Introduction, Methods and Results
The Introduction should provide readers with the background information needed to understand your study, and the reasons why you conducted your experiments. The Introduction should answer the question: what question/problem was studied?
While writing the background, make sure your citations are:
- Well balanced: If experiments have found conflicting results on a question, have you cited studies with both kinds of results?
- Current: Every field is different, but you should aim to cite references that are not more than 10 years old if possible. Although be sure to cite the first discovery or mention in the literature even if it older than 10 years.
- Relevant: This is the most important requirement. The studies you cite should be strongly related to your research question.
TIP: Do not write a literature review in your Introduction, but do cite reviews where readers can find more information if they want it.
Once you have provided background material and stated the problem or question for your study, tell the reader the purpose of your study. Usually the reason is to fill a gap in the knowledge or to answer a previously unanswered question. For example, if a drug is known to work well in one population, but has never been tested in a different population, the purpose of a study could be to test the efficacy and safety of the drug in the second population.
The final thing to include at the end of your Introduction is a clear and exact statement of your study aims. You might also explain in a sentence or two how you conducted the study.
Materials and Methods
This section provides the reader with all the details of how you conducted your study. You should:
- Use subheadings to separate different methodologies
- Describe what you did in the past tense
- Describe new methods in enough detail that another researcher can reproduce your experiment
- Describe established methods briefly, and simply cite a reference where readers can find more detail
- State all statistical tests and parameters
TIP: Check the ‘Instructions for Authors’ for your target journal to see how manuscripts should present the Materials and Methods. Also, as another guide, look at previously published papers in the journal or sample reports on the journal website.
In the Results section, simply state what you found, but do not interpret the results or discuss their implications.
- As in the Materials and Methods section, use subheadings to separate the results of different experiments.
- Results should be presented in a logical order. In general this will be in order of importance, not necessarily the order in which the experiments were performed. Use the past tense to describe your results; however, refer to figures and tables in the present tense.
- Do not duplicate data among figures, tables, and text. A common mistake is to re-state much of the data from a table in the text of the manuscript. Instead, use the text to summarize what the reader will find in the table, or mention one or two of the most important data points. It is usually much easier to read data in a table than in the text.
- Include the results of statistical analyses in the text, usually by providing p values wherever statistically significant differences are described.
TIP: There is a famous saying in English: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This means that, sometimes, an image can explain your findings far better than text could. So make good use of figures and tables in your manuscript! However, avoid including redundant figures and tables (e.g. two showing the same thing in a different format), or using figures and tables where it would be better to just include the information in the text (e.g. where there is not enough data for a table or figure).