A research article is an orderly summation of a complex and circuitous process. It is characterized by detailed planning, iterative trial and error, meticulous execution and thoughtful analysis. As a summary, articles are invaluable, but detailed insight into processes and procedures is required to truly understand and reproduce research.
Methods describe the processes, procedures and materials used in a research investigation. Methods can take many forms depending on the field and approach, including study designs, protocols, code, materials and reagents, databases, and more.
Why methods matter
Transparency creates trust and deepens understanding.
When readers have the opportunity to examine your approach in detail, they gain a more profound, contextualized understanding of the results, and increased respect for the integrity of the work.
Reproducibility relies on detail.
A narrative summary in the methods section of a research article is often insufficient to reproduce results or adapt a methodology to another study. Detailed open methods facilitate replication and reuse, and reduce the amount of trial and error along the way.
Methods transcend barriers.
Methods have the potential for adaptation and reuse in different contexts and across a broad range of research questions and disciplines. For that reason, methods articles tend to be highly cited, and to attract readers and citations for a longer period than standard research articles.
Read more about Open Methods
The methods section was once the most likely part of a paper to be unfairly abbreviated, overly summarized, or even relegated to hard-to-find sections of a publisher’s website. While some journals may responsibly include more detailed elements of methods in supplementary sections, the movement for increased reproducibility and rigor in science has reinstated the importance of the methods section.
Publishing open methods with PLOS
Shared methods can take many forms, including protocols, code, materials and reagents, and more. Whatever your approach, making methods publicly accessible inspires trust, facilitates reproducibility and reuse, and helps to keep your work relevant. Discover your options for communicating methods with PLOS.
You have options for publishing your methods in PLOS ONE.
Choose the one that’s right for you.
|What is it?
|Two peer-reviewed publications–a protocol and a full research article–each with its own unique DOI.
Authors submit a Registered Report Protocol describing the rationale, methodology and any approvals needed for the work.
Accepted protocols are published in the journal immediately, and authors receive an in-principle accept for the future article reporting the results of the study.
|An article describing detailed plans for conducting research, including the background, rationale, objectives, methodology, statistical plan, project organization, and any approvals needed for the work.
|A peer-reviewed article that presents new methods, software, databases or tools.
|A pair of peer-reviewed, interlinked components, including:
1) A step-by-step protocol posted to protocols.io, with specialized tools for communicating technical details including reagents, measurements, formulae and dynamic flow charts
2) An article published in PLOS ONE contextualizing the protocol, with sections discussing applications, limitations, expected results, and sample datasets.
|When can you submit?
|Submit before any phase of research begins (e.g. data collection or processing, or participant recruitment).
|Submit before data collection or participant recruitment is complete.
|Submit after the new method has been validated / proven to achieve its intended purpose.
|Submit after the new method has been validated / proven to achieve its intended purpose—even after it has been used in other published works.
|Is it right for you?
|All methods publications help to give researchers well-deserved credit for their development work, improve transparency, and provide for future discoverability and reproducibility—but each option offers additional unique benefits as well.
|Choose Registered Reports if you want...
✓ peer review feedback to strengthen your methodological approach
✓ an in-principle acceptance of a research paper reporting the completed study, ensuring rapid communication of results
|Choose Study Protocols if you want…
✓ to transparently communicate the direction of your current research
✓ rapid review and publication of your protocol, if it has already been reviewed as part of an external funding or ethical approval process
|Choose Research Articles if you want…
✓ to introduce and disseminate a useful, validated approach that others may adopt
|Choose Lab Protocols if you want…
✓ to enhance reproducibility with easy-to-follow dynamic elements (e.g flow charts, detailed instructions, or videos)
✓ to provide an integrated pathway for others to modify and build upon the method