clear plan for data collection and analysis.
  • Enables Replication : A detailed methodology allows other researchers to replicate your study. Replication is an important aspect of scientific research because it provides validation of the study’s results.
  • Demonstrates Rigor : A well-written methodology shows that you’ve thought critically about your research methods and have chosen the most appropriate ones for your research question. This adds credibility to your study.
  • Enhances Transparency : Detailing your methods allows readers to understand the steps you took in your research. This increases the transparency of your study and allows readers to evaluate potential biases or limitations.
  • Helps in Addressing Research Limitations : In your methodology section, you can acknowledge and explain the limitations of your research. This is important as it shows you understand that no research method is perfect and there are always potential weaknesses.
  • Facilitates Peer Review : A detailed methodology helps peer reviewers assess the soundness of your research design. This is an important part of the publication process if you aim to publish your dissertation in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Establishes the Validity and Reliability : Your methodology section should also include a discussion of the steps you took to ensure the validity and reliability of your measurements, which is crucial for establishing the overall quality of your research.

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  • Cookies & Privacy
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgements
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How to structure the Research Limitations section of your dissertation

There is no "one best way" to structure the Research Limitations section of your dissertation. However, we recommend a structure based on three moves : the announcing , reflecting and forward looking move. The announcing move immediately allows you to identify the limitations of your dissertation and explain how important each of these limitations is. The reflecting move provides greater depth, helping to explain the nature of the limitations and justify the choices that you made during the research process. Finally, the forward looking move enables you to suggest how such limitations could be overcome in future. The collective aim of these three moves is to help you walk the reader through your Research Limitations section in a succinct and structured way. This will make it clear to the reader that you recognise the limitations of your own research, that you understand why such factors are limitations, and can point to ways of combating these limitations if future research was carried out. This article explains what should be included in each of these three moves :

  • THE ANNOUNCING MOVE: Identifying limitations and explaining how important they are
  • THE REFLECTING MOVE: Explaining the nature of the limitations and justifying the choices you made
  • THE FORWARD LOOKING MOVE: Suggesting how such limitations could be overcome in future

THE ANNOUNCING MOVE Identifying limitations, and explaining how important they are

There are many possible limitations that your research may have faced. However, is not necessary for you to discuss all of these limitations in your Research Limitations section. After all, you are not writing a 2000 word critical review of the limitations of your dissertation, just a 200-500 word critique that is only one section long (i.e., the Research Limitations section within your Conclusions chapter). Therefore, in this first announcing move , we would recommend that you identify only those limitations that had the greatest potential impact on: (a) the quality of your findings; and (b) your ability to effectively answer your research questions and/or hypotheses.

We use the word potential impact because we often do not know the degree to which different factors limited our findings or our ability to effectively answer our research questions and/or hypotheses. For example, we know that when adopting a quantitative research design, a failure to use a probability sampling technique significantly limits our ability to make broader generalisations from our results (i.e., our ability to make statistical inferences from our sample to the population being studied). However, the degree to which this reduces the quality of our findings is a matter of debate. Also, whilst the lack of a probability sampling technique when using a quantitative research design is a very obvious example of a research limitation, other limitations are far less clear. Therefore, the key point is to focus on those limitations that you feel had the greatest impact on your findings, as well as your ability to effectively answer your research questions and/or hypotheses.

Overall, the announcing move should be around 10-20% of the total word count of the Research Limitations section.

THE REFLECTING MOVE Explaining the nature of the limitations and justifying the choices you made

Having identified the most important limitations to your dissertation in the announcing move , the reflecting move focuses on explaining the nature of these limitations and justifying the choices that you made during the research process. This part should be around 60-70% of the total word count of the Research Limitations section.

It is important to remember at this stage that all research suffers from limitations, whether it is performed by undergraduate and master's level dissertation students, or seasoned academics. Acknowledging such limitations should not be viewed as a weakness, highlighting to the person marking your work the reasons why you should receive a lower grade. Instead, the reader is more likely to accept that you recognise the limitations of your own research if you write a high quality reflecting move . This is because explaining the limitations of your research and justifying the choices you made during the dissertation process demonstrates the command that you had over your research.

