Materials and Methods Examples and Writing Tips
Abstract | Introduction | Literature Review | Research question | Materials & Methods | Results | Discussion | Conclusion
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.
3. Frequently Asked Questions
One of the common mistakes people make is using vague language in materials and methods. Reviewers won’t like it, and they will reject the paper on the basis that the section is not elaborate enough for other researchers to reproduce your experiments.
Make sure you write the materials and methods section in past tense, since you are reporting something that has already happened.
Acronyms & Abbrevations: Try to use acronyms and abbreviations for long method names. Abbreviations and acronyms are a great way to make your writing concise and save time. Define the acronyms and abbreviations during their first occurrence then use the short form in the rest of the text. The common practice is to put the acronym and abbreviations in parentheses after the full term.
Use different layouts: Another problem you are likely to face is that your methods section can sound like manual if you have too much text in it. In particular, if you are dealing with a very complex procedure, the readers might find it dry and tedious. So try to provide some variety to the layout. Try to use bullet points and numberings instead of long paragraphs to make it easy for the readers to understand the procedure. You can use flow diagrams to illustrate the process rather than describing it.
When you are using a standard method that is well described in literature, the standard practice is to reference the paper rather than repeating the entire procedure. You can also provide a brief summary of the procedure in your own words.
For example, you can say something like this, “The details of the procedure have been reported previously in…”, and reference the previous paper. And then, you can follow it up with a brief summary of the method from the previous paper.
If you are extending a previous method, then you can do something like this. You can say that, “Some minor modifications were made to the method described in…” and reference the previous paper. And then, you can follow it up with the list of refinements you made to the previous method in order to adapt it to your work.
Introduction Paragraph Examples and Writing Tips
In this blog, we will go through a few introduction paragraph examples and understand how to construct a great introduction paragraph for your research paper.
Discussion Section Examples and Writing Tips
In this blog, we will go through many discussion examples and understand how to write a great discussion for your research paper.
Formulating Strong Research Questions: Examples and Writing Tips
In this blog, we will go through many research question examples and understand how to construct a strong research question for your paper.
Results Section Examples and Writing Tips
In this blog, we will go through many results section examples and understand how to write a great results section for your paper.
Abstract Section Examples and Writing Tips
In this blog, we will go through many abstract examples and understand how to construct a good abstract for your research paper.
Research Paper Structure – Main Sections and Parts of a Research Paper
In this blog, we explain various topics and sub-topics to be included under each section of a research paper via word cloud diagrams.
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Research Paper Writing: 5. Methods / Materials
- 1. Getting Started
- 2. Abstract
- 3. Introduction
- 4. Literature Review
- 5. Methods / Materials
- 6. Results / Analysis
- 7. Discussion
- 8. Conclusion
- 9. Reference
Methods / Materials Overview
These sections of the research paper should be concise. The audience reading the paper will always want to know what materials or methods that were used. The methods and materials may be under subheadings in the section or incorporated together. The main objective for these sections is to provide specialized materials, general procedures, and methods to judge the scientific value of the paper.
What to include in the sections
- Described separately
- Include the chemicals, biological, and any equipment
- Do not include common supplies, such as test tubes, pipette tips, beakers, etc. or standard lab equipment
- Single out sources like a specific type of equipment, enzyme, or a culture
- These should be mentioned in a separate paragraph with its own heading or highlighted in the procedure section if there is one
- Refer to solutions by name and describe
- Describes in detail how the analysis was conducted
- Be brief when presenting methods under the title devoted to a specific technique or groups of procedures
- Simplify and report what the procedure was
- Report the method by name
- Use third person passive voice, and avoid using first person
- Use normal text in these sections
- Avoid informal lists
- Use complete sentences
Example of a Methods Section
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4 Writing the Materials and Methods (Methodology) Section
The Materials and Methods section briefly describes how you did your research. In other words, what did you do to answer your research question? If there were materials used for the research or materials experimented on you list them in this section. You also describe how you did the research or experiment. The key to a methodology is that another person must be able to replicate your research—follow the steps you take. For example if you used the internet to do a search it is not enough to say you “searched the internet.” A reader would need to know which search engine and what key words you used.
Open this section by describing the overall approach you took or the materials used. Then describe to the readers step-by-step the methods you used including any data analysis performed. See Fig. 2.5 below for an example of materials and methods section.
- Explain procedures, materials, and equipment used
- Example: “We used an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer to analyze major and trace elements in the mystery mineral samples.”
- Order events chronologically, perhaps with subheadings (Field work, Lab Analysis, Statistical Models)
- Use past tense (you did X, Y, Z)
- Quantify measurements
- Include results in the methods! It’s easy to make this mistake!
- Example: “W e turned on the machine and loaded in our samples, then calibrated the instrument and pushed the start button and waited one hour. . . .”
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How to write a materials and methods section of a scientific article?
In contrast to past centuries, scientific researchers have been currently conducted systematically in all countries as part of an education strategy. As a consequence, scientists have published thousands of reports. Writing an effective article is generally a significant problem for researchers. All parts of an article, specifically the abstract, material and methods, results, discussion and references sections should contain certain features that should always be considered before sending a manuscript to a journal for publication. It is generally known that the material and methods section is a relatively easy section of an article to write. Therefore, it is often a good idea to begin by writing the materials and methods section, which is also a crucial part of an article. Because “reproducible results” are very important in science, a detailed account of the study should be given in this section. If the authors provide sufficient detail, other scientists can repeat their experiments to verify their findings. It is generally recommended that the materials and methods should be written in the past tense, either in active or passive voice. In this section, ethical approval, study dates, number of subjects, groups, evaluation criteria, exclusion criteria and statistical methods should be described sequentially. It should be noted that a well-written materials and methods section markedly enhances the chances of an article being published.
