Writing Scientific Reports
Once you have finished Carrying Out Your Experiment, you need to write your results up so that other people know what you have found out. This step is important because ultimately you want to share your new discoveries with other people and contribute to the ever expanding and vast body of scientific knowledge.
Label the experiment so that it is clear what it was about.
An abstract is a complete summary of your project and has the following characteristics:
- Follows the format of the scientific method.
- Usually written in third person passive voice.
- Assumes scientists are the audience.
- Uses complete but concise sentences.
- Uses present tense for the existing body of facts.
- Uses past tense for the completed research.
- Defines specialised terminology and abbreviations.
- 100 to 250 words long.
A trick for writing a great abstract is to write it last by summarising your introduction, aim, method, results and discussion into one paragraph. A well-written abstract can be achieved by following these steps:
- Write a sentence making a broad statement about the topic of research.
- Write a sentence or two focusing more narrowly on the particular intent of the research.
- Several sentences indicating the problem to be solved and the hypothesis that was posed.
- Write a very brief statement describing the methodology.
- Write several concise sentences indicating which variables were explored and compared and if the data obtained supported the hypothesis. These sentences summarise the results and discussion sections of your research project.
- Write a sentence that gives the conclusions of the research work and a statement of the direction for future research.
- Put all of these sentences into a paragraph.
The introduction should outline why you are interested in this area, what is already known about the topic, what you will be investigating, and your research question (hypothesis). The introduction should provide all of the background information required to understand the topic of research and should include:
- Why this area is important
- What you already know about the topic from your references
- Important variables to consider
- What new information you will learn from your experiment
- The aim of your experiment
- The experiment’s hypothesis
Materials and Method
The method contains the steps followed in your experiment. Don't write a list of materials used, include what you used in the text. Write in the past tense and in the 3rd person. e.g. "A bunsen burner was used to heat the test tube". Include everything that you did and explain it in enough detail so that someone who was not there could do the experiment exactly as you did. Also state the controlled, independent and dependent variables.
Please note: this section outlines one of the many approaches to writing a Material and Methods section for a scientific report, you can use it as a guide, if it is helpful, otherwise stick to the method that is standard practice at your school.
The results should include a written explanation of the major findings in paragraph form, and date presented as graphs, charts, tables and pictures. Start with a brief overview of what you found out. Graphs and tables should be plotted in pencil or done on a computer (for example, in Excel).
Data should be presented as averages in tables or graphs.
Each table and graph should have a caption that contains enough detail so that it can be understood even if it is separated from the text. Also, describe any major findings or unexpected errors.
The discussion is one of the most important parts of a student research project. In this section the judges will be able to determine the depth of understanding and knowledge the student has obtained from their project. There are three main parts to a discussion:
Explanation of Major Findings
- 1-2 sentences to summarise your results.
- Are there any anomalies in the results? (i.e. things that don't seem to fit). Can you explain these?
- Can you explain the trends or patterns in your results? Try to use some scientific ideas to help you explain what happened.
- Did your results support your hypothesis? It’s okay if they don’t, it just means you did not find what you expected to find, which is interesting in its own way.
How do your results relate to what was known in this area?
- Do you your results agree with what you learnt from your references? How are they the same? How are they different?
- How do your results contribute to the body of knowledge in this area? They could support it previous knowledge, extent previous knowledge or even challenge previous knowledge.
- What do your results mean for other people?
- What interesting questions did your project lead to? What more could you do in this area?
- What would you do to improve the project if you were to do it again?
- Were you happy with the method? Most scientists can think of a couple of changes they would have liked to make if they could.
- How could you improve the fairness, accuracy, sample size etc.
The concluding paragraph should let the reader know what the investigation was about and what results were obtained. The student should then be able to state why the results are significant in a wider world context.
- Restate the purpose or the original question.
- Restate the hypothesis.
- Did your results support the hypothesis?
- What is the importance of this experiment?
This is a list of all text and source material used and should be presented alphabetically. Referencing is important as you need to acknowledge where you obtained your information. Wikipedia is not a reference, but it is a great place to start your research. There are certain conventions for referencing, some of which are shown below.
Example: Lundeen, R.L. and Wood, D.L. 1977,Structure and Function of the Human Body (2nd Ed). J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
Example: Encyclopaedia Felicia, vol 1, 1993 Unwin Publishing, Sydney.
Example: Scaly, D. 1987. Diamond Pythons love cats for breakfast. Weekend Australian Magazine, 7-8 Feb, 22.
Journals, Periodicals, Magazines
Example: Fang, D. 1993, Experts advise pythons to combine fruit with cats for a balanced diet. Australian Slitherer 4: 26-32.
Internet: Address of the site, date of access, page number if applicable.
Example: www.schools.ash.org.au/schools/rochedale/banjo.htm, 07/10/08, 3-6.
This is a written acknowledgment of all people who provided you with assistance and stating the type of assistance provided. Make a list of parents, peers, teachers or mentors that significantly contributed to your research project.