Writing “Methods” section of an article

The method section of any article ideally ties “the introduction” to “the results” section to create a clear story line. It should present the obvious approach to answer the research questions and define the structure in which the result will be presented later.

The method section of an article should allow readers to:
• Understand how and why the experiments are performed
• Better understand the remainder of paper and how the results and conclusions were derived from experiments
• Be able to reproduce the study with an expectation of success
• Acknowledge that the result and conclusions are valid based on the strength of the method and study design.

The method section of a paper presenting original research from a quantitative study has four basic elements.
 Study design
 Settings and subjects
 Data collection
 Data analysis

In the case of research in humans, the authority providing ethical clearance needs to be stated. Developing a skeleton of the basic elements of the method is very important. A previously published paper from the same research projects can also be referred for additional information about the methods which make the methods section more concise. However, all the information that the reader needs to understand about how the key findings were derived should be included.

Study design
The study design has to be mentioned, such as:
• Randomized control trial (experimental design where many participants are included)
• Prospective/retrospective cohort study (a study that follows overtime a group of similar individuals who differ with respect to certain factors under study, to determine how these factors affect rates of a certain outcome)
• Case control study (research on only one individual)
• Cross-sectional study (observational study that involves the analysis of data collected from a population or a representative subset at one specific point of time )

Study settings and subjects
Study setting which includes when and where the study was conducted and how the sample was recruited or selected should also be clearly explained. The selection (inclusion/ exclusion) of the criteria should be clearly defined.

Data collection
In the data collection section, the procedure, exposure or intervention should be defined precisely. It should mention whether primary data collection method or secondary data collection method has been used to collect data. It also involves tools and outcome measure that were used. Reliability and validity of outcome tool should be explained. Any equipment used specifically for the study should be mentioned and outcome measure and duration of study should be well reported. The details of measurement properties such as reproducibility, validity and responsiveness should be provided as these play a crucial role for interpretation of main results.

Data analysis
All the outcome measure should be analyzed in this section. Sufficient details on the statistical design that have been used should be provided.
Sampling technique should be included along with explanation about how the sample size was calculated. We can get the result of sample size calculation by examining group of specific people from overall population. Any errors found should be mentioned.

The methods section of a good article must include the following points:
• Who, what, when, where, how and why questions should be answered.
• The method section should be written in past tense because it describes the experiments and research plan that was done in the past.
• Active or passive form can be used but the combination of both provides reader with some variation in presentation of the experiments and also to avoid monotony.
• In addition to avoid monotony and improving the flow of the text, transition phrases can be used.
• Should be divided into subsections with associated subheadings.
• Subsections should be organized in chronological order or order of importance.
• Figures and tables should be included if they save a large amount of text and help the reader understand the experiments being described.
• Important experiments used in study should be well described.
• Should be careful during omission since errors of omission are common in this section.

About Opsana Regmi

Opsana is a clever second year Bachelor of Physiotherapy student at Kathmandu University School of Medical Sciences, Dhulikhel, Nepal. Opsana loves to write which has specifically been her interest for long. Hope she keeps up her writing interest in the future and comes up with more blog posts.

Opsana Regmi