How to Write a Materials and Methods Section of a Scientific Article?
Up to the 18 th Century scientific researches were performed on a voluntary basis by certain scientists. However from the second half of the 19 th century, scientific development has gained momentum with the contributions of numerous scientists including Edison, Fleming, and Koch. In parallel with these developments, apparently each scientific field, and even their branches made, and still making magnificent progressions from the end of the 18 th century. Secondary to these developments, scientific researches have been implemented systematically by universities, and various institutions in every part of the world as an integral component of national strategies. Naturally, the number of researchers who performed scientific investigations or sponsored by various institutions increased considerably. Also, as is known very well, all over the world scientists, and researchers move from one place to another to disseminate scientific knowledge. All of these scientific efforts, and activities reflect on clinical practice, and hundreds of thousands, and millions scientific articles which we can currently gain access into all of them online. As indicated by the investigator Gerard Piel, “Without publication, science is dead” which explains the importance of publication. In other words, if you don’t share your investigation and knowledge, they don’t mean anything by themselves. Although sharing the knowledge is essential for writing a scientific paper, nowadays writing a scientific article is mostly learnt as a master-apprentice relationship, and therefore certain standards have not been established. This phenomenon creates serious stress especially for young investigators in their early stage of writing scientific papers. Indeed investigators receiving their residency training confront this reality finally during writing of their dissertations. Though sharing knowledge is known as a fundamental principle in writing a scientific paper, it creates difficulties in the whole world. Relevant to this issue, in the whole world investigations have been performed, and books have been written on the subject of how to write a scientific paper. Accordingly, in our country mostly local meetings, and courses have been organized. These organizations, and investigations should be performed. Indeed, nowadays, in the first assessments, the rejection rate of the journals by internationally acknowledged scientific indexes as “Science Citation İndex (SCI)” and “Science Citation İndex Expanded (SCI-extended” which have certain scientific standards, increases to 62 percent. As a matter of fact only 25% of Class A journals have been included in the lists of SCI, and SCI-extended.
As we all know very well, scientific articles consist of sections of summary, introduction, material, and methods, discussion, and references. Among them, conventionally Materials and Methods section has been reported as the most easily written or will be written section. Although it is known as the most easily written section, nearly 30% of the reasons for rejection are related to this section per se. Therefore due care, and attention should be given to the writing of this section. In the writing process of the ‘Material and Methods’ section, all achievements performed throughout the study period should be dealt with in consideration of certain criteria in a specific sequence. Since as a globally anticipated viewpoint, ‘Materials and Methods’ section can be written quite easily, it has been indicated that if difficulties are encountered in writing a manuscript, then one should start writing from this section. In writing this section, study design describing the type of the article, study subjects to be investigated, methods, and procedures of measurements should be provided under four main headings. [ 1 , 2 ] Accordingly, in brief, we can emphasize the importance of providing clear-cut, adequate, and detailed information in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section to the scientists who will read this scientific article. Meeting these criteria carries great importance with respect to the evaluation of reliability of the investigation by the readers, and reviewers, and also informing them about procedural method, design, data collection, and assessment methods of the investigation, Priorly, as is the case in all scientific investigations, one should be reminded about the importance, and indispensability of compliance with certain standard writing rules. Accordingly, rules of grammar should be obeyed, and if possible passive voice of simple past tense should be used. Related to these rules, use of verbs ‘investigated’, ‘evaluated’ or ‘performed’ will be appropriate. Recently, expressions showing the ownership of the investigation as ‘we performed’, ‘we evaluated’, ‘we implemented’ have taken priority. Since the important point is communication of the message contained in the scientific study, the message should be clearly comprehensible. While ensuring clarity of the message, use of flourishing, and irrelevant sentences should be avoided. [ 1 , 3 ] According to another approach, since our article will be read by professionals of other disciplines, it is important to comply with certain rules of writing. To that end, standard units of measurements, and international abbreviations should be used. Abbreviations should be explained within parentheses at their first mention in the manuscript. For instance let’s analyze the following sentence” The patients were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, complete urinalysis, PSA, and urinary system ultrasound” The abbreviation PSA is very well known by the urologist. However we shouldn’t forget that this article will be read by the professionals in other medical disciplines. Similarly this sentence should not be written as: “The patients were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, complete urinalysis PSA (prostate-specific antigen), and urinary system ultrasound.” Indeed the abbreviation should follow the explanation of this abbreviation. Then the appropriate expression of the sentence should be. “The patients were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, complete urinalysis, prostate-specific antigen (PSA), and urinary system ultrasound.”
In addition to the abovementioned information, in the beginning paragraphs of ‘Materials and Methods’ section of a clinical study the answers to the following questions should be absolutely provided:
- The beginning, and termination dates of the study period.
- Number of subjects/patients/experimental animals etc. enrolled in the study,
- Has the approval of the ethics committee been obtained?
- Study design (prospective, retrospective or other). [ 1 , 2 , 4 – 7 ]
Still additional features of the study design (cross-sectional) should be indicated. Apart from this, other types of study designs (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled or double-blind, parallel control etc.) should be revealed.
