Manuscript Tips: Materials and Methods

The following is the next installment in a series on writing for publication from Kris Greiner, editor in the Design Center. Explore her suite of editing services.

As I always recommend, be sure to check any author instructions about the formatting or even the naming of a Materials and Methods (M&M) section. Some journals might ask for this section to be titled differently or even separately, either for their own style or depending on the type of manuscript.

As with Introductions, different types of manuscripts require different ways of presenting an M&M section. However, there are several common elements among all M&M sections to remember.

  • Save for elsewhere any detailed explanations about why the materials and methods used were selected. M&M sections should be very straightforward – just a recitation of what was done and how it was done. Interpretations and reasoning behind each technique, analysis method, material, or population should be saved for the Discussion section.
  • Whether you’re reporting results from a lab experiment or a clinical trial, always include enough details so that anything you and your team have done could be reproduced by others.
  • Lab materials, patient or participant populations, analysis methods, etc., should all be grouped together under appropriate subheadings. Present these subsections in a logical order, either chronologically or according to primary outcomes or questions asked.
  • If reporting on common methods or those previously published, whether by you or others, simply cite the method used and add a reference where readers can find full details.
  • Of vital importance, include any IRB or animal study approval statements that were granted for your work.

The differences in M&M sections usually depend on whether your paper is reporting on a clinical study or a patient population, laboratory work, or a meta-analysis. When reporting on a clinical trial or other type of patient-centered study, check author instructions to determine whether a CONSORT or other validated checklist is required.

Lab studies require precise detail for materials, including measurements and manufacturers. If writing a review paper, check to see whether a PRISMA checklist is required (though it’s best to follow the PRISMA or a similar method for such studies, whether required or not). There are a number of helpful resources for learning about different reporting guidelines; the most helpful for me are the EQUATOR Network and the National Library of Medicine.

As always, feel free to contact me with any manuscript questions at

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