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Helpful instructions for understanding how to write a methods section of a research paper

When writing a research paper, there are typically a number of sections which are required for the student to include. One of these sections is referred to as the methods section. The methods section of the research paper describes the methods—or procedures—the student used to perform the experiment about which the research paper has been written. The methods section must include a number of different elements:

  • Design of the experiment
  • How the participants where chosen
  • Which participants were chosen
  • What equipment was used
  • Any materials which were used as part of the experiment
  • Variables which the researcher accounted for
  • Variables which the researcher introduced
  • What actions the researcher took
  • What actions the participants took
  • How the data was collected

In order to remain organized, it’s best that the methods section use subheadings. In some cases, the student’s instructor will define these subheadings; in others the student will be expected to define them him or herself. Subheadings usually include things like “Participants,” “Design,” “Materials,” and “Procedures,” but may vary according the type of research being done.

  • Participants
  • Assuming that the study uses human participants, this section should describe how the participants were approached, how they were selected, who they were, how many were approached, how many were selected, and so forth. It should include the criteria used by the researcher to determine which participants would be included, as well.

  • Design
  • This should state the specific name of the research design used by the student, and it should also include the variables which the student elected to use in the experiment.

  • Materials
  • Here, the researcher will describe the equipment and materials used in the experiment, as well as any testing instruments.

  • Procedure
  • This is often the most detailed section, as the researcher must be fastidious in explaining the methods and procedures they used to carry out their experiment. The researcher should explain the entire process of the experiment from start to finish and explain what data was collected as well as how it was collected.


  • The method section is traditionally written in the past tense, and most instructors will require this.
  • Always use the format prescribed by the instructor—usually APA.
  • Consider having someone from the department review the rough draft of the methods section before doing final editing; they are often required to be very technical and feedback will help.

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