Materials and methods

The study’s methods are one of the most important parts used to judge the overall quality of the paper. In addition the Methods section should give readers enough information so that they can repeat the experiments. Reviewers should look for potential sources of bias in the way the study was designed and carried out, and for places where more explanation is needed.

The specific types of information in a Methods section will vary from field to field and from study to study. However, some general rules for Methods sections are:

  • It should be clear from the Methods section how all of the data in the Results section were obtained.
  • The study system should be clearly described. In medicine, for example, researchers need to specify the number of study subjects; how, when, and where the subjects were recruited, and that the study obtained appropriate ‘informed consent’ documents; and what criteria subjects had to meet to be included in the study.
  • In most cases, the experiments should include appropriate controls or comparators. The conditions of the controls should be specified.
  • The outcomes of the study should be defined, and the outcome measures should be objectively validated.
  • The methods used to analyze the data must be statistically sound.
  • For qualitative studies, an established qualitative research method (e.g. grounded theory is often used in sociology) must be used as appropriate for the study question.
  • If the authors used a technique from a published study, they should include a citation and a summary of the procedure in the text. The method also needs to be appropriate to the present experiment.
  • All materials and instruments should be identified, including the supplier’s name and location. For example, “Tests were conducted with a Vulcanizer 2.0 (XYZ Instruments, Mumbai, India).”
  • The Methods section should not have information that belongs in another section (such as the Introduction or Results).

You may suggest if additional experiments would greatly improve the quality of the manuscript. Your suggestions should be in line with the study’s aims. Remember that almost any study could be strengthened by further experiments, so only suggest further work if you believe that the manuscript is not publishable without it.