The heading of the section “Materials and Methods” can be changed to “Patients and the Method” in accordance with writing rules of the journal in question. Indication of starting, and termination dates of a clinical study will facilitate scientific interpretation of the article. Accordingly, outcomes obtained during development phase of a newly implemented method might be considered differently from those acquired during conventional use of this method. Besides, incidence of the diseases, and number of affected people might vary under the impact of social fluctuations, and environmental factors. Therefore with this justification study period should be specified. Number of cases included in the study should be absolutely indicated in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section. It will be appropriate to determine study population after consultation to a statistician-and if required-following “power analysis” Accordingly, the need for a control group will be indicated based on the study design. Nowadays, as a requirement of patient rights, obtainment of approval from ethics committee should be indicated with its registration number. In addition, acquirement of informed consent forms from patients should be indicated. Ethics Committee approval should be obtained in prospective studies performed with study drugs. Otherwise in case of occurrence of adverse effects, it should be acknowledged that in compliance with Article #90 of the Turkish Criminal Law, a 3-year prison sentence is given to the guilty parties. [ 8 ] Since issues related to the Ethics Committee are the subject of another manuscript, they won’t be handled herein.
The following paragraph exemplifies clearly the aforementioned arguments: “After approval of the local ethics committee (BADK-22), informed consent forms from the patients were obtained, and a total of 176 cases with lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) were retrospectively evaluated between January 2011, and December 2012.” In a prospectively designed study, methods used to communicate with the cases including face-to-face interviews, phone calls and/or e-mail should be indicated. [ 1 , 2 ] Each paragraph or subheading in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section should be in accordance with the related ones in the ‘Results’ section. In other words, the sequence of paragraphs, and subheadings in the ‘Results’ section should be the same in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section.
As a next step, names of the groups, and distribution of the cases in these groups should be indicated. For instance: the statement “Cases were divided into 3 groups based on their LUTS scores as. Groups 1 (0–9; n=91), 2 (10–18; n=66), and 3 (≥19; n=20)” clearly delineates the scope of the study at baseline.. In the ‘Materials and Methods’ section the number of study subjects should be absolutely documented. Herein, after assignment of names to groups, in the rest of the manuscript, these names should be used. For example instead of saying: “Mean ages of the cases with LUTS scores between 0–9, 10–18, and ≥19 were determined to be 63.2±2.1, 62.8±4.5, and 65.7±3.9 years, respectively” it will be more comprehensible to use the expression: “Mean ages of the Groups 1, 2, and 3 were specified as 63.2±2.1, 62.8±4.5, and 65.7±3.9 years.” (p=0.478). Expressions indicated in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section should not be repeated in the “Results” section. Thus, errors of repetition will be precluded. Following the abovementioned information, the evaluation method of the cases enrolled in the study should be indicated. Hence, results of medical history, physical examination, and if performed laboratory or radiological evaluations-in that order-should be indicated. The application of survey study-if any-should be investigated, and documented. Therefore, the following sentences encompass all the information stated above: “The cases were evaluated with detailed medical history, physical examination, measurements of serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone (T) levels, complete urinalysis, urinary flow rate, direct urinary system roentgenograms, urinary system ultrasound, and if required cyctoscopy. Lower urinary system complaints, and erectile dysfunction were evaluated using International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS), and International Erectile Function Scale (IIEF), respectively.” Apparently, questionnaire forms were used in the above-cited study. However, methods used for the evaluation of questionnaire forms, and significance of the results obtained, and if possible, the first performer of this survey should be written with accompanying references. In relation to the abovementioned questionnaires the following statements constitute standard expressions for the ‘Materials and Methods’ section: “International Prostate Symptom Score (IPPS) was used in the determination of the severity of prostatic symptoms. IPSS used to determine the severity of the disease, evaluate treatment response, and ascertain the symptomatic progression, is the most optimal scoring system recommended by European Association of Urology (EAU) which classifies the severity of the disease based on IPSS scores as mild (0–7), moderate (8–19), and severe symptomatic (20–35) disease. In the evaluation of sexual function International Erectile Function Scale (IIEF) was used. IIEF is one of the most prevalently used form for the patients who consulted for the complaints of sexual dysfunction Based on IIEF scores, the severity of the disease was classified as severe (1–10), moderate (11–16), mild to moderate (17–21), mild (22–25), and no ED (26–30).”
Whether the institutions of the authors working for should be written in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section can be a subject of debate, generally viewpoints favour provision of this information. However, in compliance with their writing rules, some journals do not favour open-label studies where name of the study site is indicated, and this principle is communicated to the author during editorial evaluation Besides, in the ‘Materials and Methods’ section, the brand of the study object, and its country of origin should be indicated. (ie. if radiological methods are used, then the brand of radiological equipment, and its manufacturing country should be specified. In a study entitled ‘The Impact of Computed Tomography in the Prediction of Post-Radical Nephrectomy Stage in Renal Tumours’ since the main topic of the study is computed tomography, the specifications of the equipment used should be explicitely indicated. On the other hand, the details of the medical method which can effect the outcomes of the study should be also recorded. Accordingly, the methods applied for percutaneous nephrolithotomy, ureterorenoscopy, varicocelectomy, transurethral prostatectomy, radical prostatectomy (perineal, open, laparoscopic or robotic should be absolutely indicated. Then inclusion, and exclusion criteria, and if used control group, and its characteristics should be documented. Thus the following paragraph about exclusion criteria will be appropriate: Patients with a history of neurogenic bladder, prostatic or abdominal operation, and transrectal ultrasound guided prostate biopsy (within the previous 6 months), those aged <40 or >70 years, individuals with a peak urine flow rate below 10 ml/sec, and residual urine more than 150 cc were not included in the study.” [ 1 – 3 , 9 ]
Some diseases mentioned in the “Materials and Methods” section require special monitorization procedures. In these cases the procedure of monitorization should be documented for the sake of the validity of the study in question. Accordingly, in conditions such as “nephrectomy, prostatectomy, orchidectomy, pyeloplasty, varicocelectomy, drug therapies, penile prosthesis, and urethral stricture” clinical follow-up protocols should be provided.