We talk about explaining the nature of the limitations in your dissertation because such limitations are highly research specific. Let's take the example of potential limitations to your sampling strategy. Whilst you may have a number of potential limitations in sampling strategy, let's focus on the lack of probability sampling ; that is, of all the different types of sampling technique that you could have used [see Types of probability sampling and Types of non-probability sampling ], you choose not to use a probability sampling technique (e.g., simple random sampling , systematic random sampling , stratified random sampling ). As mentioned, if you used a quantitative research design in your dissertation, the lack of probability sampling is an important, obvious limitation to your research. This is because it prevents you from making generalisations about the population you are studying (e.g. Facebook usage at a single university of 20,000 students) from the data you have collected (e.g., a survey of 400 students at the same university). Since an important component of quantitative research is such generalisation, this is a clear limitation. However, the lack of a probability sampling technique is not viewed as a limitation if you used a qualitative research design. In qualitative research designs, a non-probability sampling technique is typically selected over a probability sampling technique.

And this is just part of the puzzle?

Even if you used a quantitative research design, but failed to employ a probability sampling technique, there are still many perfectly justifiable reasons why you could have made such a choice. For example, it may have been impossible (or near on impossible) to get a list of the population you were studying (e.g., a list of all the 20,000 students at the single university you were interested in). Since probability sampling is only possible when we have such a list, the lack of such a list or inability to attain such a list is a perfectly justifiable reason for not using a probability sampling technique; even if such a technique is the ideal.

As such, the purpose of all the guides we have written on research limitations is to help you: (a) explain the nature of the limitations in your dissertation; and (b) justify the choices you made.

In helping you to justifying the choices that you made, these articles explain not only when something is, in theory , an obvious limitation, but how, in practice , such a limitation was not necessarily so damaging to the quality of your dissertation. This should significantly strengthen the quality of your Research Limitations section.

THE FORWARD LOOKING MOVE Suggesting how such limitations could be overcome in future

Finally, the forward looking move builds on the reflecting move by suggesting how the limitations you have discuss could be overcome through future research. Whilst a lot could be written in this part of the Research Limitations section, we would recommend that it is only around 10-20% of the total word count for this section.

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Example Documents

Each project is different and so the documentation required for different projects is different too.  Below you will find some examples of study documentation, which you may use as a guide when producing your own.

General Tips

  • Use simple words and sentences.
  • Ensure the information is easy to follow - consider how you format the text and whether to use flowcharts/diagrams.
  • Ask rather than demand.  
  • Avoid using jargon.  
  • Use the active (not passive) voice, e.g. 'We invite you...' instead of 'You are invited to...'
  • Tailor your material to the audience, e.g. consent forms for preschool children will be different to those for young adults.
  • For guidance on writing a good lay summary, see VoiceNorth's short video:  Bitesize Training - How to Write a Good Lay Summar y. 

Ethics Application Forms

At Newcastle University, researchers must complete an ethics application form, before any research commences, either by:

  • completing the University Online Ethics Form  or
  • by completing the HRA IRAS form  (if NHS/HSC Research Ethics Committee approval required)*

*Note, if you are unsure whether your study requires NHS/HSC REC approval, you should complete the University Online Ethics Form first, which will notify you accordingly if NHS/HSC REC approval is needed.

Ethics application forms will ask the researcher for key information about the research project, including:

  • Principal Investigator contact details
  • Project description
  • Proposed project start and end dates
  • Details of the risks associated with the research
  • Proposed measures to prevent/minimise the risks
  • Additional details, as applicable  

The information provided should be written for a lay audience, and supporting documentation should be attached with the application form (e.g. information sheets, consent forms, data management plans and other relevant research materials, including for example research questionnaires, recruitment materials). 

