Writing Tips

Writing materials and methods for a research paper is very different from keeping a logbook. While you want to record all details in your notebook, the method section in your paper is a summary of what you did and should not include every minor detail.
The method section should contain enough information that someone with a similar amount of lab experience as yourself could repeat your study.

For more tips see our new biology lab report site.

Some reasons that people struggle with writing a good/succinct materials and methods are they:

  • want to write the methods in chronological order – this leads to a lot of repetition because the same methods was used repeatedly (if you were writing bread-making cookbook – would you want to describe the details of how to kneed the bread with every recipe?)
  • don’t know how to deal with small variances in the way methods were applied – so they describe the entire method more than once – with only minor changes in implementation
  • reproduce protocols rather than describing what they did
  • list all materials separately and then restate the materials used as they describe the related method
  • include too many general knowledge details – for example, should you need to tell your peers what pipetter was used for each volume – or could you assume that given a volume they could figure out how to obtain it themselves?

To avoid these problems

  • describe each method as a discrete unit (use clear descriptive subtitles)
  • describe a method’s details only once – if some parts of the method were altered depending on the specific application, explain the adjustments as you describe that part of the method
  • where applicable, give final component concentrations, not the starting component concentration and the volume used
  • don’t separately list materials which you will need to refer to when you describe the method anyway
  • don’t reproduce easily accessible methods such as kit protocols
  • USE SUBTITLES – I can’t emphasize this enough – subtitles will help you organize your methods so that they are not only easier to write, but are easier for your reader to follow

An example of a single method description you might need in your paper follows (my notes are in italics).

Plasmid isolation (this title clearly indicates what method is described)
All plasmids were isolated using the Fermentas GeneJet™ Plasmid Isolation kit (the kit name is included here, not in a separate materials list) according to the manufacture’s instructions (Fermentas 2007).
That’s it for this method as all other details are described in the manual that is available online.

Plasmid isolation (an alternate okay method – although a lot more words are required)
All plasmids were isolated using the Fermentas GeneJet™ Plasmid Isolation kit (Fermentas 2007). Stationary E. coli cultures carrying the desired plasmid were harvested by centrifugation at 6800 g. Pellets were resuspended in 250 µl of Resuspension Solution and then lysed by adding 250 µl of Lysis Solution and mixing by inversion. Cell debris was precipitated by adding 350 µl of Neutralization Solution, mixing by inversion, and pelleted by centrifugation for 5 min at 12000 g. The resulting supernatant was transferred to a GeneJET™ column. The column was processed by centrifugation for 1 min at 12000g; the flow through was discarded and the column was washed 2 times with 500 µl of Wash Solution (discarding the flow through each time). After the final wash, the column was centrifuged for an additional minute and then transferred to a new microcentrifuge tube. Plasmid DNA was eluted in 50 µl of Elution (the column was incubated for 2 min at room temperature following addition of the elution buffer). The eluted plasmid DNA was collected by centrifugation for 2 min and stored at -20 °C.

Describing the overall cloning strategies

Once you have described all the methods used, briefly describe the overall method of recombinant plasmid construction.

Remember – when writing a research paper for publication – WORDS COST MONEY.
They cost money in the page charges you have to pay to the journal. They also cost time money. Scientists are very busy people with massive amounts of material to read on a weekly basis. They don’t want to waste their time reading long convoluted papers in which unimportant details are included and information is unnecessarily repeated.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License