The abovementioned rules, and recommendations are most frequently valid for a clinical study, and some points indicated in experimental studies should be also considered. Types, weights, gender, and number of the animals used in animal studies should be absolutely specified. Besides condition of evaluation of experimental animals should be noted. Then as is the case with clinical studies, approval of the ethics committee should be obtained, and documented. Accordingly, the beginning paragraphs of the ‘Materials and Methods’ can be expressed as follows:
“In the study, 40 Wistar-Albino 6-month-old rats each weighing 350–400 g were used. After approval of the ethics committee (HADYEK-41) the study was performed within the frame of rules specified by the National Institute for animal experiments. The rats were divided into 3 groups. Hence, Group 1 (n=7) was accepted as the control group. The rats subjected to partial ureteral obstruction with or without oral carvedilol therapy at daily doses of 2 mg/kg maintained for 7 days constituted Groups 3 (n=8), and 2 (n=8), respectively. Each group of 4 rats was housed in standard cages with an area of 40×60 cm. The animals were fed with standard 8 mm food pellets, and fresh daily tap water. The rats were kept in the cages under 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of dark. Ambient temperature, and humidity were set at 22±2°C, and 50±10%, respectively.”
Herein, the method, and agent of anesthesia used (local or general anesthesia) in surgical procedures, and then the experimental method applied should be clearly indicated. For example the following sentences explain our abovementioned arguments; “All surgical procedures were performed under xylazine-ketamine anesthesia. In all groups, ureters were approached through midline abdominal incision. In Group 1, ureters were manipulated without causing obstruction. Results of biochemical, and pathological evaluations performed in Group 1 were considered as baseline values.”
“Through a midline abdominal incision partial ureteral obstruction was achieved by embedding two-thirds of the distal part of the left ureter into psoas muscle using 4/0 silk sutures as described formerly by Wen et al. [ 10 ] ( Figure 1 ). [ 11 ] All rats were subjected to left nephrectomies at the end of the experimental study.” As formulated by the above paragraph, if the method used is not widely utilized, then the first researcher who describes the method should be indicated with relevant references. One or more than one figures with a good resolution, and easily comprehensible legends should be also included in the explanation of the experimental model. For very prevalently used experimental models as torsion models cited in the “Materials and Methods” section, there is no need to include figures in the manuscript.
Partial ureteral obstruction model [ 11 ]
Appropriate signs, and marks placed on the figure will facilitate comprehension of the legends ( Figure 2 ).
Ureteral segments (black arrows) seen in a rat partial ureteral obstruction model [ 11 ]
The signs used will also improve intelligibility of the target. The figures should be indicated within parentheses in their first mention in the “Materials and Methods” section. Headings and as a prevalent convention legends of the figures should be indicated at the end of the manuscript.
If a different method is used in the study, this should be explained in detail. For instance, in a study where the effect of smoking on testes was investigated, the method, and the applicator used to expose rats to cigarette smoke should be indicated in the ‘Methods’ section following classical description. Relevant to the study in question, the following paragraph explaining the study method should be written: “A glass chamber with dimensions of 75 × 50 × 50 cm was prepared, and divided into 4 compartments with wire fences. The rats in the 2., and 4. cages were placed in these compartments. Each compartment contained 4 rats. Cigarette smoke was produced using one cigarette per hour, and smoke coming from the tip, and the filter of the lighted cigarette was pumped into the gas chamber with a pneumatic motor. The rats were exposed to smoke of 6 cigarettes for 6 hours. The compartments of the rats were changed every day so as to achieve balanced exposure of the rats to cigarette smoke.” [ 12 ]
Meanwhile, chemical names, doses, and routes of administration of the substances used in experimental studies should be indicated. If the substance used is a solution or an antibody, then manufacturing firm, and its country should be indicated in parenthesis. This approach can be exemplified as “Animals used in experiments were randomized into 4 groups of 8 animals. Each group was housed in 2 cages each containing 4 animals. The first group did not undergo any additional procedure (Group 1). The second group was exposed to cigarette smoke (Group 2). The third (Group 3), and the fourth (Group 4) groups received daily intraperitoneal injectable doses of 10 mg/kg resveratrol (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA). The Group 4 was also exposed to cigarette smoke. [ 12 ]
After all of these procedures, method, and analytical procedure of histopathological examination used should be described-if possible-by a pathologist Similarly, biochemical method used should be referenced, and written by the department of clinical chemistry. It can be inferred that each division should describe its own method. In other words, histopathological, microbiological, and pharmacological method should be described in detail by respective divisions.
If we summarize all the information stated above, understandably sharing of the scientific knowledge is essential.. Since reproducibility of a study demonstrates the robustness of a study, with the detailed approaches indicated above, reproducibility of our study is provided, and the relevant questions of “How?”, and “How much?” are answered. Besides, since ‘Materials, and Methods’, and ‘Results’ sections will constitute a meaningful whole, explanations of all information related to the data mentioned in the ‘Results’ section should be provided. As an important point not to be forgotten, evaluation or measurement method used for each parameter indicated in the ‘Results’ section should be expounded in the “Materials and Methods” section. For example if you used an expression in the” Results” section like “median body mass index (BMI) of the patients was 27.42 kg/m 2 ”, then you should beforehand indicate that comparative evaluation of BMIs will be done in the “Materials and Methods” section. In addition, the description, and significance of the values expressed in the “Results” section should be indicated in the “Materials and Methods” section. In other words, it should be stated that the patients were evaluated based on their BMIs as normal (18–24.9 kg/m 2 ), overweight (25 kg/m 2 –40 kg/m 2 ), and morbid obesity (>40 kg/m 2 ). If you encounter difficulties in writing “Materials and Methods” section, also a valid approach for other sections, firstly simple headings can be written, then you can go into details. In brief, for every parameter, the reader should get clear-cut answers to the questions such as “How did they evaluate this parameter, and which criteria were used?”. [ 1 , 3 , 13 – 15 ]
The last paragraph of the ‘Materials, and Methods’ section should naturally involve statistical evaluations. This section should be written by statisticians. Accordingly, the preferred statistical method, and the justifications for this preference should be indicated. In conventional statistical evaluations, provision of details is not required. In information indicated above, the statement “For statistical analysis, ANOVA test, chi-square test, T test, Kruskal-Wallis test have been used.” is not required very much. Instead, more appropriate expression will be a statement indicating that recommendations of a knowledgeable, and an experienced statistician were taken into consideration or advanced statistical information was reflected on the statistical evaluations as follows: “Chi-square tests were used in intergroup comparisons of categorical variables, and categorical variables were expressed as numbers, and percentages. In comparisons between LUTS, and ED as for age, independent two samples t-test was used. In the evaluation of the factors effective on erectile dysfunction multivariate logistic regresssion test was used. P values lower than 0.05 were considered as statistically significant The calculations were performed using a statistical package program (PASW v18, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL).” Herein, the type of statistical package used for statistical methods should be emphasized.
