The method section of an APA format psychology paper provides the methods and procedures used in a research study or experiment. This part of an APA paper is critical because it allows other researchers to see exactly how you conducted your research. This allows other researchers to reproduce your experiment if they want and to assess alternative methods that might produce differing results.
So what exactly do you need to include when writing your method section?
You should provide detailed information on the research design, participants, equipment, materials, variables, and actions taken by the participants. The method section should provide enough information to allow other researchers to replicate your experiment or study.
The Parts of the Method Section
The method section should utilize subheadings to divide up different subsections. These subsections typically include: Participants, Materials, Design, and Procedure.
In this part of the method section, you should describe the participants in your experiment including who they were, how many there were, and how they were selected. Include details about how your participants were chosen, who they were, and any unique features that may set them apart from the general population. If you utilized random selection to choose your participants, it should be noted here.
"We randomly selected 100 children from elementary schools near the University of Arizona."
At the very minimum, this part of your method section must convey who was in your study, the population from which your participants were drawn, and any restrictions on your pool of participants. For example, if your study consists of female college students from a small private college in the mid-West, you should note this in this part of your method section.
This part of your method section should also explain how many participants were in your study, how many were assigned to each condition, and basic characteristics of your participants such as sex, age, ethnicity, or religion. In this subsection, it is also important to explain why your participants took part in your research. Was your study advertised at a college or hospital? Did participants receive some type of incentive to take part in your research?
Be sure to explain how participants were assigned to each group. Were they randomly assigned to a condition or was some other selection method used?
Providing this information helps other researchers understand how your study was performed, how generalizable the result might be, and allows others researchers to replicate your results with other populations to see if they might obtain the same results.
Describe the materials, measures, equipment, or stimuli used in the experiment. This may include testing instruments, technical equipment, books, images, or other materials used in the course of research. If you used some type of psychological assessment or special equipment during the course of your experiment, it should be noted in this part of your method section.
"Two stories from Sullivan et al.'s (1994) second-order false belief attribution tasks were used to assess children's understanding of second-order beliefs."
For standard and expected equipment such as computer screens, television screens, videos, keyboards, and radios, you can simply name the device and not provide further explanation. So if you used a computer to administer a psychological assessment, you would need to name the specific assessment you used, but you could simply state that you used a computer to administer the test rather than listing the brand and technical specifications of the device.
Specialized equipment, especially if it is something that is complex or created for a niche purpose, should be given greater detail. In some instances, such as if you created a special material or apparatus for your study, you may need to provide and illustration of the item that can be included in your appendix and then referred to in your method section.
Describe the type of design used in the experiment. Specify the variables as well as the levels of these variables. Clearly identify your independent variables, dependent variables, control variables, and any extraneous variables that might influence your results. Explain whether your experiment uses a within-groups or between-groups design.
"The experiment used a 3x2 between-subjects design. Theindependent variableswere age and understanding of second-order beliefs."
The next part of your method section should detail the procedures used in your experiment. Explain what you had participants do, how you collected data, and the order in which steps occurred.
"An examiner interviewed children individually at their school in one session that lasted 20 minutes on average. The examiner explained to each child that he or she would be told two short stories and that some questions would be asked after each story. All sessions were videotaped so the data could later be coded."
Keep this subsection concise yet detailed. Explain what you did and how you did it, but do not overwhelm your readers with too much information.
Things to Remember When Writing a Method Section
- Always write the method section in the past tense.
- Provide enough detail that another researcher could replicate your experiment, but focus on brevity. Avoid unnecessary detail that is not relevant to the outcome of the experiment.
- Remember to use proper APA format. As you are writing your method section, keep a style guide published by the American Psychological Association on hand, such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
- Take a rough draft of your method section to your university's writing lab for additional assistance.
- Proofread your paper for typos, grammar problems, and spelling errors. Do not just rely on computer spell checkers. Always read through each section of your paper for agreement with other sections. If you mention steps and procedures in the method section, these elements should also be present in the results and discussion sections.
A Word From Verywell
The method section is one of the most important components of your APA format paper. The goal of your paper should be to clearly detail what you did in your experiment. Provide enough detail that another researcher could replicate your study if he or she wanted.
Finally, if you are writing your paper for a class or for a specific publication, be sure to keep in mind any specific instructions provided by your instructor or by the journal editor. Your instructor may have certain requirements that you need to follow while writing your method section.
American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2010.
