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WRITING A SCIENTIFIC REPORT

3.3

Write a method section

This article briefly introduces how to write a method section. The method section of a paper describes the participant pool, your experimental design, and your measurement.

The first part of the method section is called ‘Participants’. It always contains information about the subjects you gathered, their basic demographic data, where and when you recruited them, how they were compensated and which Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved your study. Here is an example of a ‘Participants’ section (Jarecki, Meder, & Nelson, 2017, p. 18):

Thirty people (mean age 23.8 years, range 19 to 33 years, 67% female) participated; remuneration was 12 euros. We recruited via the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. Data were collected from September to December 2012 at the center; the experiment was conducted in accordance with the ethical and data protection guidelines there.

The second part of the method section is called ‘Procedure’. It describes the participants’ task in as much detail as possible such that another researcher could re-do the experiment. Writing tip: write from the participants’ point of view and be very specific. Here a very short example:

Participants’ task was to try out different chewing gums with the flavors cherry, lime, and peanut. Participants first tried one chewing gum. The tasting was self-paced. Chewing gums were presented in random order. Participants rated each sample on a 5-point Likert scale (from 1 = extremely bad to 5 = extremely good). Thereafter, participants filled out a personality scale, and demographic information.

The next part of the method section is called ‘Material’. It details the measurement instruments used including standardized tests. Writing tip: in this section some writers prefer to use passive voice. This section is sometimes rather short. For example:

The experiment consisted of a computerized laboratory task. Participants’ personality was measured with the Neo-PIR short form for adults (Mooi, Comijs, De Fruyt, De Ritter, Hoekstra, & Beekman; 2011).

If you use vignettes, it is good practice to include a description of the vignette or the task. For example (Stewart, Chater, Stott, & Reimers; 2003, p. 36):

Participants were given brief oral instructions. They were told that they would have to imagine making choices between playing a prospect to receive an amount of money and taking a smaller amount for sure. Each pair of options was presented on a separate page of a 36-page booklet and appeared as follows:

Which option do you prefer?
☐ 10% chance of £300
☐ £12

Participants were told to mark the option they would prefer and move on to the next page. They were also made aware that there was no objective right answer and that choice was a matter of personal preference.

Often, writers also combine ‘Procedure’ and ‘Materials’ into one longer section. Sometimes the title ‘Stimuli’ is also used instead of ‘Material’.



References

Jarecki, J. B., Meder, B., & Nelson, J. D. (2017). Naive and robust: class-conditional independence in human classification learning. Cognitive Science, 1–39. doi:10.1111/cogs.12496

Mooi, B., Comijs, H. C., De Fruyt, F., De Ritter, D., Hoekstra, H. A., & Beekman, A. T. F. (2011). A neo-pi-r short form for older adults. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 18, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1002/mpr.342

Stewart, N., Chater, N., Stott, H. P., & Reimers, S. (2003). Prospect relativity: how choice options influence decision under risk. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132, 23–46. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.132.1.23

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University of Basel