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Part ii. writing the paper.
10. How to Write the Material and Methods Section
1 Although traditionally, this section is only called “Material and Methods” (rarely: Study Site, Material and Methods), it can be composed of the following parts: study site, study organism, material, methods, statistical evaluation.
2 The aim of this section in scientific papers is to enable readers to assess the reliability of your work, and to be able to repeat it for verification if they want to do so. Science is about unearthing nature’s laws, and the cornerstone of the scientific method requires that experiments are repeatable: if the experiment is repeated under the same conditions, the same result should be obtained. A material and methods section should give enough detail to evaluate and, if needed, to repeat the experiments reported in the article.
3 You should carefully consider your potential readership. This allows you to provide enough, but not superfluous, information. Once you have reflected on what can be assumed as known by this readership about your setting, organisms, methods, etc., you can give detail accordingly: not too little, and not too much.
4 During peer review, this section is closely scrutinised. If the reviewer is in any doubt that the experiments are repeatable, or that the methods are appropriate, the manuscript will be rejected as unreliable, no matter how wonderful the findings are.
5 When describing your study site, consider your potential readership and give details accordingly (geographical particulars, history of the site, location, co-ordinates, maps). The aim is not to enable the reader to find your sampling plot, but to give a general understanding, a “feel” for the environment you worked in. Information on habitat, with photos, maps, drawings, is often useful, or wholly necessary.
6 Here, you should name all the species, strains, cultivars or races that were used in the experiments. You should also give precise information on their origin, storage or husbandry, including temperatures, photoperiod, feeding regimes, control, etc. Depending on the readership, you should consider giving other background information on life history, and the organism’s distribution in nature. If there is a long list of organisms or strains, consider preparing a table with this information.
7 Here, you should list all the materials necessary for your experiments. Give exact names, not generic or trade names, of chemicals used. Give a source (manufacturer with location) if the chemical in question is delicate (e.g. an enzyme), or rare, or its quality is critical. This would give additional information to the reader. This is, however, neither advertisement nor endorsement (for legal reasons, this should often be made explicit in the paper — see, e.g. the US public organisation policy: disclaimer: “The mention of any trade name does not constitute endorsement by XXX organisation”). For equipment used, give the name, specification/type, manufacturer, and conditions of use.
Sampling Methods and Measurements
8 Here, you should detail the procedures: how did you perform the observations, measurements, experiments? How many times, under what conditions? If you use a new method, give all the details necessary so that the reader can repeat your experiment from reading this section. If you used a published method, a reference to the original publication, preferably the one that first published the method, is usually sufficient with minimum description. If you modified a published method, detail the modification only. If the method is published, you should cite it — but consider where it was published? Is it a frequently used method? When was it published? A rarely-used method, published long ago in an obscure journal, needs a more detailed description than a much-used, current one. If the original publication is not widely available, you will have to provide detailed description. Editors often welcome more detail, especially if the published method is not in very wide use (with the appropriate reference, naturally). If you modified a published method that is widely available, detail the modification only.
9 When describing the procedure, be aware that only SI (Système International) units of measurement are allowed. A few units in common use are not official SI measurements and they cannot be used. Also, be aware of the precise use of measurement units — for example, in common use, weight is often given as grams, kilograms, etc., but these are units of mass, not of weight.
10 Any larger set of samples, measurements, or experiments will have the occasional error, a missing sample, a lost or mislaid tube. Do not keep silent about them. Indicate, clearly, how you dealt with errors, missing data, missing traps. This will not decrease your credibility — on the contrary.
11 Data will mostly be evaluated by using a statistical program. In most cases, a reference to the program (indicate the version used) is sufficient; give detail only if the method used is new. However, avoid the neophyte description: what’s new for you may not be new for readers. An experienced colleague can give advice on this matter. In general, it is always a good idea to discuss your chosen statistical method with others. Here, you should give a reason for the choice of statistical test, as well as stating how you tested the eventual conditions for using the chosen test (testing for assumptions for a given statistical test). The mention of the use of a commercial statistical program naturally assumes that you have valid access to the program in question. It is not unheard of program developers to search for the mention of their product in the literature to find out about illegal use.
12 Be careful with details when writing a material and methods section — your reputation is on the line! The reader was not by your side when the studies were done, so she will use the detail and clarity of this section as an indirect indication of your reliability and thoroughness.
13 A common error in this section is not offering enough detail. This does not happen because of the authors’ desire to hide anything — it is simply a mark of routine: many parts of the experimental protocol may become almost routine, and the small details are forgotten as they never change and are taken for granted. When the description is prepared, these details, vital for others, are often not included. A good test is whether a colleague, on reading the section, thinks she can repeat the experiment based on the given description of methods. Such a check is useful, because the writer often is too close to the methods, having done them countless times during the experimental process and, thus, omits some obvious but important, detail.
