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Term Paper – Format, Examples and Writing Guide
Table of Contents
Term paper is a type of academic writing assignment that is typically assigned to students at the end of a semester or term. It is usually a research-based paper that is meant to demonstrate the student’s understanding of a particular topic, as well as their ability to analyze and synthesize information from various sources.
Term papers are usually longer than other types of academic writing assignments and can range anywhere from 5 to 20 pages or more, depending on the level of study and the specific requirements of the assignment. They often require extensive research and the use of a variety of sources, including books, articles, and other academic publications.
Term Paper Format
The format of a term paper may vary depending on the specific requirements of your professor or institution. However, a typical term paper usually consists of the following sections:
- Title page: This should include the title of your paper, your name, the course name and number, your instructor’s name, and the date.
- Abstract : This is a brief summary of your paper, usually no more than 250 words. It should provide an overview of your topic, the research question or hypothesis, your methodology, and your main findings or conclusions.
- Introduction : This section should introduce your topic and provide background information on the subject. You should also state your research question or hypothesis and explain the importance of your research.
- Literature review : This section should review the existing literature on your topic. You should summarize the key findings and arguments made by other scholars and identify any gaps in the literature that your research aims to address.
- Methodology: This section should describe the methods you used to collect and analyze your data. You should explain your research design, sampling strategy, data collection methods, and data analysis techniques.
- Results : This section should present your findings. You can use tables, graphs, and charts to illustrate your data.
- Discussion : This section should interpret your findings and explain what they mean in relation to your research question or hypothesis. You should also discuss any limitations of your study and suggest areas for future research.
- Conclusion : This section should summarize your main findings and conclusions. You should also restate the importance of your research and its implications for the field.
- References : This section should list all the sources you cited in your paper using a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago).
- Appendices : This section should include any additional materials that are relevant to your study but not essential to your main argument (e.g., survey questions, interview transcripts).
Structure of Term Paper
Here’s an example structure for a term paper:
A. Background information on the topic
B. Thesis statement
II. Literature Review
A. Overview of current literature on the topic
B. Discussion of key themes and findings from literature
C. Identification of gaps in current literature
A. Description of research design
B. Discussion of data collection methods
C. Explanation of data analysis techniques
A. Presentation of findings
B. Analysis and interpretation of results
C. Comparison of results with previous studies
A. Summary of key findings
B. Explanation of how results address the research questions
C. Implications of results for the field
A. Recap of key points
B. Significance of findings
C. Future directions for research
A. List of sources cited in the paper
How to Write Term Paper
Here are some steps to help you write a term paper:
- Choose a topic: Choose a topic that interests you and is relevant to your course. If your professor has assigned a topic, make sure you understand it and clarify any doubts before you start.
- Research : Conduct research on your topic by gathering information from various sources such as books, academic journals, and online resources. Take notes and organize your information systematically.
- Create an outline : Create an outline of your term paper by arranging your ideas and information in a logical sequence. Your outline should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
- Write a thesis statement: Write a clear and concise thesis statement that states the main idea of your paper. Your thesis statement should be included in your introduction.
- Write the introduction: The introduction should grab the reader’s attention, provide background information on your topic, and introduce your thesis statement.
- Write the body : The body of your paper should provide supporting evidence for your thesis statement. Use your research to provide details and examples to support your argument. Make sure to organize your ideas logically and use transition words to connect paragraphs.
- Write the conclusion : The conclusion should summarize your main points and restate your thesis statement. Avoid introducing new information in the conclusion.
- Edit and proofread: Edit and proofread your term paper carefully to ensure that it is free of errors and flows smoothly. Check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
- Format and cite your sources: Follow the formatting guidelines provided by your professor and cite your sources properly using the appropriate citation style.
- Submit your paper : Submit your paper on time and according to the instructions provided by your professor.