Below are examples of ethics application forms:

1.  Example Ethics Form - Cyber Bullying [PDF: 122KB]

2.  Example Ethics Form - Student Project [WORD: 50KB]

3.  Example Ethics Form - Food & Nutrition [PDF: 496KB]

4.  Example Ethics Form - Sexual Health [PDF: 201KB]

Participant Information Sheets (PIS)

The Participant Information Sheet (PIS) provides participants with sufficient information about the research study to allow them to make an appropriate (fully informed) decision about taking part. For further information, please see the Human Participation - Informing Participants section.

‌ Example Information Sheet

Consent Forms

On receiving the information about the research study (typically through a Participant Information Sheet), the participant should be allowed time to consider whether or not to take part.  If they wish to take part, typically participants will sign a Consent Form.  For further information, please refer to the section on Human Participation - Acquiring Voluntary Consent  and the University's Informed Consent Guidelines .

The University has also developed an Example Consent Form that can be downloaded and adapted to the research project.

Data Management Plans

A research data management plan outlines how a researcher will collect, use and store data, during and after the research study.  For further information, please see the Data - Governance considerations for research data .

DMPOnline provides access to example Data Management Plans.  The online tool can also be used to develop Data Management Plans that meet different funder requirements.   

Further guidance is available through the University's  Research Data Service (RDS) .

Privacy Notice

A Privacy Notice sets out how personal information will be processed in accordance with the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Participants in a research project should be provided with a Privacy Notice alongside a Participant Information Sheet (PIS), and have the opportunity to ask questions before they sign a Consent Form.  

To support researchers, the University has created a template form that can be downloaded and adapted to the project.

Template Form

Privacy Notice Template for Research

If you wish to recommend any changes to the information above, or have any example documents that may help other researchers, please contact  [email protected]

how to write the ethics section of a dissertation

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How to Write an APA Methods Section | With Examples

Published on February 5, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on June 22, 2023.

The methods section of an APA style paper is where you report in detail how you performed your study. Research papers in the social and natural sciences often follow APA style. This article focuses on reporting quantitative research methods .

In your APA methods section, you should report enough information to understand and replicate your study, including detailed information on the sample , measures, and procedures used.

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Table of contents

Structuring an apa methods section.


Example of an APA methods section

Other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about writing an apa methods section.

The main heading of “Methods” should be centered, boldfaced, and capitalized. Subheadings within this section are left-aligned, boldfaced, and in title case. You can also add lower level headings within these subsections, as long as they follow APA heading styles .

To structure your methods section, you can use the subheadings of “Participants,” “Materials,” and “Procedures.” These headings are not mandatory—aim to organize your methods section using subheadings that make sense for your specific study.

Note that not all of these topics will necessarily be relevant for your study. For example, if you didn’t need to consider outlier removal or ways of assigning participants to different conditions, you don’t have to report these steps.

The APA also provides specific reporting guidelines for different types of research design. These tell you exactly what you need to report for longitudinal designs , replication studies, experimental designs , and so on. If your study uses a combination design, consult APA guidelines for mixed methods studies.

Detailed descriptions of procedures that don’t fit into your main text can be placed in supplemental materials (for example, the exact instructions and tasks given to participants, the full analytical strategy including software code, or additional figures and tables).

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how to write the ethics section of a dissertation

Begin the methods section by reporting sample characteristics, sampling procedures, and the sample size.

Participant or subject characteristics

When discussing people who participate in research, descriptive terms like “participants,” “subjects” and “respondents” can be used. For non-human animal research, “subjects” is more appropriate.

Specify all relevant demographic characteristics of your participants. This may include their age, sex, ethnic or racial group, gender identity, education level, and socioeconomic status. Depending on your study topic, other characteristics like educational or immigration status or language preference may also be relevant.

Be sure to report these characteristics as precisely as possible. This helps the reader understand how far your results may be generalized to other people.

