20 – Recommendation Reports
The methods section is the beginning of the “meat” of a report because it is the first section where you describe how you investigated the subject or issue in detail. Specifically, you are walking the reader through the different forms of data collection you have designed.
Project proposals typically demonstrate the writer’s thoroughness and dedication to the project by addressing potential methods of data collection and investigation (see Chapter 18: Proposals). By the time you are drafting your recommendation report, however, any methods you initially proposed may have changed. Consequently, if you are adapting parts of your proposal to the recommendation report, you will need to make sure that you have updated your discussion of each form of data collection where appropriate. Whatever initial ideas you had are only important in terms of contextualizing your final decisions. The example below shows an example of how a writer may explain a change in their proposed methods.
I conducted interviews with Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Doyle to learn more about the curriculum design for upper-level courses in the social sciences. My original intention was to interview the dean and associate dean of the college, but they were attending an international conference during the dates I had scheduled and were thus unavailable.
When discussing your data collection design, it is important that you provide as much detail as possible. This will not only help the reader understand your thinking but also justify your decisions.
As you compose this section of the document, consider the following questions:
- Are you clarifying in subheadings and topic sentences how data was collected? For instance, did you create surveys, use interviews, and/or conduct secondary research on scholarly databases, etc.? If you did, you might begin one methods step like the example below.
Task 1: Gather information on lab usage
Initially I created a survey to gather information on the use of lab facilities; however, because of the global pandemic, few students are currently using these labs, so I changed the survey to investigate how virtual labs are being created and utilized.
- Are you reviewing the logistics of each form of data collection through the use of concrete detail so that the reader understands how each form of data collection was carried out, the rationale for any significant changes in design that may have occurred, and how you addressed potential obstacles? Are you justifying how and why each form of data collection was an effective way to investigate and/or solve the problem being researched? You might need to focus on clarifying how many people you intended to survey and why; identifying and justifying the dates, times, and locations of field observations, etc.
Our new survey focused strictly on junior and senior chemical engineering majors, of which there are 500. We chose to restrict the survey to this group because they have had more experience in conventional labs and are better able to assess the changes occurring in the shift from those labs to virtual ones.
- Are your data collection methods objective and removed from bias (i.e., not skewed towards justifying your initial hypothesis)? You might plan to survey a random population instead of your own friends, or explain that you will find articles on an academic database instead of on a popular website or on social media.
- Are you explaining how your forms of data collection are triangulated with one another to address any potential limitations? For instance, you might explore a potential course redesign by surveying students and interviewing faculty, not just one or the other.
Composing your methods section effectively will strengthen your ethos as a researcher in the eyes of the reader. It will also prepare them for analyzing the data you collected, which will likely be covered in the next section (the results) of your report.