Term Paper Example
Here’s an example of a term paper:
Title : The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Cybersecurity
As the world becomes more digitally interconnected, cybersecurity threats are increasing in frequency and sophistication. Traditional security measures are no longer enough to protect against these threats. This paper explores the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in cybersecurity, including how AI can be used to detect and respond to threats in real-time, the challenges of implementing AI in cybersecurity, and the potential ethical implications of AI-powered security systems. The paper concludes with recommendations for organizations looking to integrate AI into their cybersecurity strategies.
The increasing number of cybersecurity threats in recent years has led to a growing interest in the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve cybersecurity. AI has the ability to analyze vast amounts of data and identify patterns and anomalies that may indicate a security breach. Additionally, AI can automate responses to threats, allowing for faster and more effective mitigation of security incidents. However, there are also challenges associated with implementing AI in cybersecurity, such as the need for large amounts of high-quality data, the potential for AI systems to make mistakes, and the ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI in security.
This section of the paper reviews existing research on the use of AI in cybersecurity. It begins by discussing the types of AI techniques used in cybersecurity, including machine learning, natural language processing, and neural networks. The literature review then explores the advantages of using AI in cybersecurity, such as its ability to detect previously unknown threats and its potential to reduce the workload of security analysts. However, the review also highlights some of the challenges associated with implementing AI in cybersecurity, such as the need for high-quality training data and the potential for AI systems to be fooled by sophisticated attacks.
To better understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using AI in cybersecurity, this paper conducted a survey of cybersecurity professionals working in a variety of industries. The survey included questions about the types of AI techniques used in their organizations, the challenges they faced when implementing AI in cybersecurity, and their perceptions of the ethical implications of using AI in security.
The results of the survey showed that while many organizations are interested in using AI in cybersecurity, they face several challenges when implementing these systems. These challenges include the need for high-quality training data, the potential for AI systems to be fooled by sophisticated attacks, and the difficulty of integrating AI with existing security systems. Additionally, many respondents expressed concerns about the ethical implications of using AI in security, such as the potential for AI to be biased or to make decisions that are harmful to individuals or society as a whole.
Based on the results of the survey and the existing literature, this paper discusses the potential benefits and risks of using AI in cybersecurity. It also provides recommendations for organizations looking to integrate AI into their security strategies, such as the need to prioritize data quality and to ensure that AI systems are transparent and accountable.
While there are challenges associated with implementing AI in cybersecurity, the potential benefits of using these systems are significant. AI can help organizations detect and respond to threats more quickly and effectively, reducing the risk of security breaches. However, it is important for organizations to be aware of the potential ethical implications of using AI in security and to take steps to ensure that these systems are transparent and accountable.
- Alkhaldi, S., Al-Daraiseh, A., & Lutfiyya, H. (2019). A Survey on Artificial Intelligence Techniques in Cyber Security. Journal of Information Security, 10(03), 191-207.
- Gartner. (2019). Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020. Retrieved from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-top-10-strategic-technology-trends-for-2020/
- Kshetri, N. (2018). Blockchain’s roles in meeting key supply chain management objectives. International Journal of Information Management, 39, 80-89.
- Lipton, Z. C. (2018). The mythos of model interpretability. arXiv preprint arXiv:1606.03490.
- Schneier, B. (2019). Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World. WW Norton & Company.
- Wahab, M. A., Rahman, M. S., & Islam, M. R. (2020). A Survey on AI Techniques in Cybersecurity. International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, 11(2), 22-27.
When to Write Term Paper
A term paper is usually a lengthy research paper that is assigned to students at the end of a term or semester. There are several situations when writing a term paper may be required, including:
- As a course requirement: In most cases, a term paper is required as part of the coursework for a particular course. It may be assigned by the instructor as a way of assessing the student’s understanding of the course material.
- To explore a specific topic : A term paper can be an excellent opportunity for students to explore a specific topic of interest in-depth. It allows them to conduct extensive research on the topic and develop their understanding of it.
- To develop critical thinking skills : Writing a term paper requires students to engage in critical thinking and analysis. It helps them to develop their ability to evaluate and interpret information, as well as to present their ideas in a clear and coherent manner.
