If you’re in your dissertation writing stage or your course includes writing a lot of scientific reports, but you don’t quite know where and how to start, the Skills Centre can help you get started. I recently attended their ‘How to write a scientific report’ skills enrichment session and here’s what I learnt.
What is a scientific report?
A scientific report is a crucial piece of scientific research which shows that you understand the point of your experiment. You present and discuss the data collected and the results from your experiment.
You will most likely be told what sections you need to include in your scientific report, as they may vary based on department and course. However, most scientific reports follow a similar structure.
Here’s a quick breakdown on how to structure a scientific report.
First things first, the abstract. The abstract is a short summary of your report which is usually just one paragraph. In the academic world, its main purpose is for the reader to identify if this report is relevant to them and if they should continue reading. However, you may be asked to write an abstract just to develop this skill.
This should be the last thing you write, as it’s a summary of the whole report.
Next is the introduction, where you explain the issue to the reader and point out why this is relevant. You need to give some background information for the reader to understand your research area.
You may also elaborate on past research, what methods have been used, their results and conclusions. This may also include a discussion of theories and methods and what previous research was lacking. This is less necessary in an introduction if you have been asked to write a separate literature review section.
You will also need to state your research question and aim, e.g. what hypothesis you are testing. Elaborate on how you are going to try to answer your research question, i.e. what method you will use. Here, it’s important that you choose a method that’s comparable to existing research.
In the method section you need to explain the processes you went through to do your research, e.g. how you executed an experiment, how data was collected or processed. This step is crucial because it allows other researchers to replicate your experiment.
You also need to include the equipment and materials you used here.
Following the method, you report your results from your research in a purely descriptive way. The use of tables or figures may be helpful here; however, it’s necessary to explain your tables and figures, how to read them and what you can observe.
Remember that your tables and figures only support your writing and not the other way round!
The results section may in some instances be combined with the discussion, the most important and interesting part.
In the discussion, you interpret your findings which you elaborated on in the results section. For example, you can say that you can/cannot reject your hypothesis because some results were (in)significant. What do the results suggest? In what ways do they differ from previous research findings and in which ways are they the same?
Keep in mind that if your results deviate from previous research, there might have been an error in your method or data.
And finally in the conclusion, you present the main results from your research and their implications, referring to your research question and your introduction.
In your reference list you need to include all the resources you have cited. You can find out how to reference on the Library website.
Hopefully this blog has given you an outline of how to tackle scientific reports. If you need more help, you can talk to a tutor from the Skills Centre in a 1:1 tutorial or at the writing drop-in in the Skills Zone.