FAQs about writing a Materials and Methods section
In what voice and tense should I write my Materials and Methods section?
Make sure you use the past tense for your Materials and Methods, as you describe something that has been completed already. You can use either the active or passive voice. For example, ‘The samples were prepared…’ (passive) or ‘We prepared the samples…’ (active).
What format should the Materials and Methods section have?
A Materials and Methods section usually consists of several paragraphs: one for the participants, another for the instruments, possibly one describing a data source used, etc. In some fields, it is common to give these paragraphs subheadings. You can present information chronologically if this makes sense, i.e. explaining how you did things step-by-step. Don’t use bulleted or numbered lists; write everything out.
When should I write my Materials and Methods section?
Many researchers write this section first, as they find it the easiest one to write. Of all people, you know best what you’ve done - and if you’ve kept research notes along the way, this section shouldn’t be too much work.
Can I cite sources in my Materials and Methods section?
Yes, where relevant. If you use an existing source (think of a data set or model), or you base something in your methodology on existing work (for example, you follow a method recommended by another author), make sure to cite this source.
If I reuse someone else’s data, should I cite them? If so, how?
Yes; you cite data like you cite any source. Give an in-text citation within your text and add the full reference to your reference list or bibliography. Data set citations in your bibliography usually cover these elements: Creator(s), year, title, version of data set (if relevant), repository name, and DOI (if it has one). For example:
Erhardt, Tobias; Jensen, Camilla Marie; Fischer, Hubertus (2022): High resolution aerosol records over the past 3.8ka from the EastGRIP ice core. PANGAEA, https://doi.pangaea.de/10.1594/PANGAEA.945293.
Follow the citation guidelines provided by the data repository or the journal you’re submitting to, or those of your referencing style handbook if it has any.