- To prepare for future academic or professional pursuits: Writing a term paper can be an excellent way for students to prepare for future academic or professional pursuits. It can help them to develop the research and writing skills necessary for success in higher education or in a professional career.
Purpose of Term Paper
The main purposes of a term paper are:
- Demonstrate mastery of a subject: A term paper provides an opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge and understanding of a particular subject. It requires students to research and analyze the topic, and then present their findings in a clear and organized manner.
- Develop critical thinking skills: Writing a term paper requires students to think critically about their subject matter, analyzing various sources and viewpoints, and evaluating evidence to support their arguments.
- Improve writing skills : Writing a term paper helps students improve their writing skills, including organization, clarity, and coherence. It also requires them to follow specific formatting and citation guidelines, which can be valuable skills for future academic and professional endeavors.
- Contribute to academic discourse : A well-written term paper can contribute to academic discourse by presenting new insights, ideas, and arguments that add to the existing body of knowledge on a particular topic.
- Prepare for future research : Writing a term paper can help prepare students for future research, by teaching them how to conduct a literature review, evaluate sources, and formulate research questions and hypotheses. It can also help them develop research skills that they can apply in future academic or professional endeavors.
Advantages of Term Paper
There are several advantages of writing a term paper, including:
- In-depth exploration: Writing a term paper allows you to delve deeper into a specific topic, allowing you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.
- Improved writing skills: Writing a term paper involves extensive research, critical thinking, and the organization of ideas into a cohesive written document. As a result, writing a term paper can improve your writing skills significantly.
- Demonstration of knowledge: A well-written term paper demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, which can be beneficial for academic or professional purposes.
- Development of research skills : Writing a term paper requires conducting thorough research, analyzing data, and synthesizing information from various sources. This process can help you develop essential research skills that can be applied in many other areas.
- Enhancement of critical thinking : Writing a term paper encourages you to think critically, evaluate information, and develop well-supported arguments. These skills can be useful in many areas of life, including personal and professional decision-making.
- Preparation for further academic work : Writing a term paper is excellent preparation for more extensive academic projects, such as a thesis or dissertation.
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- USC Libraries
- Research Guides
Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
- 6. The Methodology
- Purpose of Guide
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Independent and Dependent Variables
- Glossary of Research Terms
- Reading Research Effectively
- Narrowing a Topic Idea
- Broadening a Topic Idea
- Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
- Academic Writing Style
- Choosing a Title
- Making an Outline
- Paragraph Development
- Research Process Video Series
- Executive Summary
- The C.A.R.S. Model
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
- Content Alert Services
- Evaluating Sources
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Tiertiary Sources
- Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
- Qualitative Methods
- Quantitative Methods
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Writing Concisely
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
- Further Readings
- Generative AI and Writing
- USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
The methods section describes actions taken to investigate a research problem and the rationale for the application of specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information applied to understanding the problem, thereby, allowing the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability. The methodology section of a research paper answers two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? And, how was it analyzed? The writing should be direct and precise and always written in the past tense.
Kallet, Richard H. "How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004): 1229-1232.
Importance of a Good Methodology Section
You must explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:
- Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the results and, by extension, how you interpreted their significance in the discussion section of your paper.
- Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your analysis of the findings.
- In most cases, there are a variety of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you have chosen a particular procedure or technique.
- The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of study. For example, if you are using a multiple choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it offered your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
- The method must be appropriate to fulfilling the overall aims of the study. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
- The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not impact in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
- In the social and behavioral sciences, it is important to always provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly important when a new method has been developed or an innovative use of an existing method is utilized.
Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects . 5th edition. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Groups of Research Methods
There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:
- The e mpirical-analytical group approaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences . This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
- The i nterpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way . Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.
The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you used to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that the method is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.
The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:
- Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
- Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
- The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
- The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.
