7 Steps for Writing a Scientific Report To Share Research Results
Seven basic steps can be followed to write a high-quality scientific report appropriate for achieving university credit, publication in a peer-reviewed journal, research funding or approval, and a number of other professional goals. These seven steps are discussed in detail in this helpful post, which explains essential procedures, raises important considerations & offers sound advice for excellent scientific research & writing practices. Readers are guided through the process of planning, outlining, writing, revising, editing and adding references to a professional scientific report.
In brief, the seven key steps for writing a scientific report are:
1. Consulting instructions and guidelines to discover what is required for the report.
2. Anticipating your audience by asking who will be reading the report.
3. Planning and carefully outlining the report’s contents and structure.
4. Designing and preparing tables, figures and other supplementary material.
5. Drafting the sections of the report in the most productive order.
6. Adding or finishing citations and references for the report.
7. Revising content, editing language and correcting errors.
Seven Key Steps for Writing a Scientific Report
1. Consulting Instructions and Guidelines
Knowing what you should be writing and how you should be writing it is so vital to preparing a successful scientific report that neglecting to consult a publisher’s guidelines, a funding agency’s regulations or a professor’s instructions can spell failure even though the research content of a report is potentially excellent. It is therefore imperative to begin the writing process by discovering everything you can about expectations and requirements for the report you are writing. Peer-reviewed journals and other scholarly publishers often have instructions for authors that outline content, structure, documentation and other preferences for publishable scientific papers; research funding agencies tend to provide very detailed guidelines for scientific reports and proposals; and university instructors may offer style sheets, assignment templates and documentation notes or simply refer students to appropriate publishing or laboratory manuals. Seek the information you need and ask for direction when you cannot find it. If guidance is lacking, using the reports and other scientific publications you read during your research as models for your own writing can be helpful. Read with a critical eye, for instance, recent issues of the journal to which you are submitting your report or successful applications to the funding agency you hope will support your work.
2. Anticipating Your Audience
The audience who will be reading your report should also be considered as you plan, and this is the case even when your intended readers are obvious and few, at least in the most immediate sense. A scientific report submitted for course credit, for example, will be read by your professor or lab instructor, whereas a report submitted for journal publication will be read initially by an editor and probably two or more peer reviewers and then ideally by the researchers who subscribe to the journal. Think about these readers in the most specific ways you can and try to anticipate what they need to hear and what they want or expect to hear. A general reader of a scientific report may, for instance, require careful definitions and explanations of specialised terminology or key theories, whereas your professor who already knows those definitions and explanations will nonetheless want to see that you understand them. Remember that practitioners as well as researchers may use your work, funding and approval committees are rarely composed exclusively of experts in your field, and online publication opens scientific writing to a wide and unpredictable audience. Preparing for that wider audience is always wise.
3. Outlining Contents and Structure
The scientific research you conduct and the results you generate should obviously play fundamental roles in determining the contents and structure of your report, so giving careful thought to how your unique work might best be organised and presented is essential. Do not neglect, however, to pay tribute to convention and use the standardised structures and procedures for reporting scientific research. The specific guidelines, instructions or manual you are following in your report will very likely outline the structure the report should take, but in the absence of detailed organisational advice a traditional IMRaD structure consisting of an Introduction, a description of Methods and Materials, a report of Results or Findings and a final Discussion of their meaning is usually appropriate for empirical scientific research. A separate section for Conclusions may be needed at the end of the report, and a Literature Review might be added between the Introduction and Methods sections. Whatever the precise structure for your report may be, an outline that lists with working headings and subheadings all the planned sections and subsections will prove extremely useful when you begin to draft your report, especially if you note in your outline the ideal contents and length of each part.
4. Designing Tables and Figures
Tables and figures tend to be highly effective tools for presenting research data and other complex information in scientific reports. Some laboratory reports even use tables, charts and graphs alone to communicate research results, though often with a sentence or two of text to introduce these elements. In most scientific reports, however, results should be reported primarily in the main text and unnecessary repetition across text, tables and figures should be avoided. Designing and preparing tables and figures before the report itself is written is an excellent strategy that allows the author to write around the visual information and refer to it specifically and effectively in the main text. This process also serves as a testing ground of sorts for the tables and figures as the author uses them while compiling text and makes necessary adjustments for accuracy and clarity. Appendices, archives, videos, online databases and other supplementary materials for a scientific report can be similarly prepared in advance and refined as the report is drafted. Be sure to number and label tables, figures, appendices and the like and to refer specifically to each one to let your readers know, for example, that ‘Figure 2 shows the K9 device in action’ or ‘Table 4 contains additional data.’
5. Drafting the Scientific Report
Although sitting down to write a scientific report may be the most dreaded of moments for many scientists, drafting a report about interesting and valuable research can be quite enjoyable, especially if you have taken the time to prepare a detailed outline. Using that outline as a template can help you ensure that your report maintains an orderly structure to relate a logical story of why the research was important, how it was conducted, what was discovered and why the results are meaningful and useful. This logic need not limit the approach to writing, however, so it is not necessary to write the sections in the order of their final appearance in the report. A more effective writing order might involve starting with Methods and Materials and progressing through the Results, Discussion and Conclusion. The Introduction will be a great deal easier to write once the report is drafted and you know exactly what you are introducing. The Literature Review might be written along with the Introduction, the Methods or perhaps the Discussion, depending on the nature of your research, and the abstract, if required, is usually written last. Never forget that reporting results is usually not enough: you must also interpret your findings, explore their implications and communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly in your Discussion. As you are writing, be sure to use language as common and straightforward as possible and work to achieve a clear and concise style with complete sentences that avoid potentially confusing errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as content.
6. Adding or Finishing Citations and References
References are a necessary part of formal scientific writing and in-text citati
ons should ideally be added to a scientific report as it is drafted. You need not always provide extensive bibliographical details or worry about reference formats as you draft your report, but a quick parenthetical note to yourself such as (Smith, 2014), (Kempson’s latest study) or even (that new article in Science) will let you know where you should be citing a source and lead you back to the right source when you return to finish your references. If you find adding notes of this kind too distracting as you write, it is advisable to add the in-text citations immediately after the report is drafted and before the danger of unintentional plagiarism or misrepresentation has an opportunity to creep into your writing. Your rough notes about the sources you cite can then be used to find and check those sources, construct in-text citations in the required documentation style and add complete bibliographical references in a final list. A numerical list of references in which sources are numbered and presented in the order in which they are first cited is especially common for scientific reports, but some fields use parenthetical author–date citations and an alphabetical list of references instead. Publisher guidelines and publication manuals tend to have specific recommendations for documentation style, so check the details and keep them in hand as you add and finalise your references.
7. Revising, Editing and Correcting
With all parts of your scientific report including references and supplementary materials knit together into a first draft, try setting your work aside for a little while to clear your mind and increase your ability to catch your own errors and improve the clarity of your writing. When you return to check and revise your work, read slowly and carefully through all the sections and parts of your report in a single sitting. You may need to read the report more than once to focus on content and factual data as well as language, style and referencing. Watch for mistakes of all kinds and instances where you could improve descriptions with more or less detail or clearer, perhaps simpler sentences. Reading from a printed version or using tracking and commenting functions in a word processor can be helpful for jotting notes about possible changes without actually making them. Refine your work further by reading your text aloud to yourself and others or asking colleagues to read and comment on your report. Revising and editing in response to the constructive feedback you receive are time-consuming activities, but they can undoubtedly transform a decent scientific report into a superb one.
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