How to Write a Method Section of an APA Paper

Step 4: Evaluate and justify your methodological choices

The structure of the ‘methods’ section in APA style is logical simple. At first, in the method section in APA you need to describe those who took part in the experiment, then what you have used to conduct the experiment, and finally, how it went. Below there are examples of the contents of methods section APA:

The APA style of referencing and paper writing has some regulations concerning the method section:

  1. Use the active voice and avoid complicated and fused sentences.
  2. In APA the title ‘Method’ must be centralized. The sub-sections ‘Participants,’ ‘Materials,’ and ‘Procedure’ have to be on the left side and written in italics.
  3. There can be more subsections, like ‘Design,’ ‘Apparatus’, etc. Add them if needed.
  4. Apply the proper APA style of referencing to all resources mentioned.
  5. Be sure to place only relevant information as you will use it in your conclusions. Read our article on how to write a conclusion for a research paper if you need to know more and watch the connections between all parts of a paper.

Now you know how to describe the methodology of a research paper properly in APA. With it, you will be able to write an exceptional research paper and allow everyone to use it for future studies.

Do not forget to read more of our materials concerning research paper writing. For example, learn how to write an abstract of a research paper in order to master research paper writing and avoid many problems in the future.

The Methods section of a research article is like a roadmap leading to the core of the research, guiding the readers through the actual journey the authors took to reach their destination. In the manuscript, this section contains the essential details for other scientists to replicate the experiments of the study and help the common readers to understand the study better.

The descriptive nature of this section may make it seem one of the easiest parts of a manuscript to write. However, this is also the part, where the details are often missed while writing, and sometimes during reading due to its highly technical nature’.

In this article, we will share some tips to make the Methods section of your manuscript interesting and informative. While the article uses examples mostly from the biomedical and clinical research studies, authors from other fields too would find the tips useful for preparing their next manuscript.

Break ice between the readers and the Methods section

First, let’s ponder over the issue of the perception of boredom we often associate with the Methods section of an article. It may be the names of the reagents and instruments, separated by some numbers in terms of some concentrations or the technical terminologies that make the reading a heavy-duty task. Listed below are some useful ways of breaking the ice between the Methods section and the readers:

1. Explanation: Usually, each paragraph or subsection of the Methods section talks about a specific experiment. Early in each paragraph, explain the rationale behind your choices of that particular experiment.; for example, why you used a certain compound, a specific strain of mice as the experimental model or the particular concentration of that key reagent.

For clinical research, providing a detailed rationale for selecting the exclusion or inclusion criteria can be a good idea to present early in the Methods section. If you took a conventional or widely used method, you certainly don’t need to appear stating the obvious, but for less conventional approaches sharing your reasoning of the study design instantly makes the readers curious and engaged with your paper.

2. Visual presentation: To help the readers follow the study design or methodology better, visual elements like the schematic diagram, flowchart, and table can be used in this section. They help in breaking the monotony and making the absorption of complex information easy.  

The dos and don’ts of writing the Methods section

Secondly, the information in the methods section is closely scrutinized by the journal editors and peer reviewers to assess whether the most appropriate technique was used to reach your research goal. While every detail of your experiment need not be included, the essential and critical steps should be well described to receive a positive peer review.

The essential do’s and don’ts of writing a technically sound Methods section:


1. Adhere to the specific guidelines: Read the author’s instruction section of your target journal carefully and follow the specific instructions. For example, the heading of the section “Materials and Methods” may need to be changed to “Patients and the Method” to follow the guidelines of your target journal or the name of the institutes could be omitted for the journals that do not prefer open-label reporting. Also, you may be expected to follow a particular style guideline like the one published by the American Psychological Association while writing the Methods section.

Biomedical researchers would benefit from using the checklists for different study types to ensure the essential details are included in the Methods. Some of the standardized and widely referred checklists include the ones for randomized clinical trials CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials), cohort, case-control, cross‐sectional studies STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology), diagnostic accuracy STARD (STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies), systematic reviews and meta‐analyses PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta‐Analyses), and Case reports CARE (CAse REport).

