How to write the perfect Materials and Methods section

 

1. It is important to clearly describe the subject of the study in the context of the research hypothesis since this will determine the extent to which you can draw conclusions from your study.

The reader of your paper will want to know about your sample representativeness of the entire sample/category of patients under study.

You should include the following information:

If the subject is people, it is necessary to include basic demographic information: age, gender, racial composition (if applicable), and others.

 

Example 1

“The subjects for this study were drawn from a cohort of adult men admitted to the emergency department at XYZ Hospital, San Francisco, with complaints of chest pain. The patients were of Caucasian, Asian, and African American ethnicity. Their ages ranged from 25 to 65 years”. (Other selection criteria were applied to this group before inclusion in the study).

 

Example 2

“To determine whether the PQR drug was more effective than the DEF drug in treating this condition, we selected for our study only Caucasian men aged 35–45 years who had no history of taking any of these drugs. In this cohort, we limited the study group to men who had had at least three disease attacks in the past six months”.

If the research involves animals, plants, or microorganisms, do not forget to indicate the genus, species, and strain (if necessary).

When describing field research, you should include the location of the plant, animal, or microorganism, if appropriate (e.g., these mushrooms were collected in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India). The location should be as accurate as possible, and sometimes a map can be very beneficial.

It is also necessary to specify the selection criteria for your study, including

— Where you collected the sample from (woods/orthopedic clinic/safari);

— Any specific sampling method used (e.g., oral brush biopsy/endoscopy);

— When you obtained the samples, and why you chose that time (e.g., winter/early morning/on an empty stomach);

— How you determined the sample size.

Regarding animals or other organisms, it is necessary to specify:

— The selection criteria, as stated above;

— Weight;

— Sex;

— Age;

— Conditions of housing, treatment and handling before the experiment (place of keeping/diet/any special instructions);

— Genetic pool/species/strain used (especially important when genetic factors affect the study);

Details such as the reagents used, their supplier, their concentration, any tools used (along with their brand and model), and others.

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When researching patients, a flowchart will help show clearer how you selected the category examined and allocated patients to the different groups in the study.

For example:

 

 

2. What was conducted in this study?

a) The hypothesis you are trying to prove, your rationale and assumptions (summarize this information here briefly, you can elaborate on this in the Discussion section);
b) The tests/studies/experiments conducted;
c) The variables used (specify both the independent and controlled dependent variables);
d) Any confounding factors (confounding variables) or outside variables that occurred and their impact;
e) The number of repetitions performed.

 

3.What controls were used?

The study should have a control group (e.g., all women who gave birth in December 2004 at XYZ Hospital; animals that were not given the food being studied; plants growing in this area unsprayed with chemical Y) with which to compare the study results.

The control group and the comparison make it possible to conclude and help clearly define the variables. The clearly defined control group makes the results more convincing.

 

4. How was this research conducted?

Now when your readers know about your materials (points 1, 2, and 3 above), they will want to determine how you conducted your research. In other words, you should now write the “Methods” subsection.

Remember, you should provide sufficient information for reproducing your research by a colleague who is probably as familiar with the standard methods as you.

A common drawback of the method subsection is that it is too verbose.

To avoid this, use clear, precise sentences. Avoid using too short sentences, as this will result in a long description. Remember that your reader is probably working in the same field as you.

Example:

“The appendix was dissected. The incision was made at a distance of 1 cm from the end of the appendix. Its thickness was 5 mm. It was then placed in formalin. After that, it was taken to the laboratory”. The above is an unnecessarily long description. A better description would be, “The appendix was dissected at a distance of 1 cm from the end. A 5 mm thick cut was taken to the laboratory in formalin”.

Be precise in the terms you use.

The reader will not understand what you mean by “location 1” and “location 2” but will understand “River” and “Lake”. Similarly, “vial 1” and “vial 2” are imprecise terms, but acetone and ethanol are accurate.

Example:

“The resulting mixture was divided into two parts, and a half was added to vial 1, and the rest – to vial 2” – such a description would mislead the reader. However, if you write, “The mixture obtained was divided into two parts, one half was mixed with acetone, and the other – with ethanol”, the reader will get a far better idea of the technique.

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When describing the methods used to conduct the study, you should describe the exact sequence of operations.

