What Audience Should I Address When Writing a Scientific Report?
Scientific reports are like other kinds of professional and technical reports in that they are written to communicate the information gathered through research as well as through the analysis and interpretation of that research. In scientific reports, the research reported is empirical and a standard scientific structure for presenting methods, results and conclusions is usually observed. Generally speaking, the target audience is scientific in nature, but the research content, the purpose of the report and the anticipated readers can all vary markedly, and these factors can and should affect the way in which you design and construct your scientific reports.
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If, for instance, you are writing a scientific or laboratory report for a university science course or perhaps a more extensive and detailed report of a larger research project as a graduation or postgraduate credit requirement, your most immediate target audience will be the instructor or examiner who is assessing and grading your work. This person will almost certainly be a specialist and perfectly capable of understanding the processes and concepts you describe as well as any specialised terminology you use, but clear and accurate explanations will demonstrate your knowledge and understanding and contribute to excellent grades. If you are conducting undergraduate laboratory research as a group or the postgraduate scientific report you are writing will be archived or otherwise preserved by your department or university library, you should also expect fellow and future students in your target audience. These readers will probably have less knowledge and experience than your mentors, but they, too, will need to understand exactly how the research was conducted, perhaps in enough detail to replicate it, and they may well use the structure and contents of your report as a model for their own scientific reports.
If, on the other hand, you are writing a scientific report to describe the progress of a research project to the committee of a funding agency for the purpose of obtaining new or continued financial support, you will need to consider the possibility that at least a portion of your audience will not have in-depth knowledge about your area of specialisation. Scientific reports should always be written in language that is clear and concise, and whenever possible make use of tables, graphs and other figures to render complex research information accessible to readers, but clarity, focus and effective visual aids are all the more important when a varied or general audience is the target. Describing exactly why your research is necessary and valuable in relation to the funding aims of the committee and organising your report for a logical and engaging presentation of the most relevant research goals and persuasive research outcomes are good approaches. The goal of scientific reports of this kind is to help people make decisions, so a successful report provides the target audience with all the information necessary to make sound decisions – particularly the decisions the author would have them make.
Finally, if you are preparing a scientific report for formal publication or perhaps expanding it into an original research article for a scientific journal, your target audience will be wider and more various than is the case with two situations posited above. A scientific manuscript submitted to a journal for consideration usually encounters different audiences at different stages in the publication process, so administrative staff may assess it for adherence to guidelines and clear and competent language, whereas peer reviewers will be experts in the field who act as quality controllers for the research reported. The editor making publishing decisions about a manuscript will be concerned with both content and presentation, and his or her perspective will be focussed on the interests and needs of the journal’s readers, as well as the journal’s quality and impact. If your scientific report is ultimately published, the many readers it reaches may be the most varied target audience of all, encompassing experienced research scientists as well as practitioners, educators and students in the field and members of the general public whose lives are affected in some way by the problems or phenomena central to your research.
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