Scientific writing and lab reports
Information on how to structure and format a lab report, also known as a scientific report.
Lab reports, or scientific reports, are the primary vehicle used to disseminate and communicate scientific research methods across science and engineering disciplines.
They are structured and formulaic, to make it as easy as possible for a reader to understand the background, aims, methodology and findings of a particular experiment or technique.
Lab reports usually follow very closely prescribed formats. It's essential that you pay very careful attention to the specific guidelines issued with your experimental brief.
Typically, a lab report is broken down into discrete sections, separated by subheadings. These will include the following:
- an abstract, outlining in brief what was done and what was found
- a point-by-point description of the experimental method followed (a bit like following a recipe)
- a clear presentation of all of the results observed, some of which may be placed in an appendix to the main report
- a discussion of those results
- a brief conclusion and references
Lab reports are written in a neutral and objective tone and are kept as short, concise and to the point as possible.
They are not the place to experiment with elaborate language, which might impact on the clarity of their information.
Our Scientific Writing and Lab Report workshop provides a practical guide to communicating your findings with a focus on the scientific lab report as a model. You will learn why it is important to record experiments in this way and gain a detailed understanding of how to structure your reports based on the IMRaD format (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion). This interactive session is packed with top tips and best practice to enhance your report writing skills.
Establish the reason or context for doing the experiment. It might help to think of your introduction as a funnel.
Start broad and focus down to the specifics of your research including the aims/objectives and hypothesis for testing.
Provides a descriptive protocol of your experiment so it could be replicated by another researcher.
Your methods section should be written avoiding the first person and using the passive voice where possible (ie a sample was taken...). Reproducibility of methods is the foundation for evidence-based science.
Present your data using tables or graphical representations as appropriate.
Interpret the results and explain their significance.
Reverse the funnel: put the specific results from your experiment back into a wider context, ie
- what do they mean?
- what applications do they have?
- what recommendations can you make?
- what are the limitations?
- what gaps remain for further research?
Restate your main findings and key points from the discussion.
Strengthen your arguments with support from existing literature.
Summary of the entire report: Interesting, easy to read, concise. This will usually be the last part of the report that you write.
Title, appendix and acknowledgements
Consider the best way to present your data clearly. If this is best done using a table or chart, then consider what format makes things clearest.
Make sure all important aspects of the data are included in your chart or table, including units where relevant. Don't include charts just for the sake of it – data display should help the reader understand the data.
Report the results of any statistical tests using the appropriate conventions for your subject.
The Come Together, Write Now sessions are now open to all students. These virtual sessions for academic reading and writing will help you focus on your work, providing the time and space to come together as a reading and writing community and support each other.
Reading other publications can help you to become familiar with the structure, tone and language of scientific writing.
Take a look at the Library resources on scientific literature:
Always read the guidance notes
• Use past tense
• Write in the third person
• Include detailed materials
• State the study design
• Cite/reference the lab protocol
• Organise your data in a logical order
• Include tables and graphs
• Label clearly and include units
• Include figure legends and titles
• State statistical tests and p-values
• Refer to all tables and figures in the text
Leave it until the last minute
• Copy the lab protocol
• Forget to include statistics and calculation methods
• Write a set of instructions (cookbook!)
• Interpret your results
• Include raw data
• Present same data in a graph and table
• Overcomplicate the results section
• Interpret your results
• Copy other people’s data or exclude unexpected results
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