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.
Materials and Methods
The Materials and Methods section is a vital component of any formal lab report. This section of the report gives a detailed account of the procedure that was followed in completing the experiment(s) discussed in the report. Such an account is very important, not only so that the reader has a clear understanding of the experiment, but a well written Materials and Methods section also serves as a set of instructions for anyone desiring to replicate the study in the future. Considering the importance of "reproducible results" in science, it is quite obvious why this second application is so vital.
There are several common mistakes that are often found in the Materials and Methods section of a lab report. One major concern is deciding upon the correct level of detail. (Pechenik, p. 55) It is often very easy for a writer to get carried away and include every bit of information about the procedure, including extraneous information like the number of times he\she washed their hands during the experiment. A good guideline is to include only what is necessary for one recreating the experiment to know. Keeping this in mind will lead to a Materials and Methods section that is thoroughly written, but without the kind of unnecessary detail that breaks the flow of the writing. Another common mistake is listing all of the materials needed for the experiment at the beginning of the section. Instead, the materials and equipment utilized during the experiment should be mentioned throughout the procedure as they are used. Enough detail should be included in the description of the materials so that the experiment can be reproduced. Finally, it is generally recommended that the Materials and Methods section be written in past tense, in either active or passive voice. Many are written in third-person perspective but check with the professor to be certain what verb tense and perspective the report should use. This is demonstrated throughout the example of a well written Materials and Methods section.
Materials and Methods examples
Sample 1: In preparing the catecholase extract, a potato was skinned, washed, and diced. 30.0 g of the diced potato and 150 ml of distilled water were added to a kitchen blender and blended for approximately two minutes. The resulting solution was filtered through four layers of cheese cloth. The extract was stored in a clean, capped container.
Four individually labeled spectrophotometer tubes were prepared using different amounts (as represented in Table 1) of the following reagents: a buffer of pH 7, a 0.1% catechol substrate, and distilled water. The wavelength of the Spectronic 20 spectrophotometer was set at 540 nm. To calibrate the specrophotometer at zero absorbance, a blank control tube prepared with no catechol substrate and labeled "tube 1" was inverted and inserted into the spectrophotometer.
It is important to note that the extract to be tested was added to each tube immediately before placing the tube into the spectrophotometer. 1.0 ml of catecholase extract was pipetted into tube 2. Tube 2 was immediately inverted and placed in the spectrophotometer. The absorbance was read and recorded for time zero (t0), the ten minute mark (t10), and each minute in between. Tube 2 was removed from the spectrophotometer and the same measurements were taken for tube 3 and tube 4 using the same protocol.
Sample 2: A potato and a knife were obtained for this experiment. Also, distilled water, a blender, cheese cloth, a clean container with a cover, and eight spectrophotometer tubes were used. A Spectronic 20 spectrophotometer was used for this experiment, as were buffers of pHs 4, 6, 7, and 8. Catechol substrate, Parafilm coverings, KimWipes, a black pen, and pipettes were also obtained for this experiment. Finally, a pencil and pad were obtained for recording results.
Sample 3: In preparing the catecholase extract, a potato was skinned, washed, and diced. A balance was used to obtain 30.0 g of the diced potato. 150 ml of distilled water was poured into a beaker. The water was added to the diced potato. The cover of a kitchen blender was removed. The potato and water were added to the blender. The solution smelled like potato. The cover was placed on the blender and the power button was depressed. The clock was observed until the second hand circled twice. The power button was pushed again to stop the blender. The resulting solution was filtered through four layers of cheese cloth. The extract was stored in a clean, capped container.
Explanations of the Example Links
Diced potato: In sample one the writer gives enough detail about the procedure so that is can be understood, but not so much that there is an excess of unecessary detail.
Calibrate: Calibration is a small but important detail to include in this section so that the experiment would be able to be repeated by anyone reading the report. Keep this in mind while deciding what to include in this section.
Distilled water: This example has a list of materials at the beginning which are not necessary in the materials and methods section. The body of the section should mention the materials and equipment used during the experiment so that it is not necessary to list them in order to know what was used for the procedure.
Extraneous detail: This is extraneous detail that is not needed to explain the procedure. The reader would know how to turn the blender on and off without being told that a button was pushed, and knowing that the solution smelled like potato is completely unrelated to knowing how to perform the experiment.
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