2. Structure the section so that it tells the story of your research: All the experiments should be presented in a logical manner that helps the reader retrace the gradual and development and nuances of the study. A useful way of achieving this is to describe the methods in a chronological order of the experiments. For example: for a clinical trial, you may start with the setting and time of the study (the beginning and termination dates of the study), followed by the details of the patient recruitment (Number of subjects/patients etc.), study design (prospective, retrospective or other), randomization (if any), assigning into groups, intervention, and describing the techniques used to collect, measure, and analyse data.  

3. Follow the order of the results: To improve the readability and flow of your manuscript, match the order of specific methods to the order of the results that were achieved using those methods.

4. Use subheadings: Dividing the Methods section in terms of the experiments helps the reader to follow the section better. You may write the specific objective of each experiment as a subheading. Alternatively, if applicable, the name of each experiment can also be used as subheading.

5. Provide all details meticulously: Provide the details that you considered while designing the study or collecting the data because the smallest variations in these steps may affect the results and interpretation of their significance. When employing the outcome measures, the readers would like to know the information regarding validity and reliability. The correct way of reporting the reliability and the validity depends on the specific research design. Usually, information from existing literature is presented to support for the reliability and the validity of a measure.

Carefully describe the materials, equipment (like testing instruments and technical equipment), or stimuli used in the experiment. If your study involved a survey or any psychological assessment, mention the questionnaire, scoring methods, and validation of scales with every possible detail.

Also, be careful about one common manuscript error i.e. not mentioning the sample size estimation (whenever relevant). Although the estimated sample size is computed before the actual study starts, it helps the reader assess the expected change in the outcome variables and the number of subjects needed to detect that change within a certain confidence range. Similarly, mentioning power calculation is a critical point to be mentioned in the Methods section.

6. Mention the ethical approval: If relevant, early in the Methods section mention whether your study was approved by the ethics committee or institutional review board, and whether you have received oral/ written informed consent from the patients or the guardians.

7. Specify the variables: Clearly mention not only the control variables, independent variables, dependent variables but also if there were any extraneous variables that might influence the result of your study. For example, in a tutorial on learning how to write ‘Research Methodology’, one group is provided with a traditional text while the other group is provided with an interactive online tool. However, if some participants already have prior knowledge of ‘how to write the Methods section’, this pre-knowledge will act as an extraneous variable.

8. Statistical analysis:  In this section, describe all statistical tests, levels of significance, and software packages used to conduct the statistical analysis. You may also consult the biostatistician of your team to receive help to write this section. Don’t forget to indicate if the recommendations of a knowledgeable and experienced statistician were considered. Finally, it is important to provide the justification of the preferred statistical method used in the study. For example, why the author is using a one-tailed or two-tailed analysis.


1. Do not describe well-known methods in detail: For the sake of brevity, avoid listing the details of the experiments that are widely used or already published in numerous articles in your field of research. Instead, mention and cite the specific experiment and mention that the referred process was followed. However, if you have modified the standard process to meet the specific aim of your study, do describe the modifications and the reasons for those in sufficient detail.

2. Do not provide unnecessary details: Avoid unnecessary details that are not relevant to the result of the experiment. For example, you need not mention trivial details such as the color of the bucket that held the ice. Try to stick only to the details that are relevant and have an impact on your study.

3. Do not discuss the pros and cons of other methods: While it may be tempting to discuss the reasons why you did not use a particular method or how your chosen method is superior to others, save these details for the Discussion section. Utilize the Methods section only to mention the details of the methods you chose.

To summarize all the tips stated above, the Methods section of an ideal manuscript aims to share the scientific knowledge with transparency and also establishes the robustness of the study. I hope that this article helps you to reach the goal of writing a perfect manuscript!

Suggested reading:

one approach to writing the methods section. Because this

section is so intimately related to the principles of scien-

tific research, I begin with a review of basic research

concepts, and then follow with a discussion of important

points to incorporate when writing the methods section.

