The genre of research articles: Methods sections

Photo Credit: rayni_pembl822 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rayni_pembl822 via Compfight cc

After something of a hiatus from Pros Write, I’m (finally) continuing the series on writing the different sections that make up a research article (RA). I’m tackling the Methods section here.  (See this post for a discussion of the overall structure of the RA.)  The Methods section is usually the easiest section for researchers to write. So I recommend they start with it. That’s what we did in my seminar for doctoral students in business this spring semester.

Once again, I’ll depend on research in English for Specific Purposes to describe the rhetorical structure of this section of an RA. While there is some attempt to generalize among a range of research disciplines, we’re talking only about RAs reporting empirical research. (By empirical, I mean only that data is collected and analyzed. The data itself may be quantitative or qualitative.)

Rhetorical Moves (Structure + Content) in Methods Sections

Basically, a document people recognize as an RA includes 3 rhetorical moves in its Methods section: (a) describing data collection procedures (Move 1), (b) delineating procedures for measuring variables (Move 2), and (c) elucidating data analysis procedures. Each of those rhetorical moves is broken into more detailed steps as shown in the table (source listed at the end of this post).

Move 1 Describing data collection procedures Step 1A Describe the location of the sample
Step 1B Describe the size of the sample population
Step 1C Describe the characteristics of the sample
Step 1D Describe the sampling technique
Step 2 Recount steps in data collection
Step 3A Highlight advantages of using sample
Step 3B Demonstrate representativity of sample
Move 2 Delineating procedures for measure variables Step 1 Present an overview of the design
Step 2A Specify measurement items
Step 2B Define variables
Step 2C Describe method of measuring variables
Step 3A Cite research to justify methods
Step 3B Highlight acceptability of method
Move 3 Elucidating data analysis procedure Step 1 Relate analysis procedure
Step 2 Justify analysis procedure
Step 3 Preview results

Analysis of Rhetorical Moves in a Sample Methods Section

Let’s look at the Methods section for the sample RA shared in my earlier posts on writing research articles. (You can see the whole RA on Scribd.)

The Methods section of the sample RA includes steps in all three moves, although not in the order found by Lim in leading management research journals. The section begins with Move 2, delineating procedures for measuring variables (Step 3A: justifying methods).  This is common in so-called qualitative research like that reported in the sample RA. Such research is quite rare in leading management research journals.

Several steps within Move 1 appear (describing data collection procedures). Move 1 is relatively small compared to other moves in the sample RA. This seems reasonable given that the data used was collected for a separate study.

Move 2 (Step 2B: defining variables) and Move 3 (Step 1: describing analysis procedures) appear twice in the remainder of the Methods section. In the first case, the researchers focus on organizational justice variables and the way they were analyzed within the data. In the second case, they focus on rapport management variables and their analysis.

Analysis of Style in a Sample Methods Section

As I noted in my earlier post on Introductions sections, because the rhetorical purpose of Methods differs from other sections of the RA, the way textual elements are used also differs. Here are some examples from the sample RA to clarify how it compares to other RAs.

Textual   Element Usage in Methods Examples   from Sample RA
Tense  present is low & past is high
  1. . . . we adopt Jameson’s . . .
  2. We are confidant . . .

 

  1. . . . researchers have encouraged . . .
  2. 109 (47%) involved a subordinate’s anger . . .
  3. Each coder was a student . . .

 

Passive use is high
  1. Our sample was culled. . .
  2. . . . participants were asked . . .
  3. Four coders were trained . . .
  4. Coders were given . . .
  5. . . . a set of instructions was created . . .

 

  1. Participants recorded . . .
  2. Multiple codes were possible . . .
  3. We are confidant . . .
  4. . . . the three researchers independently assigned . . .
  5. Coding allowed for multiple responses . . .

 

Citation use is low
  1. Several professional communication researchers have encouraged the use of narratives (e.g., Jameson, 2001; Suchan, 2004). In this article, we adopt Jameson’s   (2001) definition of narrative: . . .
  2. . . . an event involving their manager, defined as someone in the position of power over the person experiencing the injustice (French & Raven, 1959 . . .
  3. . . . agreement on the specific category was low (58% agreement for all categories and Cohen’s [1960] kappa of .134 for distributive . . .
  4. . . . Spencer-Oatey’s (2000) categories of rapport management violations. . .

 

Hedging use is low No instances identified
Commentary use is low
  1. Nevertheless, we are confident that all 109 stories describe incidents in which some type of organizational (in)justice was involved.

Tense usage in the Methods section of the Sample RA is similar to that in other RAs: past tense is most used. Although passive voice is more common than active in other RAs, usage is pretty equally split in the Sample RA. In addition, although citation is relatively rare in other RAs, it is used a fair number of times in the Sample RA. (Generally, qualitative research studies like the Sample RA require more justification of their methods.) Both hedges and commentary are rare in both the Sample RA and those studied by Lim.

Research Sources

Lim (2006). Methods sections of management research articles: A pedagogically motivated qualitative study. English for Specific Purposes, 25, pp. 282–309.

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