How to write a manuscript: Subsection titles

December 8, 2016

Dr. Kathryn Sobek, Filipodia Editor


I am starting a new series! My goal is to give practical tips to help you when you are writing or editing a manuscript. These will appear every other Thursday. Enjoy!


The function of a subsection is to clarify your writing to the reader. A well-formed subsection title instructs the reader as to what they should expect in that section. Commonly in scientific writing, subsections are used in the Materials and Methods and Results sections. By including subsections in your writing, the reader can easily find a specific technique or result they are interested in. Subsections also add visual structure to your writing (i.e. a huge block of text without subsections versus dividing methods and results into subsections with descriptive titles).


In the Materials and Methods section, subsections are divided by each method or protocol. I also find it helpful to place the subsections in the order in which they appear in the Results section. The following is a list of examples of subtitles for the Materials and Methods section:

Patient criteria/demographics

Ethical considerations

Flow cytometry

RNA isolation and quantitative PCR

DNA isolation and PCR

Statistical analysis


In the Results section, grouping data together that supports one of the conclusions of the manuscript is beneficial to the reader and will increase the level of understanding of your writing. This will also help you when you are titling the subsection. I recommend titling each subsection as a concise, descriptive summary or conclusion that you drew from that set of experiments and/or observations.


For example, if one of your conclusions is that XYZ drug suppresses expression of p53, then grouping the data that supports this conclusion together will help your reader’s understanding. You will also be able to title this subsection as ‘XYZ drug suppresses expression of p53’ instead of an undescriptive title such as ‘p53 and XYZ drug experiments.’ I have included more examples of undescriptive vs. descriptive titles below:

Protein analysis of TGFB1 vs. TGFB1 expression increased in patients after XYZ treatment

Bacterial isolate analysis vs. Bacterial diversity decreased in patients treated with antibiotics

Immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy vs. Localization of mutated CFTR was predominately intracellular


As always, remember to check the journal specifications for formatting guidelines of subsections before submitting your manuscript.

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