Basic Research Concepts

The scientific method attempts to discover cause-and-

effect relationships between objects (ie, physical matter or

processes). In the physical sciences objects are regarded as

variables, and a variable is anything that can assume dif-

ferent values. Elucidating a cause-and-effect relationship

between objects requires that variables are classified as

independent, dependent, or confounding. An independent

variable is one that, when manipulated, causes a change in

another variable. The variable that changes in response to

that manipulation is referred to as a dependent variable.

For example, arterial oxygen tension is a dependent vari-

able that responds to manipulations in independent vari-

ables such as barometric pressure and oxygen concentra-

tion. A confounding or extraneous variable is anything

other than the independent variable of interest that may

affect the dependent variable. Therefore, a change in a

dependent variable may be due wholly or in part to a

change in a confounding variable. For example, a change

in minute ventilation can alter arterial oxygen tension by

its effect upon alveolar carbon dioxide partial pressure.

Evaluation of a potential cause-effect relationship be-

tween 2 objects is accomplished through the development

of the study design. A study design is simply a strategy to

control and manipulate variables that provide an answer to

the research question regarding potential cause-and-effect


Validity refers to the credibility of experimental results

and the degree to which the results can be applied to the

general population of interest. Internal validity refers to

the credibility of a study and is determined by the degree

to which conclusions drawn from an experiment correctly

describe what actually transpired during the study.



nal validity refers to whether (and to what degree) the

results of a study can be generalized to a larger popula-



Unfortunately, all biological systems are profoundly

complex, so simple, unambiguous, direct relationships be-

tween objects can be difficult to ascertain. The internal

validity of a study is judged by the degree to which its

outcomes can be attributed to manipulation of independent

variables and not to the effects of confounding variables.

Therefore, the study protocol must be designed to control

(eg, to keep constant) as many extraneous factors as pos-

sible so that any potential cause-and-effect relationship

between 2 objects can be judged accurately. It is important

to emphasize that confounding variables can never be fully

controlled. Furthermore, the influence of these variables

may not be fully appreciated by those conducting the re-

search. External validity is primarily determined by how

subjects are selected to participate in a study and by the

use of randomization procedures that limit potential bias in

how subjects are assigned to treatment groups.

Content and Writing Style of the Methods Section

Historically, the methods section was referred to as the

materials and methodsto emphasize the 2 distinct areas

that must be addressed. Materialsreferred to what was

examined (eg, humans, animals, tissue preparations) and

also to the various treatments (eg, drugs, gases) and in-

struments (eg, ventilators) used in the study. Methods

referred to how subjects or objects were manipulated to

answer the experimental question, how measurements and

calculations were made, and how the data were analyzed.

The complexity of scientific inquiry necessitates that

the writing of the methods be clear and orderly to avoid

confusion and ambiguity. First, it is usually helpful to

structure the methods section by:

1. Describing the materials used in the study

2. Explaining how the materials were prepared

3. Describing the research protocol

4. Explaining how measurements were made and what

calculations were performed

5. Stating which statistical tests were done to analyze

the data


Second, the writing should be direct and precise and in

the past tense. Compound sentence structures should be

avoided, as well as descriptions of unimportant details.

Once all elements of the methods section are written down

during the initial draft, subsequent drafts should focus on

how to present those elements as clearly and logically as

possibly. In general, the description of preparations, mea-

surements, and the protocol should be organized chrono-

logically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must

be presented, information should be presented in subsec-

tions according to topic. Within each section and subsec-

tion, material should always be organized by topic from

most to least important.


Judging the external validity of a study involving hu-

man subjects (ie, to whom the study results may be ap-

plied) requires that descriptive data be provided regarding

the basic demographic profile of the sample population,

including age, gender, and possibly the racial composition

of the sample. When animals are the subjects of a study, it

is important to list species, weight, strain, sex, and age.



