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Research Methodologies

Explains a variety of qualitative and quantitative methodologies commonly found in scholarly articles, with tips for locating studies by methodology.

Research Methodologies

Four students studying in the Library"Research methodology is the specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information about a topic. In a research paper, the methodology section allows the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability. The methodology section answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? How was it analyzed?" (University of Witwatersrand, South Africa)

Scientists have many methodologies to choose from for their research, depending on the purpose and subject of their study. It's also not uncommon for scientists to design mixed-methods experiments that use a combination of methods.

The QuantitativeQualitative, and Systematic Reviews pages of this guide will describe the most common types of methodologies for each group. We even have tips for Finding Articles by Methodology.

If you need assistance with your research, use the Library Help contact information included in this guide—librarians are happy to help!

Identifying Research Methodologies

In scholarly articles information about methodologies generally appears after the introduction and literature review in a section labeled Methods or Methodologies, although a subheading is not always included. As you read through methods sections of articles, look for language that describes the data authors gathered and how they analyzed it. For example, if the authors collected numbers to answer questions about how much or how many, you may be looking at a quantitative article. If the authors were looking for answers to questions about behavior, emotions, opinions, and other information that can't be captured in numbers, it might be a qualitative article. If the authors located a large number of studies and analyzed those articles, you've probably found a meta-analysis or systematic review. 

The following examples illustrate how authors include information about how they collected and analyzed their data.

Example 1: Qualitative Observational Study

The following text (with methodology information in bold) comes from pages 181-182 of:

Bennion, N., Andersen Spruance, L., & Maddock, J. E. (2020). Do youth consume more calories than they expended in youth sports leagues? An observational study of physical activity, snacks, and beverages. American Journal of Health Behavior44(2), 180–187.

Study Design and Participants

This cross-sectional observational study was conducted among 3rd and 4th grade children enrolled in sports offered as part of a local parks and recreation league. These grade levels were selected because of results from Tasevska et al16 that indicated that youth physically active in this age range had higher SSB consumption than their less active counterparts, and the parks and recreation league had the most variety of sports offered for 3rd and 4th grade students. Soccer, baseball, softball, and flag football were observed; these sports were primarily single-sex teams, but in some instances, they were co-ed. Observations occurred between April and October 2018. Games were randomly selected for observation...

We used 2 instruments to collect information on physical activity and the food environment. We used the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time (SOFIT), a systematic observation technique was used to quantify physical activity21 and a food environmental scan to quantify food provided....

Environmental food scans occurred each time snacks/beverages were provided for the entire team; most often, these occur at the conclusion of the game, but sometimes during half-time. Research assistants were trained to be inconspicuous while recording the size and type of food/beverage served; they also recorded calorie counts and macro/micronutrient contents. We trained the research assistants to collect nutrition information for any product offered to children, and in most cases, multiple products were offered...

Example 2: Quantitative Survey

The following text (with methodology information in bold) comes from pages 72-73 of:

Charoensukmongkol, P. (2018). The impact of social media on social comparison and envy in teenagers: The moderating role of the parent comparing children and in-group competition among friends. Journal of Child & Family Studies27(1), 69–79.

A sample was obtained through snowball sampling methods. Graduate students who were enrolled in an advanced research methodology class at the public university in Thailand who have siblings or relatives between thirteen and 19 years of age were asked by the author to help distribute the questionnaires to their siblings or relatives to complete. Students were informed that the survey distribution was voluntary. A self-administered questionnaire survey was employed to collect data. The questionnaire was also anonymous...A total of 299 sets of questionnaires were taken by students; of this total, 250 usable questionnaires were returned to the author. The actual sample consists of 126 males (50.4%) and 124 females (49.6%). The mean age is 16.28 years (SD = 1.618). For birth order, 69 are firstborn (27.6%), 95 are middle children (38%), 61 are last born (24.4%), and 25 are only children (10%).

Social media use intensity was measured using the scale developed by Ellison et al. ([20]). The original scale was designed specifically to measure perceptions that people have regarding their personal levels of attachment to Facebook...The measures of social comparison, envy, parent comparing children, and in-group competition among friends were developed by the author. The measures of social comparison, envy, parents comparing children, and in-group competition among friends were developed by the author following the process suggested in the literature (DeVellis [18])...

Data Analyses
Partial least-squares (PLS) regression was used to analyze the data.

Example 3: Quantitative Systematic Review

The following text (with methodology information in bold) comes from page 863 of:

Gamble, A. R., Pappas, E., O’Keeffe, M., Ferreira, G., Maher, C. G., & Zadro, J. R. (2021). Intensive supervised rehabilitation versus less supervised rehabilitation following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport24(9), 862–870.

2. Methods

2.1. Protocol and registration

This systematic review was prospectively registered on PROS-PERO (CRD42020163007) and conducted in accordance with the PRISMA statement17 and AMSTAR-2 checklist (Appendix A). Two deviations from the protocol were made. We did not restrict participants' age to 16 years and older as we wanted to capture all trials on this topic. We used the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) scale to assess risk of bias instead of the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool as the authors had more experience using the PEDro scale.

2.2. Study selection

We only included randomised controlled trials (RCTs). We included trials enrolling recreational and elite athletes aged 15 years or older following ACL reconstruction. The included trials had to compare two post-operative rehabilitation protocols that only differed by the number of supervised (or clinic-based) sessions athletes received...

2.3 Data sources and searches

...Two researchers (AG and JZ) independently performed the selection of studies by screening titles and abstracts, followed by full-text articles according to the inclusion criteria. All disagreements were resolved by discussion. To ensure no eligible trials were missed from the above searches, these authors hand-searched reference lists of included trials and relevant reviews,15,18 performed citation tracking, and contacted investigators known to be involved in trials that were yet to be published...

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