14 Specifically, take care with numbers, spelling, and punctuation. In this section, many “strange” names will occur: of chemicals, organisms, strains; concentrations, times and units of measurement are important. Meticulousness is the key word here: if you cannot be trusted to do simple things well, such as describing a method that you used hundreds of times, can you expect the readers to trust you when it comes to more significant and complicated aspects of reporting your research?
15 The order of description should be chronological; the description of what was done first should precede the later actions. However, you have to first mention all study sites, then all organisms, followed by a full list of all materials used, experiment-by-experiment and so on. Thus, if someone is only interested in all the details of, for example, your second experiment, she will have to jump from one part of this section to another. This seems a small price to pay for a consistent structure, which is followed by most journals.
16 This section describes your own work and, thus, the past tense is used, mostly, in this section. When describing the details, beware of the syntax. The following description is taken from Day and Gastel’s book (Day and Gastel, 2006), who, tongue-in-cheek, called it “the painful method”: “After standing in hot water for an hour, the flasks were examined”. I hope this was not performed as the sentence implies — probably the flasks, and not the researchers, were standing in hot water that long.
When to Write this Section?
17 It is best to start writing this section first, possibly even while working on the experiments. Otherwise, many details will be lost. Details and precision are vital here, and they are much easier to document during the work, or soon after, than weeks or months later. Additionally, there is often a practical reason, too. Most scientific work is done in teams; it is much easier to convince the team members to write their respective methods section while they are doing the work, or soon afterwards. Once the experiments are completed, and the team moves on to further projects, writing a complete methods section will take longer, and be done less satisfactorily.
18 Meticulousness pays, because, as stated above, reviewers are often of the opinion that if you cannot be trusted in doing simple things, you cannot expect trust in significant and complicated aspects of research. Science, in the view of many of its eminent practitioners is, after all, “99 % perspiration and 1 % inspiration”, so precise work, and the ability to describe things accurately, is a necessary condition of credibility. Science may well comprise a lot of precise work and fewer grand ideas; you prove your mastery of the methods applied by being able to describe them with clarity, in sufficient detail.
Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0 . Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.
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How to write materials and method section in scientific writing
Easiest. That's what has been said about the materials and methods section in thesis.
Is it really that easy?
Only if you do it right.
You may think that you don't have to think a lot when you write this section.
You may think that it is just a matter of compiling all materials that you used in your research.
You may think you just have to write all the methods that you used in your research.
Sounds simple right?
Let's have a look at the nitty-gritty of materials and methods.
So in this blog post, I will cover these commonly asked questions on materials and methods:
What is the materials and method section?
What is the purpose of materials and methods, why is the material and method section important.
What tense is used in the materials and method section?
What is the difference between materials and methodology in the thesis and methodology in the manuscript?
How do you write a MATERIALS section for a dissertation/thesis?
How do you write a good method section for a dissertation/thesis.
The materials are simply the raw materials, tools, subject and/or important chemicals used in your experiments. Basically, it is the important details of WHAT you use in your research.
The methods section is HOW you conduct the research. Here, you describe all the steps or procedures you've done in order to achieve the research objectives, including the experimental design and data analysis.
To provide a precise description of (1) WHAT are used in the experiments, and (2) WHAT experiments are used and HOW the experiments are conducted to ensure you meet the research objectives.
To ensure the credibility of your research. In other words, whatever materials/chemicals and procedures that you choose should be suitable and valid to answer your research questions.
To ensure the reproducibility of your methods so that other research may repeat your research.
To guide your readers on how the research is conducted and organized to tell a compelling story of your research. You may wonder what guidance has to do with your writing. I'll share with you more after this.
What tense is used in materials and method section?
Simple past tense because you're telling readers what you have done in the past. Normally, passive voice is used to focus on the action, not on the doer.
What is the difference between materials and methodology in the thesis and in the manuscript?
The methodology in the thesis is very detailed and thorough.
Depending on the thesis format of your university, you may add pictures or illustrations in flow charts to further describe or simplify your methods.
Or else, these illustrations can be placed in your appendices if your readers need further reference.
Methodology in a manuscript is simpler but with an emphasis on the reference so that the readers can refer to the original source.
It can be so simple like, "Method A was carried out based on the method by Clark, Teo and Li (2007)". This is practiced because a manuscript often has word limits.
However, if your sample preparations or method has not been cited anywhere and is newly developed, then by all means, please write it in detail.
In this part, you provide the details of your samples. Depending on your samples, the details should be thorough enough to describe your samples. If it’s animals or plants, provide the scientific name too. You can refer to previous thesis or publications closely related to your research for a better understanding. The examples are as below:
Provide where samples are purchased/obtained/harvested
Animals – age, after weaning, maturity
Plants – Maturity stage
Processed food – Provide brand, place of manufacture
You also capture the important chemicals used in your research. This information will provide accurate referrals for other researchers to repeat the experiments. Examples of information needed for chemicals:
Place of manufacture
Food or chemical grade
Molarity of chemicals
Concentration and activity of enzymes
The method needs to be organized in a way that best tells your research story in the results and discussion. That means, your results and discussion should be in sync with the order of your written methodology.
Example of an organized method:
Preparation of sample
This simple example shows that the material section was written first, followed by the sample preparation and experimental design. Then, the experiments were properly categorized in chemical, physical and thermal properties; and lastly morphological property.
In this case, I prefer to organize the chemical section first because, in my discussion, I find it easier to relate the chemical properties with the physical and thermal properties.