Begin by introducing your overall approach to the research. What research problem or question did you investigate, and what kind of data did you need to answer it?

  • Quantitative methods (e.g. surveys) are best for measuring, ranking, categorizing, identifying patterns and making generalizations
  • Qualitative methods (e.g. interviews) are best for describing, interpreting, contextualizing, and gaining in-depth insight into specific concepts or phenomena
  • Mixed methods allow for a combination of numerical measurement and in-depth exploration

Depending on your discipline and approach, you might also begin with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology.

  • Was your aim to address a practical or a theoretical research problem?
  • Why is this the most suitable approach to answering your research questions?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical or philosophical considerations?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research?

In a quantitative experimental study, you might aim to produce generalizable knowledge about the causes of a phenomenon. Valid research requires a carefully designed study with a representative sample and controlled variables that can be replicated by other researchers.

In a qualitative ethnographic case study, you might aim to produce contextual real-world knowledge about the behaviors, social structures and shared beliefs of a specific group of people.

As this methodology is less controlled and more interpretive, you will need to reflect on your position as researcher, taking into account how your participation and perception might have influenced the results.

Once you have introduced your overall methodological approach, you should give full details of the methods you used to conduct the research. Outline the tools, procedures and materials you used to gather data, and the criteria you used to select participants or sources.

Next, you should indicate how you processed and analyzed the data. Avoid going into too much detailyou should not start presenting or discussing any of your results at this stage.

Your methodology should make the case for why you chose these particular methods, especially if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. Discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

You can acknowledge limitations or weaknesses in the approach you chose, but justify why these were outweighed by the strengths.

Lab-based experiments can’t always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviors, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables.

Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalized beyond the

sample group

, but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations and emotions.

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.


The methods section of a research paper provides the information by which a study’s validity is judged. Therefore, it requires a clear and precise description of how an experiment was done, and the rationale for why specific experimental procedures were chosen.

The methods section should describe what was done to answer the research question, describe how it was done, justify the experimental design, and explain how the results were analyzed. Scientific writing is direct and orderly.

Therefore, the methods section structure should: describe the materials used in the study, explain how the materials were prepared for the study, describe the research protocol, explain how measurements were made and what calculations were performed, and state which statistical tests were done to analyze the data.

Once all elements of the methods section are written, subsequent drafts should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and logically as possibly. The description of preparations, measurements, and the protocol should be organized chronologically.

For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. Material in each section should be organized by topic from most to least important.

Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by reference to existing research in the field, either to:

  • Confirm that you followed established practices for this type of research
  • Discuss how you evaluated different methodologies and decided on your approach
  • Show that you took a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

Our free citation generators can help you to create MLA citations and APA citations.


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.

For example:

«The experiment used a 3×2 between-subjects design. The independent variables were age and understanding of second-order beliefs.»

Discuss obstacles

If you encountered difficulties in collecting or analyzing data, explain how you dealt with them. Show how you minimized the impact of any unexpected obstacles. Pre-empt any major critiques of your approach and demonstrate that you made the research as rigorous as possible.

Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions. Throughout the section, relate your choices back to the central purpose of your dissertation.


In this section, in APA you need to list the apparatus of the experiment. We mean every technical device that was used for gathering data and making an analysis, including computers, tests, etc. Every psychological test usually has got an inventor, do not forget to mention the name while writing the methods section.

Scientific experiment materials can include such testing instruments as microscopes, flasks, retorts, etc. Do not forget to count them and give the proper names to the equipment. If you apply a survey, mention these criteria for proper APA referencing:

  • How the participants responded
  • All-sufficient measuresof the experiment
  • The number of questions or statements
  • The interpretation of the format (what the high and low results mean)
  • The reliability of the materials
  • Describe the process if you have created your own measure



The participants were asked to pass a survey using a five points scale (1 = absolutely not and 5 = absolutely yes). For the measure of dream post-effects on health, the Mariam-Johnson Dream Post-Effects Test was applied.

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.

For example:

«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.»

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