Writing a Scientific Report
A scientific report is a document that describes the process, progress, and or results of technical or scientific research or the state of a technical or scientific research problem. It might also include recommendations and conclusion of the research.
Elements of a Scientific Report
The title page will include the following:
- Title of the report:
- Usually 4-12 words in length.
- Should be short, specific and descriptive, containing the keywords of the report.
- Always publish under the same name.
- Include author addresses.
- Indicate the corresponding author and their contact details.
- The date when the paper was submitted.
The Abstract is a self-contained synopsis of the report - an informative summary of what you did and what you found out.
The Abstract should include the following:
- Objectives (as outlined in the Introduction) and scope of the investigation.
- A brief reference to the Materials and Methods.
- A summary of the results and conclusions - a brief but thorough statement of the outcome/s of the experiment.
If there is a hypothesis, you may state what it is and whether it was supported or refuted.
The following should not be included in the Abstract:
- Literature citations.
- Formulae and abbreviations, references to tables.
Although the Abstract comes first in a report, it is best to write it last, after you have the results and conclusions.
This provides a summary of the analysis to be undertaken. The purpose of the Introduction is to put the reader in the picture and place the research/experiment within a context.
The following may be included in the Introduction:
- Background about the analysis to be carried out.
- A brief review of previous research (relevant literature) to give a background - paraphrase relevant facts from the scientific literature, citing the sources to support each statement.
- Reason/s why the research was undertaken.
- Statement of the hypothesis (an idea or concept that can be tested by experimentation) if there is one.
- An explanation of the different techniques and why they are used.
- A statement of the objective/s - what you hope to achieve.
The Introduction is the what and why of the experiment, and should answer the following questions:
- What was the purpose or objective of the experiment/research?
- Why was the experiment/research conducted in a particular manner?
- Why was it important in a broader context?
The Introduction should not include any results or conclusions.
Materials and Methods (Experimental)
The Materials and Methods, sometimes called Experimental, is a description of the materials and procedures used - what was done and how. Describe the process of preparation of the sample, specifications of the instruments used and techniques employed.
The Method should include such things as sample size, apparatus or equipment used, experimental conditions, concentrations, times, controls etc.
While the Method does not need to include minute details (e.g. if you followed a set of written instructions, you may not need to write out the full procedure - state briefly what was done and cite the manual), there needs to be enough detail so that someone could repeat the work.
Do not keep using the word "then" - the reader will understand that the steps were carried out in the order in which they are written.
The Method must be written in the past tense and the passive voice.
This section states what you found.
The following will be included in your Results:
- Pictures and spectra.
- Tables and graphs whenever practical.
- Brief statements of the results in the text (without repeating the data in the graphs and tables). When writing about each picture, graph or table, refer to it parenthetically e.g. (Figure 1).
- If possible give a section of related results and then comment on them rather than presenting many pages of unrelated results and then discussing them at the end. Subheadings can be used to divide this section so that it is easier to understand.
Massive quantities of data or raw data (not refined statistically) can be presented in appendices.
Include only your own observed results in this section.
The following should not be included in your results:
- What you expected to find or what you were supposed to have observed.
- References to other works (published data or statements of theory).
Use the Discussion section of the report for these.
The Results section should be written in the past tense and passive voice, avoiding the use of "I" and "we".
State your interpretation of your findings, perhaps comparing or contrasting them with the literature. Reflect on your actual data and observations.
Explain or rationalise errant data or describe possible sources of error and how they may have affected the outcome.
The Discussion must answer the question "What do the results mean?" It is an argument based on the results.
This is the summing up of your argument or experiment/research, and should relate back to the Introduction.
The Conclusion should only consist of a few sentences, and should reiterate the findings of your experiment/research.
If appropriate, suggest how to improve the procedure, and what additional experiments or research would be helpful.
Cite any references that you have used, ensuring that each item in the reference list has an in-text citation, and every in-text citation has a full reference in the reference list at the end of your paper.
Ensure that the references are formatted according to the style required by the journal (or your lecturer/supervisor), and be careful with spelling (the author whose name you misspell may be asked to review the paper!)
Scientific Reports for Employers or Clients
If a scientific report is being prepared for an employer or client, the following additional elements may be included:
Covering Letter or Memo
A formal covering letter (if the the report is for someone outside your organisation) or memo (if the report is for someone within your organisation) which accompanies the report will include the following:
- Identification of the report topic.
- Identification of the person authorising the report, and date of authorisation.
- Key findings.
- Acknowledgement of any assistance received.
This would be situated at the beginning of the report (before the Abstract).
The Executive Summary will
- explain the purpose of the report.
- describe the methods used in the investigation.
- give the main conclusions and recommendations (if applicable).
Because the readers of the report will not necessarily be scientists, the Executive Summary should be in simple language, avoiding the use of technical jargon.
If the report is of an investigative nature, the final section (after Conclusion) will be any recommendations that you make on the basis of the scientific results.
If other people or organisations assisted in any way with the experiments/research (e.g. funding, facilities, guidance etc.), they should be thanked at the end of the document (after Conclusion and Recommendations).
References used for this guide
Dintzner, M. R.; Niedziela, R. F. Elements of laboratory report writing.
http://chemistry.che.depaul.edu/LabReport/ (accessed August 2004).
Emerson, L.; Hampton, J. Writing Guidelines for Science and Applied Science
Students, 2nd ed.; Thomson/Dunmore Press: Southbank, Vic., 2005.
Lobban, C. S.; Schefter, M. Successful Lab Reports: A Manual for Science Students;
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1992.