In this blog, we look at how to write the materials and methods section of a research paper. In most research papers, the materials and methods section follows the literature review section. This is generally the easiest section to write because you are simply reproducing what you did in your experiments. It is always a good idea to start writing your research paper with the materials and methods section.
1. What is the purpose of the materials and methods section?
Materials and methods should describe how you did your research and detail the experimental procedure. One of the most important things to bear in mind while writing the materials and methods section is that it should have enough detail so that other researchers in your field can replicate your experiments and reproduce your results. You should provide all the steps in a logical order so that your readers can follow your description easily.
2. Materials and Methods Examples
The structure of the methods section will very much depend on your discipline. If you are not sure about the structure, then the best place to start will be to go through the methods section of some previously published papers from your chosen journal. We will look at some examples of materials and methods structure in different disciplines.
2.1. Materials & methods example #1 (Engineering paper)
If you are writing an engineering sciences research paper in which you are introducing a new method, your materials and methods section would typically include the following information.
You can start with the top-level summary of the method. You can try to answer these questions. Are you proposing a new method? Or, Are you using a standard method from the literature? Or, Are you extending a previously published method? If so, is it your previous work? or work published by a different author?
Then you can talk about the reasons for choosing this method. You can quote previous papers that have used this method successfully to support your arguments. Then, you can talk about the actual implementation details of the methods.
Then you can talk about how the methods were validated to confirm that they are suitable for your research. You can also include information about any pilot or preliminary studies you conducted before the full study. Then you can explain how you propose to test and evaluate the methods to prove that they are better than the existing methods. Here, you can talk about metrics and statistical tests you will be using to evaluate your method.
2.2. Materials & methods example #2 (Measurement paper)
If you are writing a paper that deals with measurements, you would typically include the following information in your materials and methods section.
You can start by talking about the experimental setup. You can try to answer these questions. What equipment was used to perform the measurements? What was the make and the model of the equipment? How many technicians took the measurements? How experienced were the technicians?
Then you can talk about the parameters that were measured during the experiment. Then you can talk about the actual measurement procedure. How were the samples prepared for the measurements? How many measurements were taken? Were the measurements repeated for consistency? Was there a time interval between successive measurements?
Then you can talk about measurement conditions and constraints. Were the measurements performed at room temperature or under special conditions? Were there any practical difficulties while performing the measurements, if so, how did you overcome them?
Most importantly, you must list all the calculations in the form of detailed equations and formulas so that readers know exactly how the data was produced.
2.3. Materials & methods example #3 (Survey questionnaire paper)
If you are writing a survey questionnaire paper, you would typically include the following information in your materials and methods section.
You can start by talking about your participants. Who is your target population? What are their demographics? How did you recruit them? How did participants provide consent for your study? What sampling method did you use to select the participants?
Then you can talk about the survey type. Was it a phone interview? Was it a personal interview? Was it an online survey? Or, Was it a written survey?
Then you can talk about the questionnaire design. How did you choose the questions? How many questions were there? What type of questions were they? Were they open ended questions, or close ended questions, or rating scale questions, or a mixture of different types of questions?
Then you can talk about how the questionnaire was administered. If it is an online survey, how did you get the questionnaire to the participants? Did you email them? Or did you post the survey forms?
If you are doing a personal interview. How did you conduct the interviews? Was it one to one interview, or was it done in batches, or did you use focus groups? How did the participants behave during the interview?
Then you can talk about questionnaire testing. Did you test your questionnaire before the main study? Did you have to make any changes after initial testing? Did you have to translate the questionnaire into multiple languages? Then finally you can talk about different types of statistical tests you used to analyze the survey responses.
2.4. Materials & methods example #4 (Medical clinical trial paper)
If you are writing a medical research paper, your materials and methods section would typically include the following information.
You can start by providing information about the study design. Was it a randomized trial, or an observational trial? Was it a prospective study, or a retrospective study? Was the study double-blinded, or single-blinded?
Then, you can talk about how the ethical approval was obtained for the study and clarify if the clinical trial was registered. if so, then provide the registration number.
Then, you can talk about how the participants were recruited for the study, and explain the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Then, you can talk about how the participants were grouped into control and placebo groups, and explain how the medication was administered.
Then, you can talk about what outcomes were measured. What was the primary outcome? What was the secondary outcome? What was the follow up period? You can try to answer these questions. Then you can finish off with some information about the statistical tests you used to analyze the data.