In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:
- Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem . Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
- Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design . Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
- Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use , such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
- Explain how you intend to analyze your results . Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
- Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers . Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
- Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure . For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
- Provide a justification for case study selection . A common method of analyzing research problems in the social sciences is to analyze specific cases. These can be a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis that are either examined as a singular topic of in-depth investigation or multiple topics of investigation studied for the purpose of comparing or contrasting findings. In either method, you should explain why a case or cases were chosen and how they specifically relate to the research problem.
- Describe potential limitations . Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.
NOTE : Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data 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. If necessary, consider using appendices for raw data.
ANOTHER NOTE : If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem , the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data [e.g., through interviews or observations], the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.
YET ANOTHER NOTE : If your study involves interviews, observations, or other qualitative techniques involving human subjects , you may be required to obtain approval from the university's Office for the Protection of Research Subjects before beginning your research. This is not a common procedure for most undergraduate level student research assignments. However, i f your professor states you need approval, you must include a statement in your methods section that you received official endorsement and adequate informed consent from the office and that there was a clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants and to the university. This statement informs the reader that your study was conducted in an ethical and responsible manner. In some cases, the approval notice is included as an appendix to your paper.
III. Problems to Avoid
Irrelevant Detail The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but concise. Do not provide any background information that does not directly help the reader understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how the data was analyzed in relation to the research problem [note: analyzed, not interpreted! Save how you interpreted the findings for the discussion section]. With this in mind, the page length of your methods section will generally be less than any other section of your paper except the conclusion.
Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method , not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.
Problem Blindness It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.
Literature Review Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].
It’s More than Sources of Information! A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.
Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation , Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process . (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.
Statistical Designs and Tests? Do Not Fear Them!
Don't avoid using a quantitative approach to analyzing your research problem just because you fear the idea of applying statistical designs and tests. A qualitative approach, such as conducting interviews or content analysis of archival texts, can yield exciting new insights about a research problem, but it should not be undertaken simply because you have a disdain for running a simple regression. A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in very clear and direct ways, whereas, a similar study of a qualitative nature usually requires considerable time to analyze large volumes of data and a tremendous burden to create new paths for analysis where previously no path associated with your research problem had existed.
To locate data and statistics, GO HERE .
Another Writing Tip
Knowing the Relationship Between Theories and Methods
There can be multiple meaning associated with the term "theories" and the term "methods" in social sciences research. A helpful way to delineate between them is to understand "theories" as representing different ways of characterizing the social world when you research it and "methods" as representing different ways of generating and analyzing data about that social world. Framed in this way, all empirical social sciences research involves theories and methods, whether they are stated explicitly or not. However, while theories and methods are often related, it is important that, as a researcher, you deliberately separate them in order to avoid your theories playing a disproportionate role in shaping what outcomes your chosen methods produce.
Introspectively engage in an ongoing dialectic between the application of theories and methods to help enable you to use the outcomes from your methods to interrogate and develop new theories, or ways of framing conceptually the research problem. This is how scholarship grows and branches out into new intellectual territory.
Reynolds, R. Larry. Ways of Knowing. Alternative Microeconomics . Part 1, Chapter 3. Boise State University; The Theory-Method Relationship. S-Cool Revision. United Kingdom.
Yet Another Writing Tip
Methods and the Methodology
Do not confuse the terms "methods" and "methodology." As Schneider notes, a method refers to the technical steps taken to do research . Descriptions of methods usually include defining and stating why you have chosen specific techniques to investigate a research problem, followed by an outline of the procedures you used to systematically select, gather, and process the data [remember to always save the interpretation of data for the discussion section of your paper].
The methodology refers to a discussion of the underlying reasoning why particular methods were used . This discussion includes describing the theoretical concepts that inform the choice of methods to be applied, placing the choice of methods within the more general nature of academic work, and reviewing its relevance to examining the research problem. The methodology section also includes a thorough review of the methods other scholars have used to study the topic.