Also, the physical properties are best placed before morphological properties because normally, the physical properties (and chemical properties for that matter) can be the explanation of why the morphology of the sample behaves in a certain way.
If I organize the morphological property after sample preparation, I will have a hard time explaining and linking the other results later in my discussion. See how important this is?
The best way is to look at examples in related journals or thesis; write it and get your supervisor's feedback.
2) Get your experimental design right
How to design a good experimental design you ask? This should be solved in your proposal stage, but I do want to highlight this a bit because it is super important.
If you need to design experiments yourself, refer to the previous thesis or well-published manuscripts.
Then, get feedback from your supervisor to check if your study covers the needed scopes and is designed correctly.
Finally, consult the statisticians for confirmation and get additional advice on how to further improve your experimental design.
One of the common mistakes that I see from students is that the experimental design is written without mentioning the control. This is a big NO-NO. You need control as a baseline to compare your samples. Without control, your experiment design is doomed.
Another common mistake is to have inconsistent variables. For example:
Group A: Control sample
Group B: Sample irradiated at 8 kGy for 10 minutes
Group C: Sample irradiated at 20 kGy for 5 minutes
Group D: Sample irradiated at 1000 kGy for 1 minute
Unless you have a really good explanation of why the irradiation power and exposure time differed so much, this experimental design is sooooo wrong.
An improvised version of the experimental design would be:
Group B: Sample irradiated at 8 kGy for 2 minutes
Group C: Sample irradiated at 8 kGy for 4 minutes
Group D: Sample irradiated at 8 kGy for 6 minutes
OR, if the design needs to be more thorough and requires a range of irradiation variable, the improvised version would be:
Group E: Sample irradiated at 16 kGy for 2 minutes
Group F: Sample irradiated at 16 kGy for 4 minutes
Group G: Sample irradiated at 16 kGy for 6 minutes
Group H: Sample irradiated at 24 kGy for 2 minutes
Group I: Sample irradiated at 24 kGy for 4 minutes
Group J: Sample irradiated at 24 kGy for 6 minutes
That's much better! I bet it can still be improvised.
The question now is; how do you write your experimental design in a good way? Should it be in a table? Should it be in paragraphs?
The answer is, it depends on your field. Also, try to write in the easiest form for the readers to understand. You can do multiple drafts of different versions to get a good feel of what’s best for your readers. Then, get feedback.
3) Determine your abbreviations for samples wisely
If your samples have long names, treatments or whatever categories, make sure to create abbreviations that are easy for your readers to identify in your thesis.
Some experimental design has multifactorial designs that are so complicated that it confuses readers, especially if you give a loooonnngggg gibberish abbreviation.
So, please, please, please...... help your readers to easily follow your story by giving simple abbreviations.
For example, let say you have 7 groups of rats (let's name it Sprague Dawley rats) treated with a new herb (let's name it QYZRS457, just for the sake of making it look complicated) to lower blood sugar level. So you might have your experimental design to be something like this:
Group 1: Control healthy Sprague Dawley rats untreated
Group 2: Control diabetic Sprague Dawley rats untreated
Group 3: Control diabetic Sprague Dawley rats treated with Metformin
Group 4: Healthy Sprague Dawley rats given herb QYZRS457 at 2%
Group 5: Healthy Sprague Dawley rats given herb QYZRS457 at 4%
Group 6: Diabetic Sprague Dawley rats given herb QYZRS457 at 2%
Group 7: Diabetic Sprague Dawley rats given herb QYZRS457 at 4%
Bad abbreviation for the 7 groups may look something like this:
Group 1: “ CHSDRU” (As in Control Healthy Sprague Dawley Rats Untreated )
Group 2: “ CDSDRU “(As in Control Diabetic Sprague Dawley Rats Untreated )
Group 3: “ CDSDRM” (As in Control Diabetic Sprague Dawley Rats given Metformin )
Group 4: “ HSDRQYZRS457-2%” (As in Healthy Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 2% )
Group 5: “ HSDRQYZRS457-4%” (As in Healthy Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 4% )
Group 6: “ DSDRQYZRS457-2%” (As in Diabetic Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 2% )
Group 7: “ DSDRQYZRS457-4%” (As in Diabetic Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 4% )
Notice how confusing the abbreviations are! These abbreviations are created based on the first letter of bolded words. To make it worst, groups 4, 5, 6 and 7 have the abbreviations with the full code of the new herb!
You may think that I made up a ridiculous example. But believe me when I tell you it exists. I've seen it and I'm also the living proof that made this mistake before.
Now, let's try to make it simpler and better.
Group 1: “ CH” (As in Control Healthy Sprague Dawley Rats Untreated )
Group 2: “ CD” (As in Control Diabetic Sprague Dawley Rats Untreated )
Group 3: “ CDM” (As in Control Diabetic Sprague Dawley Rats given Metformin )
Group 4: “ H2” (As in Healthy Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 2% )
Group 5: “ H4” (As in Healthy Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 4% )
Group 6: “ D2” (As in Diabetic Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 2% )
Group 7: “ D4” (As in Diabetic Sprague Dawley rats given QYZRS457 at 4% )
Now the abbreviations are created based on the first words of the relevant keywords. I omitted "Sprague Dawley rats" because all of the subjects are known to be rats. I also omitted "untreated" because based on common sense, control will be untreated.
But I included the first word of "Metformin" in group 3 to differentiate the treated control group with a common drug. Then, I omitted "QYZRS457" because it will definitely be mentioned in the details of materials as the plant used. After all, the plant is the main cast of my research story. Finally, I included the concentrations in the abbreviation to differ the groups 4, 5, 6 and 7.
See if you can make a better abbreviation than this. I bet there are better options.
