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When writing a method for an experiment, does it always have to be set out in orderly numbered steps? Can it not also be a paragraph of text that outlines the method?

A mundane example:

  1. Place a tripod on a table, and the wire gause mesh ontop
  2. Following that, place a busen burner underneath it, and hook it up to the gas
  3. Fill a beaker with 100ml of water
  4. Place the beaker on the wire gause, turn on the gas and lit the Busen burner
  5. Heat the water until it boils

    ...

VERSUS

Firstly, place a tripod, ensuring that you place a wire gause on on top. Following that step, ...

Thanks.

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an equivalent question would be :" does a cooking recipe have to be numbered?" The answer is: for convenience and economy of effort an ordering of necessary tasks appeals to humans, writers certainly. –  anna v Mar 17 '13 at 5:08
2  
Important tip: if you teacher or TA says the method needs to be numbered, then it needs to be numbered. On the other, hand you can read papers that take both approaches. Look around at the usual practice in the particular subfield you are working in... –  dmckee Mar 17 '13 at 5:23
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closed as off topic by Chris White, David Z Mar 18 '13 at 4:03

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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

No, it doesn't have to be numbered unless, like @dmckee comments, you have received specific instructions to do the numbering.

I think your question can best be split up in 2 parts for the answer: writing a report and writing a research paper.

Writing a report

For a report the main goal is typically to show exactly what you have done and how you have done it. Quite often the report will be used by other students to continue your work. For this purpose it is convenient to have a numbered list for the methods, because it immediately attracts attention and makes it easy to follow the 'recipe'.

Writing a research paper

When you write a research paper your goal is in general to resolve a particular issue that exists in the scientific community. Your focus will be on the research question and the conclusions you can draw from the experiments/simulations that you did. In this case a numbered list for the method will draw way too much attention to it, much more than it deserves. It is, after all, easy to spot because it disrupts the flow of the paper. In some journals it is not even allowed to use numbered lists if they are not inline (i.e. 1) ... 2) ...).

So in conclusion, if you don't have specific instructions from someone 'higher up': use the numbered list if you want to focus on the method, use the paragraph if you want to focus on a different part of the report/paper

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