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Scientific Writing and Lab Reports

What is a scientific/lab report?

Lab reports or scientific reports are the primary vehicle through which scientific research methods are disseminated and communicated across science and engineering disciplines. Lab reports are structured and fomulaic in order 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 and it is 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 sub-headings, and 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.

Please explore the tabs below:

IMRaD structure for lab report

Introduction

  • Establish the reason or context for doing the experiment(s). 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/or hypothesis for testing.

Methods

  • 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 (i.e. a sample was taken...). Reproducibility of methods is the foundation for evidence based science.

Results

  • Present your data using tables and/or graphical representations as appropriate.

and Discussion

  • Interpret the results and explain their significance. Reverse the funnel: put the specific results from your experiment back into a wider context. I.e. what do they mean, what applications do they have, what recommendations can you make, what are the limitations and what gaps remain for further research?

Other sections that may feature in your lab report:

Conclusion

  • Restate your main findings and key points from the discussion

References

  • Strengthen your arguments with support from existing literature

Abstract

  • 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

Resource Description Time Commitment
Lab Reports Writing Template Download N/A
Guidance for Writing Lab Reports by Faculty of Engineering Download N/A
Proofreading Your Work Website N/A

Writing Numbers and Presenting Data

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.

Resource Description Time Commitment
Data display Website N/A
Displaying data workshops

Workshop on:

Displaying Data in Tables

Displaying Data in Graphs

1hr 30 mins

Hypothesis tests Website N/A
Writing Numbers in Standard Form Video 6 mins

 

Library Resources

Library Workshops

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 / writing community and support each other. You can view our upcoming sessions and book a place here.

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:

Resource Description Time Commitment
Finding Scientific Journal Papers Video 3 mins
Types of Scientific Paper Video 5 mins
Evaluating the Scientific Literature Video 3 mins

Top Tips

Do:

Always read the guidance notes

Methods
• Use past tense
• Write in the third person
• Include detailed materials
• State the study design
• Cite/reference the lab protocol

Results
• 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

Don't:

Leave it until the last minute

Methods
• Copy the lab protocol
• Forget to include statistics and calculation methods
• Write a set of instructions (cookbook!)
• Interpret your results

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

Academic Skills Certificate

Recognition for your skills development

The 301 Academic Skills Certificate provides an opportunity for you to gain recognition for developing your skills and reflecting on this experience. Through this reflection you will be able to identify changes and improvements to your academic skills that will lead to long-term benefits to your studies. The 301 Academic Skills Certificate acknowledges your commitment to enhancing your academic and employability skills and personal development.

You can find more information on the 301 Academic Skills Certificate here.

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