The methods section of a research paper provides the information by which a study’s validity is judged. Therefore, it requires a clear and precise description of how an experiment was done, and the rationale for why specific experimental procedures were chosen. The methods section should describe what was done to answer the research question, describe how it was done, justify the experimental design, and explain how the results were analyzed. Scientific writing is direct and orderly.
Therefore, the methods section structure should: describe the materials used in the study, explain how the materials were prepared for the study, describe the research protocol, explain how measurements were made and what calculations were performed, and state which statistical tests were done to analyze the data. Once all elements of the methods section are written, subsequent drafts should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and logically as possibly. The description of preparations, measurements, and the protocol should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic. Material in each section should be organized by topic from most to least important.
Resources for learning technical writing
Before you begin your first writing assignment, please consult all of the following resources, in order to gain the most benefit from the experience.
Instructor feedback on previous assignments
Common errors in student research papers
Selected writing rules (somewhat less serious than the other resources)
For Biosciences majors the general guidelines apply to future course work, as can be seen by examining the guidelines for the advanced experimental sciences research paper (Bioc 311).
General form of a research paper
An objective of organizing a research paper is to allow people to read your work selectively. When I research a topic, I may be interested in just the methods, a specific result, the interpretation, or perhaps I just want to see a summary of the paper to determine if it is relevant to my study. To this end, many journals require the following sections, submitted in the order listed, each section to start on a new page. There are variations of course. Some journals call for a combined results and discussion, for example, or include materials and methods after the body of the paper. The well known journal Science does away with separate sections altogether, except for the abstract.
Your papers are to adhere to the form and style required for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, requirements that are shared by many journals in the life sciences.
Specific editorial requirements for submission of a manuscript will always supercede instructions in these general guidelines.
To make a paper readable
Print or type using a 12 point standard font, such as Times, Geneva, Bookman, Helvetica, etc.
Text should be double spaced on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper with 1 inch margins, single sided
Number pages consecutively
Start each new section on a new page
Adhere to recommended page limits
Mistakes to avoid
Placing a heading at the bottom of a page with the following text on the next page (insert a page break!)
Dividing a table or figure – confine each figure/table to a single page
Submitting a paper with pages out of order
In all sections of your paper
Use normal prose including articles (“a”, “the,” etc.)
Stay focused on the research topic of the paper
Use paragraphs to separate each important point (except for the abstract)
Indent the first line of each paragraph
Present your points in logical order
Use present tense to report well accepted facts – for example, ‘the grass is green’
Use past tense to describe specific results – for example, ‘When weed killer was applied, the grass was brown’
Avoid informal wording, don’t address the reader directly, and don’t use jargon, slang terms, or superlatives
Avoid use of superfluous pictures – include only those figures necessary to presenting results