Materials and Methods

Jose Ma. C. Avila, MD

I have always thought that the materials and methods section of the paper was the easiest to write. In fact, many start writing this first; I know many who actually start writing this while doing the experimental procedure itself. Reviewers tend to pay close attention to this section because of its importance. The reproducibility of your experiment/design is what matters when other peers try to duplicate your work or try to make sense of the feasibility of doing it.

It is important (at least for me) to make this as brief as accurate and complete and understandable as possible. I have seen many describe their experiments as if they were trying to “hide” something, or try to include too much at the other extreme. Some also try to mix this portion of the paper with results, which should not be done. 

Remember that this section should answer the question: How did I solve the problem?

Let me just compile and present to you some of the more useful “rules” that should be followed in the materials and methods section:

  1. Read the instructions to authors of the journal you are planning to submit your paper to. There may be certain details the journal requires that you should include.
  2. Use past tense, and the third person in the description of your procedures.
  3. Remember that this section should answer how you did your study or experiment. The structure of your study should be described and should include your controls, treatments, measurable variables, sample size, replication, and the final form of the data gathered, to name the more important components.
  4. In describing procedures, you have the option to put a reference, rather than describe a very lengthy and detailed procedure.
  5. Don’t forget to include the specific types of equipments, chemicals, suppliers as needed, and mention modifications, if necessary.
  6. Use the metric system consistently.
  7. Describe the statistical tests that you use; citations may be needed for rare or unusual tests that may not be well known.

It always helps to ask someone to read your “materials and methods” section before you submit to a journal as a check whether it is understandable and clear.


Jose Ma. C. Avila, MD