The APA guidelines emphasize writing about participants using bias-free language , so it’s necessary to use inclusive and appropriate terms.

Sampling procedures

Outline how the participants were selected and all inclusion and exclusion criteria applied. Appropriately identify the sampling procedure used. For example, you should only label a sample as random  if you had access to every member of the relevant population.

Of all the people invited to participate in your study, note the percentage that actually did (if you have this data). Additionally, report whether participants were self-selected, either by themselves or by their institutions (e.g., schools may submit student data for research purposes).

Identify any compensation (e.g., course credits or money) that was provided to participants, and mention any institutional review board approvals and ethical standards followed.

Sample size and power

Detail the sample size (per condition) and statistical power that you hoped to achieve, as well as any analyses you performed to determine these numbers.

It’s important to show that your study had enough statistical power to find effects if there were any to be found.

Additionally, state whether your final sample differed from the intended sample. Your interpretations of the study outcomes should be based only on your final sample rather than your intended sample.

Write up the tools and techniques that you used to measure relevant variables. Be as thorough as possible for a complete picture of your techniques.

Primary and secondary measures

Define the primary and secondary outcome measures that will help you answer your primary and secondary research questions.

Specify all instruments used in gathering these measurements and the construct that they measure. These instruments may include hardware, software, or tests, scales, and inventories.

  • To cite hardware, indicate the model number and manufacturer.
  • To cite common software (e.g., Qualtrics), state the full name along with the version number or the website URL .
  • To cite tests, scales or inventories, reference its manual or the article it was published in. It’s also helpful to state the number of items and provide one or two example items.

Make sure to report the settings of (e.g., screen resolution) any specialized apparatus used.

For each instrument used, report measures of the following:

  • Reliability : how consistently the method measures something, in terms of internal consistency or test-retest reliability.
  • Validity : how precisely the method measures something, in terms of construct validity  or criterion validity .

Giving an example item or two for tests, questionnaires , and interviews is also helpful.

Describe any covariates—these are any additional variables that may explain or predict the outcomes.

Quality of measurements

Review all methods you used to assure the quality of your measurements.

These may include:

  • training researchers to collect data reliably,
  • using multiple people to assess (e.g., observe or code) the data,
  • translation and back-translation of research materials,
  • using pilot studies to test your materials on unrelated samples.

For data that’s subjectively coded (for example, classifying open-ended responses), report interrater reliability scores. This tells the reader how similarly each response was rated by multiple raters.

Report all of the procedures applied for administering the study, processing the data, and for planned data analyses.

Data collection methods and research design

Data collection methods refers to the general mode of the instruments: surveys, interviews, observations, focus groups, neuroimaging, cognitive tests, and so on. Summarize exactly how you collected the necessary data.

Describe all procedures you applied in administering surveys, tests, physical recordings, or imaging devices, with enough detail so that someone else can replicate your techniques. If your procedures are very complicated and require long descriptions (e.g., in neuroimaging studies), place these details in supplementary materials.

To report research design, note your overall framework for data collection and analysis. State whether you used an experimental, quasi-experimental, descriptive (observational), correlational, and/or longitudinal design. Also note whether a between-subjects or a within-subjects design was used.

For multi-group studies, report the following design and procedural details as well:

  • how participants were assigned to different conditions (e.g., randomization),
  • instructions given to the participants in each group,
  • interventions for each group,
  • the setting and length of each session(s).

Describe whether any masking was used to hide the condition assignment (e.g., placebo or medication condition) from participants or research administrators. Using masking in a multi-group study ensures internal validity by reducing research bias . Explain how this masking was applied and whether its effectiveness was assessed.

Participants were randomly assigned to a control or experimental condition. The survey was administered using Qualtrics (https://www.qualtrics.com). To begin, all participants were given the AAI and a demographics questionnaire to complete, followed by an unrelated filler task. In the control condition , participants completed a short general knowledge test immediately after the filler task. In the experimental condition, participants were asked to visualize themselves taking the test for 3 minutes before they actually did. For more details on the exact instructions and tasks given, see supplementary materials.