If your samples have short or simple common names, I suggest avoiding using abbreviations altogether and just stick to the word. It definitely will be less hassle for the readers.
4) Give the details in your method modifications
This is a common flaw made in thesis and manuscripts.
Often, modified methods will be written like this, "Method Z was carried out according to Yi et al. (2009) with a slight modification."
Is it wrong? No, but it is not accurate enough.
The best way to write it is to state what step/procedure/equipment/setting modified so that people know the changes. You might want to justify the reason why it is being modified too.
For example, "Method Z was carried out according to Yi et al. (2009) with a slight modification to the radiation power where 20 kGy was used instead of 25 kGy. The modification was done because the starch colour remained unchanged at 20 kGy as opposed to radiation power of 25kGy, where starch colour drastically changed to dark yellow."
Now the modifications are clear.
This is very crucial, especially if other researchers want to use the same method you've conducted.
5) Provide the details of your method
Write ALL the details of your method before the experiment is conducted. Then, double-check during and after the experiment. Finally, put it in a written form.
Examples are as below:
duration of study
size of population/samples
6) Highlight critical steps or precaution
My PhD work includes developing a method. After 2 years of multiple experiments, nothing worked. I almost gave up.
So, my supervisor asked his post-doc to help me out.
She did everything exactly the same as I did, except for one small step.
One of the steps requires the cooling of samples from 100°C to 50°C. I kept doing shock cooling by placing the hot samples into room temperature tap water in a beaker, then I placed the cooled sample into a 50°C water bath. Turns out, the shock cooling was the reason why I did not get the expected result.
The post-doc discovered that the cooling step to cool the sample from 100°C to 50°C by placing the hot sample into a 50°C water bath was the best procedure to get the expected result.
So, please learn from my mistake. I totally understand how important to highlight the crucial steps or precautions because even the tiniest, unexpected step may change the results.
7) Provide the references
This one may sound preeeettty obvious.
BUT, this is among the many mistakes my students made. If you don't write the references, it's as close as claiming the method as yours. Basically, it's plagiarism.
So, unless you develop your own method, please please make notes of your references for all the methods that you referred to and write it according to the format of your thesis.
I know that the referencing tool is pretty handy nowadays but always double-check to see if the format is right and the references in the text tallies with your list of references.
8) Provide the model, brand, manufacturer and the place manufactured for your main equipment/instrument used
As the title indicates, the main equipment or instruments should have all those details. I suggest that you have a table that compiles all the information so you can easily refer to it later.
9) Mind your units
As simple as it may seem, missing units or the wrong unit is what I always emphasize on my students.
In food processing research, students tend to use cups instead of grams or mL. And this might be the case for other fields too.
So always check whether your units are the valid ones. Always use SI units, unless there’s a special unit for the parameter.
10) Details of statistical analysis
Provide the statistical analysis software and the version used. Also, specify the type of analysis (ex: t-test, 2-way ANOVA, etc.) and the setting (ex: p-value). Your number of samples generally taken for each analysis (unless mentioned otherwise for some methods) is good to specify.
Looks easy right?
If. Done. Right.
Just as a recap, these are the things that you should be alert of when you’re writing the materials and methods section in scientific writing:
Provide the details of your materials and chemicals
Organize your methodology that bests tell your discussion.
Get your experimental design right
Determine your abbreviations for samples wisely
Give the details in your method modifications
Provide the details of your method
Highlight critical steps or precaution
Provide the model, brand, manufacturer and the place manufactured for your main equipment/instrument used
Mind your units
Details of statistical analysis
Let the readers know you care for them.
So, always write with your readers in mind!
Do you have other tips on how to write a good materials and methods section? Or any burning questions to ask? Feel free to share or ask in the comment section.
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Materials and methods section is considered the easiest part of a research paper as you have to provide details about your equipment, tools, participants, materials, and variables that were used to carry out research. Scientific data is contextual, not absolute that makes sense only in the context of procedures used to produce experimental data. Here are the steps to write the materials and methods section in a research paper.
Make a lab notebook
You should start writing this section along with your experimental results as technical details are fresh in your mind. List down all tools, instruments, apparatus, contrivances, techniques, appliances and solutions. Record every single item you used to carry out your experiments and include details although you can remove unnecessary details later at editing stage.
Algorithms are well-defined programmes to define the necessary steps taken to move from one point to another point. Don’t summarise your algorithms, for example, “the location of the axon tip was measured accurately every 10 min”. Instead, you should write it as follows:
“At 10 minutes intervals, the location of the axon tip was measured on a transparent plastic grid of 10 square centimeters.” The materials and methods section must be unequivocal therefore don’t use uncertain terms such as sometimes, maybe, approximately. For instance, don’t write, “Measurements were taken when the temperature was approximately below 37-degree Celsius”. Instead, you should write this statement as follows: “Measurements were taken when the temperature was 36-degree Celsius”.
Below is an excerpt of materials and methods Section from a research paper titled “the role of juvenile hormone during larval-pupal transformation”.
Introduce statistical data
If your experiments produce numerical data, you have to describe them statistically. You will explain your statistical methods in details along with describing abbreviations, terms, symbols and citation. The materials and methods section is the place where you will explain your statistical experimental design.
An appendix is an addition to the materials and methods section in a research paper, although it is an essential part of the text. An appendix provides detailed information that is not easy to fit in the materials and methods section. An appendix will include detailed chemical preparations and reactions, construction of apparatus, mathematical formulas, and detailed description of a diagram.
Presenting the materials and methods part of your research in a clear, transparent and detailed manner can be the most beneficial step for your research. It lends the much needed reliability and validity scores. The way you collect data, the tools you use for it and the reasons behind it are crucial determinants to overall credibility factor of a good research paper.
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