Setting the Scene: Best Practices for Writing Materials and Methods
The Materials and Methods (or “Methods section”) is the section of a research paper that provides the reader with all the information needed to understand your work and how the reported results were produced. Having read the Introduction, the reader already knows why your work is important, so the next step is to connect that section to the experimental design used to address your research questions.
Below is a preview of our free white paper tackling the best way to write the Materials and Methods section of a scientific manuscript. It covers the following topics:
- Purpose and Structure
- Key Information
- Notation and Terminology
- Equipment and Materials Citations
- Acquisition and Definition of the Results
- Statistical Methods
- Concluding Statements
Depending on the type of paper, the Methods section can encompass anything from the parameters of a literature search to the methods employed in a field study to the details of bench work in the lab. The common feature is that the information needs to be presented in a way that is clear and familiar to the reader. It is important to note that the purpose of the Methods section is not just to convey what you did; a thorough and wellorganized Methods section reflects your knowledge and understanding of appropriate research techniques and increases the reader’s confidence in your work.
Purpose and Structure
The Methods section is easiest to follow when it begins by providing a clear context for the detailed descriptions of the methods and materials used in the study. This context is best achieved by beginning with general characteristics and parameters (e.g., identification of sample sources or populations, descriptions of geographic areas, or characterizations of study participants). A reader who understands the foundation of your experiments will more easily understand the procedures that follow.
The underlying principle for what information to provide in the Methods section is that the reader should be able to replicate your study. This section must explain the methods used with enough detail to answer any of the reader’s questions about how the study was performed. Because the Methods section is meant to convey how the research was conducted, conforming to the accepted conventions of the field is extremely important.
Generally, the Methods section should assemble familiar concepts and research activities into a logical series of events. Terminology and sentence structure should be consistent within the paper and conform to the conventions of the field, and repetition is accepted or even expected. Because Methods sections often rely on lists of information, consistency - i.e., the presentation of like elements using the same terminology, notation, and sentence structure - is especially important.
The information in the Methods section should follow the order of execution as closely as possible, although similar procedures should be presented together. For example, descriptions of sample or data collection should be described together, even if these are performed at different times or with intervening analysis, because a purely chronological account would mean switching back and forth between procedures.
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