Bryman, Alan. "Of Methods and Methodology." Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 3 (2008): 159-168; Schneider, Florian. “What's in a Methodology: The Difference between Method, Methodology, and Theory…and How to Get the Balance Right?” PoliticsEastAsia.com. Chinese Department, University of Leiden, Netherlands.
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- Knowledge Base
Research Methods | Definitions, Types, Examples
Research methods are specific procedures for collecting and analyzing data. Developing your research methods is an integral part of your research design . When planning your methods, there are two key decisions you will make.
First, decide how you will collect data . Your methods depend on what type of data you need to answer your research question :
- Qualitative vs. quantitative : Will your data take the form of words or numbers?
- Primary vs. secondary : Will you collect original data yourself, or will you use data that has already been collected by someone else?
- Descriptive vs. experimental : Will you take measurements of something as it is, or will you perform an experiment?
Second, decide how you will analyze the data .
- For quantitative data, you can use statistical analysis methods to test relationships between variables.
- For qualitative data, you can use methods such as thematic analysis to interpret patterns and meanings in the data.
Table of contents
Methods for collecting data, examples of data collection methods, methods for analyzing data, examples of data analysis methods, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research methods.
Data is the information that you collect for the purposes of answering your research question . The type of data you need depends on the aims of your research.
Qualitative vs. quantitative data
Your choice of qualitative or quantitative data collection depends on the type of knowledge you want to develop.
For questions about ideas, experiences and meanings, or to study something that can’t be described numerically, collect qualitative data .
If you want to develop a more mechanistic understanding of a topic, or your research involves hypothesis testing , collect quantitative data .
You can also take a mixed methods approach , where you use both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Primary vs. secondary research
Primary research is any original data that you collect yourself for the purposes of answering your research question (e.g. through surveys , observations and experiments ). Secondary research is data that has already been collected by other researchers (e.g. in a government census or previous scientific studies).
If you are exploring a novel research question, you’ll probably need to collect primary data . But if you want to synthesize existing knowledge, analyze historical trends, or identify patterns on a large scale, secondary data might be a better choice.
Descriptive vs. experimental data
In descriptive research , you collect data about your study subject without intervening. The validity of your research will depend on your sampling method .
In experimental research , you systematically intervene in a process and measure the outcome. The validity of your research will depend on your experimental design .
To conduct an experiment, you need to be able to vary your independent variable , precisely measure your dependent variable, and control for confounding variables . If it’s practically and ethically possible, this method is the best choice for answering questions about cause and effect.
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Your data analysis methods will depend on the type of data you collect and how you prepare it for analysis.
Data can often be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. For example, survey responses could be analyzed qualitatively by studying the meanings of responses or quantitatively by studying the frequencies of responses.
Qualitative analysis methods
Qualitative analysis is used to understand words, ideas, and experiences. You can use it to interpret data that was collected:
- From open-ended surveys and interviews , literature reviews , case studies , ethnographies , and other sources that use text rather than numbers.
- Using non-probability sampling methods .
Qualitative analysis tends to be quite flexible and relies on the researcher’s judgement, so you have to reflect carefully on your choices and assumptions and be careful to avoid research bias .
Quantitative analysis methods
Quantitative analysis uses numbers and statistics to understand frequencies, averages and correlations (in descriptive studies) or cause-and-effect relationships (in experiments).
You can use quantitative analysis to interpret data that was collected either:
- During an experiment .
- Using probability sampling methods .
Because the data is collected and analyzed in a statistically valid way, the results of quantitative analysis can be easily standardized and shared among researchers.
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.
- Chi square test of independence
- Statistical power
- Descriptive statistics
- Degrees of freedom
- Pearson correlation
- Null hypothesis
- Double-blind study
- Case-control study
- Research ethics
- Data collection
- Hypothesis testing
- Structured interviews
- Hawthorne effect
- Unconscious bias
- Recall bias
- Halo effect
- Self-serving bias
- Information bias
Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.
Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.
In mixed methods research , you use both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods to answer your research question .
A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.
In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.
The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .
- If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
- If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
- If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.
Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.
Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).
In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .
In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.
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