Making Oatmeal

A Goldilocks-style analogy for writing the Methods section of a report or paper.

Some years ago, I noticed that students often struggle with what to include in their methods section, particularly when following a tutorial or guided lab. I did this up as a slide deck initially, but thought it might be more accessible in this format.

Too much

First, I selected a clean bowl from the cabinet.  It had a little speck of something on it, but I removed it with my fingernail. Next, I ripped the top off the packet of oatmeal and poured it into the bowl.  It’s important not to spill any on the counter. Then, I added a half cup of milk to the oatmeal and stirred it with a spoon.

I placed it in the microwave and set the timer for two minutes, then pressed Start.  After one minute, I removed it from the microwave and stirred it with my same spoon from before. After the second minute, I allowed the oatmeal to cool, then proceeded to eat it.

Too little

Take a bowl of oatmeal and add milk, then microwave it.

Just right

I began by adding the contents of the oatmeal packet to a clean bowl. Then, I added a half cup of milk and stirred it.  I microwaved it for two minutes, stirring at the halfway point.

I allowed the oatmeal to cool slightly before eating it.


NB: if the material of the spoon, or the power of the microwave, or the brand of oatmeal is relevant to your process, by all means include it. Also, if your methods are derived from someone else’s methods (grandma’s recipe, etc.), you should cite that.

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