How to Write an APA Method Section

How to write a method section of APA paper

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

In This Article

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, allowing for the reproduction of the experiment and assessment of alternative methods that might produce different 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.

Overview

The method section should utilize subheadings to divide up different subsections. These subsections typically include participants, materials, design, and procedure.

Participants 

In this part of the method section, you should describe the participants in your experiment, including who they were (and any unique features that set them apart from the general population), how many there were, and how they were selected. If you utilized random selection to choose your participants, it should be noted here.

For example: "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 basic demographic characteristics of your participants (such as sex, age, ethnicity, or religion), 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 Midwest, you should note this in this part of your method section.

This part of your method section should also explain how many participants were assigned to each condition and how they were assigned to each group. Were they randomly assigned to a condition, or was some other selection method used?

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?

Information on participants helps other researchers understand how your study was performed, how generalizable the result might be, and allows other researchers to replicate the experiment with other populations to see if they might obtain the same results.

Materials

Describe the materials, measures, equipment, or stimuli used in the experiment. This may include testing instruments, technical equipment, or other materials used during 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.

For example: "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 equipment such as computers, televisions, and videos, 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 identify the specific psychological assessment 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 an illustration of the item that can be included in your appendix and then referred to in your method section.

Design

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.

For example: "The experiment used a 3x2 between-subjects design. The independent variables were age and understanding of second-order beliefs."

Procedure

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.

For example: "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

  • Use the past tense. Always write the method section in the past tense.
  • Be descriptive. 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.
  • Use APA format. As you are writing your method section, keep a style guide on hand. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is the official source for APA style.
  • Make connections. Read through each section of your paper for agreement with other sections. If you mention procedures in the method section, these elements should be discussed in the results and discussion sections.
  • Proofread. Check your paper for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.. typos, grammar problems, and spelling errors. Although a spell checker is a handy tool, there are some errors only you can catch.
  • Get a second opinion. Many times, you can become too close to your work to see errors or lack of clarity. Take a rough draft of your method section to your university's writing lab for additional assistance.

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 they 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.

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Article Sources
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  • American Psychological Association. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards. Published 2020.

  • American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2019.