the methods section

Writing in Biology -
Writing scientific papers
• Understanding how to do science is a powerful
• Communicating science is critical to success
and progress in science
• Good writing comes from clear thinking
• Precision in writing (language) is critical to
Good writing starts with a well organized
lab/data notebook
Keeping the laboratory notebook:
• goals and objectives – clear statements grounded in
clear rationale (record questions and uncertainties)
• a well thought through experimental approach that is
clearly laid out serves as the basis for planning the
experiment – flow charts, time-line, equipment, leads
to paragraphs of text
• the procedure should be laid out in check list format
to ensure that laboratory work will be done quickly
and accurately
• a record of data – if in doubt write it down
• the lab notebook becomes the starting place for
scientific writing
Keys to successful writing in
biology – from WAB
‘There is no easy to learn to write in biology or
in any other field. It helps to read a lot of good
writing and not just in biology. … But mostly
you just have to work hard at writing – and
keep working hard at it, draft after draft,
assignment after assignment. That will be
much easier to do if you have something in
mind that you actually want to say.’
More keys to successful writing in
biology – from WAB
‘All good writing involves 2 struggles: the
struggle for understanding and the struggle to
communicate that understanding to readers.
Like the making of omelets or crepes, the skill
improves with practice. There are no shortcuts
and there is no simple formula that can be
learned and then applied mindlessly to all
future assignments.’
Rules for writing from George Orwell
Politics and the English Language:
“I think the following rules will cover most cases:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech
which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon
word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything
Basic structure of a scientific paper
In order:
1. Abstract
2. Introduction
3. Methods (Materials and Methods)
4. Results
5. Discussion
6. Literature cited
7. Tables
8. Figures
Materials and Methods
When writing the paper, don’t begin at the
beginning, start with the materials and methods
• It is the least complicated section, though it is
quite detailed.
• Careful reconstruction of what was done brings
freshly to mind the whole of the study.
• It is often tightly linked to the Results section,
and it may be beneficial to begin a rough draft
or at least an outline of that section as M&M is
Repeatability is:
• a fundamental feature of science
• what makes science so powerful
• would not be possible with a weak Methods section
The Methods section contains subsections:
• Materials - describe the plant or animals used
in the study (you may subtitle it as Plant
Material or Animal Materials, etc.)
• Use Latin names for species, designating
strains where appropriate
• Make it clear how they were maintained and
• May also provide a list of unusual or necessary
• Methods - for each experimental
manipulation used in the study, make a
separate subtitled section (eg. Pulse Rate
Measurement or Determination of
Photosynthetic Rate, etc.)
• Assists a reader in locating a method while
reading Results
• Details are introduced in context
• When a protocol from another paper is
followed exactly, cite that paper and then note
any deviations, if appropriate
• The source - manufacturer of any supplies or
instrumentation should be noted
Example Methods Section
from Allison 2002
What not to include:
• Unnecessary detail about how to run instrumentation
• The room number where the experiment was done
• How to prepare a solution (unless it is highly
• Words that can be abbreviated (see p. 11 & 268
WAB) (but never begin a sentence with an
• How statistics or measurements were performed
(unless highly unusual) – but useful to mention name
of computer program
• Any unnecessary detail (such as how samples were