Examples of method sections
An excerpt from the method section of a biology report
|Growth rates were determined by estimating the number of bacteria in a culture at zero time and after 1 hour of growth at 37°C. In order to make this estimation, a dilution series was performed by diluting aliquots of the bacterial culture, at each incubation time, by a factor of 10, 100, and 10 000 with nutrient broth, and then plating out 0.01ml of each of these dilutions onto quadrants of a sterile agar plate. Following one week’s incubation at 25°C, the colonies of the plate were counted manually.|
In this excerpt no amounts or descriptions of equipment have been included nor would they have been necessary, as someone wishing to repeat the experiment could change these and still get the same effect.
An example of a poorly written method section from a biology report
|We did a serial dilution by pipetting 0.9 ml broth into labelled tubes, then adding 2 drops (0.1ml) of the original culture to tube 1, 2 drops of tube 1 to tube 2, 2 drops of tube 2 to 3 and 2 drops of tube 3 to tube 4.Mix the tubes and spread a loopful (0.01 ml) of each tube onto a different quadrant of a labelled agar plate.||The personal pronoun we could have been avoided by using the passive voice (a serial dilution was carried out).|
Keep explanations as simple as possible.
Avoid unnecessary repetition.In the present tense, this reads like an instruction, not a description of what you did. The past tense should be used (The tubes were mixed…)
An excerpt from the method section of a psychology report
Twenty-two first year industrial trade students enrolled in a training course at a Sydney company participated in the experiment. The students were from a varied educational background but all had completed at least Year 10 of High School and all understood electrical principles at a basic level ….. Students who had completed further studies were excluded from the study. …..
The instructional materials used in the experiment consisted of information on three electrical safety tests that are performed on 240 volt electrical appliances using a volt meter…..
Subjective ratings were used in the experiment to measure cognitive load as they “provide a powerful …(measure of) the subjective experience of workload” (Gopher & Braune, 1984: 529; see also Paas & van Merrienboer, 1993; 1994) since students have little difficulty assigning a numerical value to the imposed mental workload…..A copy of the subjective mental load rating scale used in the experiment has been included in Appendix 4.
The test material consisted of test items and equipment for both written and practical tests. Each test item was designed to be objective and was marked as either correct or incorrect. The written test consisted of twenty three items. …..
All the students were randomly assigned to either the isolated-interacting elements instruction or the interacting elements only group with 11 students in each group. They were tested individually, in a quiet room. ….. At the completion of the study phase, the students were provided with a subjective mental load rating scale, the format of which was explained to both groups. They were asked to rate the mental effort involved in understanding all of the electrical tests described in their training booklet on the scale …..
The test section of the experiment followed. The students were asked to complete the written test, described in the materials section, …...
Participants section describes WHO was involved in the experiment
Materials section describes WHAT was used in the experiment.
Procedure section describes HOW the experiment was done and how the data was collected.
An excerpt from the method section of a scientific report from Education that used qualitative research methodology.
| The study originated from a need to explain the differences in participation rates between boys and girls in physical activity. In the present study, systemic functional linguistics and semiotic theory and methodology have provided the means to go beyond the earlier approach of identifying and quantifying the number and duration of different types of teachers and pupil behaviour (Good and Brophy, 1973; Cinclair and Coulthard, 1975). An approach combining systemic functional linguistics and semiotic theory and methodology meant the present research could take into account the complexity of meanings generated in lessons, including meanings, that operate at the unconscious as well as the conscious level of awareness. ….|
Systemic functional linguistics requires a detailed and systematic analysis of text….
Three schools were finally settled upon as the most appropriate sources for the variety of lesson situations required. This selection took into account the combinations of teachers and students most likely to be found in New South Wales secondary schools. One school situated in a semi-rural area had universal mixed physical education ... From these schools, six male teachers and three female teachers consented to have their lessons recorded on video and audio tape (through lapel microphones). These teachers, together with at least one other member of staff from each school, were also interviewed at length ...
In all, eighteen lessons were recorded, some lasting for one ‘period’ of 40 minutes duration and others for a ‘double period’ of 80 minutes. As some lessons yielded 40 pages of transcript, the usual detailed analysis of every clause was obviously impracticable for this amount of a data. A taxonomy was developed to provide the initial framework (grid) by which the lessons could be analysed in terms of the research questions described below. As a starting point, two lessons were selected for analysis …..
|Outline of and justification for the theoretical perspectives informing the research and the methodological approach |
The following two paragraphs provide the details of how the researcher gathered data for that part of the research that looked at classroom interactions.
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