— A description of the initial state along with any baseline measurements;

— A description of the tests performed in the order conducted;

— Measurement and recording of all changes resulting from the above tests.

 

5. How were the results analyzed?

This part is the last in the Materials and Methods section. It tells the reader how you summarized the collected data. It also mentions the methods used to analyze the data to confirm the study hypothesis.

It is necessary to inform the reader here the next:

— How the data were summarized and reported (mean values, median values, percentages);

— The way to report the characteristics of variability, such as standard deviation (SD) and mean square deviation (MSD);

— Statistical tests used for analysis;

— Statistically significant p-value;

— Other numerical or graphical methods to analyze data.

 

ETHICAL ISSUES

One of the most critical components of any animal or human study is its ethical requirements. Ethical issues are of primary concern in today’s research environment. So, if your study population consists of humans or animals or creates a situation that might affect them, you should indicate how you have addressed these issues.

You will need to provide:

— Approval from your research center’s ethics committee;

— Information about the extent to which the study complied with ethical standards governing scientific research;

— Information about steps taken to comply with ethical standards (e.g., how patient personal information was protected; how informed consent was obtained).

What happens when ethical requirements are not met?

If you fail to obtain informed consent from patients to participate in your research, or if you do not follow the guidelines for animal research, the journal editor may reject your paper. However, if the journal knows of the non-compliance after the paper’s publishing, the editor may revoke it.

To avoid this, you should know about the ethical requirements before starting any research involving animals or humans. You can also look at the guidelines of some reputable journals in your field and check the requirements they expect in papers submitted for publication.

The above will help eliminate primary problems and disappointment at a later stage.

Clinical trials are critical for discovering new treatments, but before embarking on them, it is essential to understand what these trials will entail.

 

What you should and should not do when preparing the MATERIALS and METHODS section.

  1. Adopt a standard style of presentation.

Use the simple past tense in this section. Also, use the passive voice whenever possible, but sometimes you can also use the active voice. Recently, many papers have proven the ownership of the research using phrases such as “we performed”, “we evaluated”, “we implemented”, and others. Regardless of which style you prefer to use, write in plain language.

  1. Do not exclude minor details.
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Remember that fellow researchers will refer to this section if they want to replicate your results. Therefore, provide as much quantitative and statistical data as possible along with other small but essential information.

  1. Organize your experiments/procedures.

To present information effectively, organize each experiment or procedure as a separate unit. Sometimes it is better to submit the research design and procedure as a whole, as this will help readers understand the research essence.

  1. Exclude any unnecessary information.

Although providing detailed information is extremely important, you should exclude any irrelevant information, such as the color of the ice bucket or the name of the person who recorded your information. Such information should not be included in this paper. Identify the information relevant to your experiment and its analysis, and include only that.

  1. If necessary, refer to the published literature.

If you have used a method published elsewhere, refer to it and cite it, that will help you avoid repetition, thereby saving you time and limiting your word count. However, be sure to mention any modifications you may have made to the standard procedure at the source you cited.

  1. You should not present results or interpret the data.

Avoid discussing the results or interpreting them because you have separate sections for that.

This section presents only materials and methods and nothing else.

 

A CHECKLIST FOR A FINAL QUICK REVIEW BEFORE SUBMITTING THE PAPER:

  1. Did you determine the study’s object?
  2. Did you specify the selection criteria?
  3. Did you describe the research design at length, including the hypotheses, rationale, assumptions, and variables used?
  4. Did you indicate the control groups established for your study and identify the control group(s) with which you compared your data?
  5. Is there a summary of the experiments conducted, the number of repetitions, the parameters measured, and the data collection form?
  6. Did you briefly describe the steps of the experiment in the chronological order of their conduct?
  7. Did you specify the tools applied, the calibration procedures, the measurement procedure, and the manufacturer’s details?
  8. Did you provide information about the reagents and chemicals used and their supplier?
  9. If you made calculations to obtain a reading/result, was the calculation method mentioned?
  10. Did you mention the methods used to analyze the data collected and the statistical tests conducted?
  11. Did you specify how you addressed the ethical issues (if any) raised in your study?

 

Writing this section of the paper is not difficult, as no interpretation or discussion of the results is required. You only should remember to disclose all relevant details in an organized manner and obtain the ethical approval and permissions applicable to this study.