Thesis Writing in the Sciences

This is the “how” section of your research report. Precision and exact details are key to this section, but do not include irrelevant material. This concrete infomation is usually presented in simple past tense, either active voice (We collected water samples every three days) or passive voice (Samples were collected every three days).   The ultimate test of a well-written Methods section is in replicability — could someone else reproduce the study given what you wrote?

Include enough information about materials and methods to enable another suitably qualified person to repeat your experiments. Relegate tedious but necessary details to an Appendix, so that there are no breaks in the flow of ideas in your presentation. from “How to Write a Thesis”

The methods section generally includes three types of information:

  • subjects / participants / substances;
  • apparatus / materials / instruments; and
  • procedure.

Most commonly, some mention of “participants/subjects/substance” (whatever passes for that which was experimented upon) is discussed first, though this is not always the case.  For example, if you performed the same procedure on three different groups, you may choose to explain the procedure in detail first, then lay out the composition of the groups.  Or, if you have three different procedures on the same type of group, you’d more logically start with the “group” and proceed to procedure.  Also, if your work involves multiple tests, then the Methods may be organized topically according to test with parallel organization shared among all.

As always, if you have a complicated Methods that you are not sure how to lay out, look for a research article that deals with a similar issue and model your organization after theirs!

Also, check with your PI/mentor/supervisor/ lab leader regarding using the traditional citation system as a means of writing your Methods section.  For many, the method was actually performed by other researchers (or your PI!), and you are applying that Method to a different set of subjects.  In this case, you may get to use the publishable shortcut and cite the part of the procedure with “…was performed as in X, Y, Z (2004).”  On the other hand, your PI may want you to experience the full glory of writing every step out in excruciating detail.

Keep in mind that whatever is in Methods should find a corresponding mention in Results.   You may want to organize the Methods section so that you can use the parallel organization (or pretty similar) in the Results section.