Author: Luis-Miguel Romero – Translation: Erika-Lucia Gonzalez-Carrion

Materials and methods

Materials and methods is maybe the most important heading to evaluate the general quality of any research dissemination product, since it is the one that explains to the readers what procedures, approaches, designs and treatment we have carried out in the research, which will allow us to replicate the studies, understand the linearity between the approach of the objectives and the results obtained, determine their suitability and relevance, as well as evidence of any bias in the way in which the study was designed and carried out.

Obviously, the way in which this section is usually written changes depending, on one hand, on the scientific discipline, but on the other – and to a large extent – on the editorial and norms of the publication (see guidelines of Comunicar Journal). There are even different ways of writing this section if it is an empirical investigation or a more analytical study (art states, based theory, etc.). However, the way in which the research was conducted should always be clearly and neatly stated in the text, as this is what will allow us to understand first-hand the design, scope, data collection techniques, sample and sampling strategies, intervals of the study, among other aspects that contribute to give objective value and reliability to the results obtained.

In this line, the selection of materials and methods will depend in first place on the objectives of the investigation and the hypotheses (if any), as these will initially determine:

  • The type of research: documentary, field, semi-experimental or experimental.
  • Research design: Quantitative, qualitative or mixed.
  • The scope of the research: Exploratory, descriptive, correlational, explanatory or predictive.

Likewise, the materials and methods section explains the techniques that have been carried out, always justifying them according to the objectives and citing previous studies that have determined their scientific validity. In this sense, the most common in Social Sciences is that the techniques are organized according to the objectives, although some disciplines usually declare them in order of importance.

One of the most common ways of exposing the sub-sections of this heading is as follows:

  • General aspects of the research: type, design, and scope. The dates or intervals of the study are also usually identified.
  • Sample: individuals participating in the study or elements that make up the sample (documents, spaces, etc.) and inclusion/exclusion criteria. Sampling strategies and techniques (probabilistic or non-probabilistic). Statistical validity and accuracy of the sample (confidence, a margin of error, etc.).
  • Instruments: Explanation of the instruments used for data collection, variables, dimensions, indicators, their design, construction, validity, and reliability; as well as the justification of the suitability of it for the scope of the objectives set. It must also be stated at this point how the data collection procedure was performed.
  • Data processing system: Development of the database, software used for data collection (eg Survey Monkey, Google Forms …), systems used for data processing (eg SPSS, R, AtlasTi, MaxQDA …). Many times authors are asked to make the database (and even codes) available to readers and/or reviewers in an open repository such as StackOverFlow or OpenICPSR.
  • Ethical aspects: Some publications require researchers to declare compliance with ethical research standards in this section (for example: ethics committee, informed consent, information processing, among other details to identify the care with which has treated the sample).

As the “materials and methods” section is the explanatory and justifying intermediary of the processes that occur between the objectives and the results obtained, under no circumstances may results be exposed that were not evidenced through the declared techniques. In this regard, readers and reviewers are very grateful that the results are presented in the order in which the objectives and methods were explained, in order to follow an ordered sequence.

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