Procedure. The procedure describes how the data was collected, whether by face-to-face, telephone, self-administered questionnaire or online website. It states what was done in time order and in a step by step fashion. For example, an experiment procedure might be:
- Consent. Ask the subjects to agree to take part.
- Preliminary questionnaire. Gather demographic and other data.
- Training. Subjects practice what will be done.
- Treatment. Subjects carry out the experiment.
- Feedback questionnaire. Gather subject data on the experiment.
The description often includes copies of any scripts or tools used, given in an Annex or on a web site, for example: “After entering the room subjects read the study instructions (Annex A), then signed the consent form (Annex B)…” Also describe any procedure deviations, e. g. what was done if subjects talked to a friend when asked not to. Describe the actual data gathering procedure, step by step, including any deviations.
Task. The task is what the subjects were asked to do. Its description includes any instruction script given to the subjects. Also describe any training given to reduce initial skill variations. Was there a debrief? The task must represent what is normally done, e.g. if investigating subjects using wikis, providing an extra “Help Sheet” that normal wiki users don’t have doesn’t improve the task, as now the research doesn’t apply to normal wiki users who don’t have your help sheet. Describe the task and any instructions involved, including any scripts given.
Pilot study. A pilot study tries out the procedure and method tools on a few cases to uncover problems. Gathering data sounds simple in practice but often things happen that you didn’t expect, e. g. people may not understand some questions. The pilot study data is only used to modify the research method, so it is normal to report these “results” in the method section, e.g. “While trialing the procedure we found that the spiders were mostly active at night so the experiment was conducted between 12pm and 3am.”
Report how pilot testing improved the research procedure or tools.
Ethical considerations. Any research done at a university must be approved by an ethical committee before it is carried out. For human subjects, questions include “Was consent given?” and “Were the subjects fully informed?” For animals it may include “What measures were taken to minimize pain?”