Scientific report writing guidelines
Jun 4, 2018
The written report should have the following sections:
Description of the content of each of these sections follows. Additional remarks on report preparation and writing style are given at the end.
The TITLE PAGE identifies
The ABSTRACT is not a part of the body of the report itself. Rather, the abstract is a brief summary of the report contents that is often separately circulated so potential readers can decide whether to read the report. The abstract should very concisely summarize the whole report: why it was written, what was discovered or developed, and what is claimed to be the significance of the effort. The abstract does not include figures or tables, and only the most significant numerical values or results should be given.
The INTRODUCTION should provide a clear statement of the problem posed by the project, and why the problem is of interest. It should reflect the scenario, if available. If needed, the introduction also needs to present background information so that the reader can understand the significance of the problem. A brief summary of the unique approach your group used to solve the problem should be given, possibly also including a concise introduction to theory or concepts used later to analyze and to discuss the results.
Materials and Methods:
The purpose of the MATERIALS AND METHODS section is to describe the materials, apparatus, and procedures used to carry out the measurements. Most importantly, the section needs to provide a clear presentation of how key measurements were obtained and how the measurements were analyzed. This is where the particular approach followed to reach the project's objectives should be described. The detail should be sufficient so that the reader can easily understand what was done. An accurate, schematic diagram depicting the apparatus should be included and referred to in the text as needed (if a diagram has been already provided it can be used in the report, provided that the source is properly referenced). To improve clarity of presentation, this section may be further divided into subsections (ex. a Materials subsection, an Apparatus subsection, a Methods or Procedures subsection, etc.).
The RESULTS section is dedicated to presenting the actual results (i.e. measured and calculated quantities), not to discussing their meaning or intepretation. The results should be summarized using appropriate Tables and Figures (graphs or schematics). Every Figure and Table should have a legend that describes concisely what is contained or shown. Figure legends go below the figure, table legends above the table. Throughout the report, but especially in this section, pay attention to reporting numbers with an appropriate number of significant figures. A formal error analysis (such as, perhaps, was done in Physics lab) is not necessary. Still, features of the data-taking and processing that may have especially contributed to errors should be pointed out. One classical example is the taking of small differences between large numbers; for instance, 11.5+0.2 - 10.8+ 0.3 yields a very large fractional error (about 70 %) on the resulting difference, 0.7+0.5. Another procedure that usually increases error is numerical differentiation.
The DISCUSSION interprets the results in light of the project's objectives. The most important goal of the DISCUSSION section is to interpret the results so that the reader is informed of the insight or answers that the results provide. The DISCUSSION should also present an evaluation of the particular approach taken by the group. For example: Based on the results, how could the experimental procedure be improved? What additional, future work may be warranted? What recommendations can be drawn?
The CONCLUSIONS should summarize the central points made in the Discussion section, reinforcing for the reader the value and implications of the work. If the results were not definitive, specific future work that may be needed can be (briefly) described. The conclusions should never contain "surprises". Therefore, any conclusions should be based on observations and data already discussed. It is considered extremely bad form to introduce new data in the conclusions.
The REFERENCES section should contain complete citations following standard form. The form of the citation depends on the type of source being referenced, and is different for whole books, chapters in books, and articles published in a journal. One good format to follow is that used in the Chemical Engineering Progress journal, published by AIChE. The references should be numbered and listed in the order they were cited in the body of the report. In the text of the report, a particular reference can be cited by using a numerical superscript that corresponds to its number in the reference list. If a reference has not been actually consulted, it should be listed "as discussed in [name of the work that discussed the reference]".
Every author has his or her own style. But there are guidelines that should be followed when writing a report. A report is not a novel, but just like a novel it needs to be readable. Readers will generally consult individual sections, rather than reading it cover to cover, which they might quickly do once. This needs to be accommodated. Each section should be more or less self-contained. A matter-of-fact style is the most practical. Complicated constructions, wordy clauses and passive voice should be avoided. A narrative on how things were done may include personal considerations. It should not be swamped with sophisticated, lengthy sentences. Factual descriptions should avoid adjectives that are subjective in nature. It is also more relevant to state actual size and condition than to state that something is big, overwhelming or beautiful. If such adjectives are used at all, they should be in comparison to something else. It is essential that the reader can quickly distinguish what is factual information, what – rightly or wrongly – are basic assumptions, and what are interpretations that follow from structured analysis. Personal opinions should therefore be recognizable as such. If they are given at all, they should be revealed in the interpretations. They should not be concealed in bluff like: “it is obvious that…”.
Usually, if the writing is selective, accurate, objective, concise, clear and consistent, it will also be simple. It is essential to keep the audience in mind and to keep asking whether they will be able to follow the logic of the report.
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All in all, the following recommendations should be kept in mind.
- Write clearly and concisely, and make appropriate, consistent, and economical use of other methods of data presentation such as tables, plans or photographs. Innovative presentation methods may increase publication costs, but improve comprehensiveness or attractiveness. The format should be adapted to the audience targeted with the report.
- Present information about what was found in a well-balanced, logical, accessible, and structured way. It should be immediately understandable to those who know nothing about the site. It should reflect the importance of the results of the project and deal adequately with the site’s social, political, and historical context.
- Specialist reports and their supporting data should be given proper place and value. Specialist contributors must be involved in or informed of editorial decisions affecting the presentation of their work in print.
- Deliver accurate and verifiable information. Justify the interpretation of the site with evidence. Ambiguities in the data should be discussed, and where more than one interpretation is possible, the alternatives should be presented.
- Explain the extent to which the objectives of the project have been fulfilled and evaluate the methodologies employed.
- Make sure that chapters, paragraphs, figures, photos, and specialist reports are adequately cross-referenced. Readers should be able to find their way through the report without difficulty.
- Draw attention to potential areas of future study that could not be fully explored in the context of the agreed project design.
- Standardize abbreviations and carefully choose expressions to convey subtleties of meaning.
For scientific reports, peer reviewing is recommended, to ensure state-of-the-art levels of quality.
Reporting must be carried out by a team of researchers composed of specialists representing various branches of science. It is important to ensure collaboration and exchange. The reporting must be performed by those who were directly involved in the collection of data. The final responsibility lies with the research director. It is a substantial responsibility. The history of archaeology has seen many instances of directors who deferred reporting until much more could be known, after many more years of excavation, with the aim of then writing the ultimate, authoritative publication. Unfortunately also, many died before this ever happened. Managing projects of limited scope to their completion has therefore become the norm. Follow-up projects can be planned later, but only after completion of earlier reports. It is therefore suggested that timely completion and submission of research reports should be a condition for future appointments as research director of a project.