Data diagnostics

Outline all steps taken to scrutinize or process the data after collection.

This includes the following:

  • Procedures for identifying and removing outliers
  • Data transformations to normalize distributions
  • Compensation strategies for overcoming missing values

To ensure high validity, you should provide enough detail for your reader to understand how and why you processed or transformed your raw data in these specific ways.

Analytic strategies

The methods section is also where you describe your statistical analysis procedures, but not their outcomes. Their outcomes are reported in the results section.

These procedures should be stated for all primary, secondary, and exploratory hypotheses. While primary and secondary hypotheses are based on a theoretical framework or past studies, exploratory hypotheses are guided by the data you’ve just collected.

This annotated example reports methods for a descriptive correlational survey on the relationship between religiosity and trust in science in the US. Hover over each part for explanation of what is included.

The sample included 879 adults aged between 18 and 28. More than half of the participants were women (56%), and all participants had completed at least 12 years of education. Ethics approval was obtained from the university board before recruitment began. Participants were recruited online through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk; www.mturk.com). We selected for a geographically diverse sample within the Midwest of the US through an initial screening survey. Participants were paid USD $5 upon completion of the study.

A sample size of at least 783 was deemed necessary for detecting a correlation coefficient of ±.1, with a power level of 80% and a significance level of .05, using a sample size calculator (www.sample-size.net/correlation-sample-size/).

The primary outcome measures were the levels of religiosity and trust in science. Religiosity refers to involvement and belief in religious traditions, while trust in science represents confidence in scientists and scientific research outcomes. The secondary outcome measures were gender and parental education levels of participants and whether these characteristics predicted religiosity levels.


Religiosity was measured using the Centrality of Religiosity scale (Huber, 2003). The Likert scale is made up of 15 questions with five subscales of ideology, experience, intellect, public practice, and private practice. An example item is “How often do you experience situations in which you have the feeling that God or something divine intervenes in your life?” Participants were asked to indicate frequency of occurrence by selecting a response ranging from 1 (very often) to 5 (never). The internal consistency of the instrument is .83 (Huber & Huber, 2012).

Trust in Science

Trust in science was assessed using the General Trust in Science index (McCright, Dentzman, Charters & Dietz, 2013). Four Likert scale items were assessed on a scale from 1 (completely distrust) to 5 (completely trust). An example question asks “How much do you distrust or trust scientists to create knowledge that is unbiased and accurate?” Internal consistency was .8.

Potential participants were invited to participate in the survey online using Qualtrics (www.qualtrics.com). The survey consisted of multiple choice questions regarding demographic characteristics, the Centrality of Religiosity scale, an unrelated filler anagram task, and finally the General Trust in Science index. The filler task was included to avoid priming or demand characteristics, and an attention check was embedded within the religiosity scale. For full instructions and details of tasks, see supplementary materials.

For this correlational study , we assessed our primary hypothesis of a relationship between religiosity and trust in science using Pearson moment correlation coefficient. The statistical significance of the correlation coefficient was assessed using a t test. To test our secondary hypothesis of parental education levels and gender as predictors of religiosity, multiple linear regression analysis was used.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles


  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Thematic analysis
  • Cohort study
  • Peer review
  • Ethnography

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Conformity bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Availability heuristic
  • Attrition bias
  • Social desirability bias

In your APA methods section , you should report detailed information on the participants, materials, and procedures used.

  • Describe all relevant participant or subject characteristics, the sampling procedures used and the sample size and power .
  • Define all primary and secondary measures and discuss the quality of measurements.
  • Specify the data collection methods, the research design and data analysis strategy, including any steps taken to transform the data and statistical analyses.

You should report methods using the past tense , even if you haven’t completed your study at the time of writing. That’s because the methods section is intended to describe completed actions or research.

In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion . The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation , or research proposal .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

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