Report Writing Guide
SEE-U Program
James Danoff-Burg (5/01)
 The primary goal of a scientific report is to present a record of research work and to communicate ecological ideas inherent in that work.  The author should describe the procedures followed, the results obtained, and then place these results in perspective by relating them to existing knowledge and by interpreting their significance for future study.  The following is a set of notes to help you produce well-structured, well-written lab reports (and hence, good grades!), and to help train you in the process of scientific writing.
Format | Style | Abstract | Intro | Methods | Results | Discussion | References | General Comments

· Use the following framework for your reports:  Title, Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusions, Reference Cited
· Use double spacing and 12 or 14 point font
· Left justify all text
Style & Content
· Avoid footnotes
· Write in the past tense
· Use a heading for each section
· Use subheadings for clarity
· Underscore Latin genus and species names
· Avoid long, complex sentences
· Check for excessive use of commas and conjunctions (“and”, “but”, “or”) - you can often split these sentences
· Avoid excessive use of nouns as adjectives
· Use positive statements and avoid non-committal statements (e.g. use “the data show...” rather than “the data could possibly suggest...”)
· Avoid non-informative abbreviations such as “etc.”, or “and so on”
· Reduce jargon to a minimum
· Avoid repeating facts and thoughts
· Be concise and succinct - don’t pad out your report with irrelevant data or discussion
· Above all, produce accurate, clear, and concise writing
· This is the most difficult section to write well, so take your time
· The abstract should be a concise and exact statement of the problem addressed, the aims and objectives of the study, the procedure followed, the basic findings, and the conclusions drawn
· The abstract should not be an amplified table of contents or a shortened version of the report
· Give specific information to the reader
· In this section state the nature of the problem, the aims and objectives of the study, and brief background information
· Include the justification and relevance of the study
· State the hypotheses you tested
· Try to answer the following questions:  why do the study?  what is the existing state of knowledge of this topic? (restrict background information to that which is pertinent to the research problem) what are the specific objectives?
Materials and Methods
· Include a description of the procedure you used that would enable a reader to duplicate the study (i.e. repeatability)
· This will include data collection techniques, the equipment used, the experimental design, and the methods used to record, summarize, and analyze data
· Minimize descriptions of well known procedures and use references where appropriate
· Use figures to explain experimental set-up where appropriate
· Summarize the data generated with tables, figures and descriptive text
· Do not include raw data
· Explain and describe your data and the patterns, trends, and relationships observed
· The written text should deal fully with results, not merely refer to tables and figures
· Proceed from most general features of the data to more specific results
· Reference all tables and figures in the text and number them in the order in which they appear in the text
· Write so that the figures and tables are not the subject of your sentences (e.g. write “Growth rate was higher in the control (Fig. 1)” rather than “Fig. 1 shows higher growth rate in the control”)
· Use graphics to display data in preference to tables whenever feasible
· Use legends and clear, concise, descriptive titles for tables and figures
· Ensure all axes of graphs are labeled and that units are identified in all tables and figures
· The results section should be free of interpretation of data
Discussion and Conclusions
· This section should include an interpretation and evaluation of the results
· Compare with other studies and draw conclusions based on your findings
· Refer back to the original hypotheses you were testing
· Draw positive conclusions wherever possible
· Identify sources of error and any inadequacies of your techniques
· Speculate on the broader meanings of the conclusions drawn
· Address any future study that your research suggests
References Cited
· List all the references cited in the text
· Cite references in text by author(s) and date
· If there are three or more authors of a reference abbreviate by first author surname followed by “et al.”  (e.g. “Smith et al. (1995) state that...”)
· All references should be listed in full, alphabetically by first author in the Reference Cited section
· Be consistent with format
· Only use references pertinent to your study and your data
General Comments
· Use and evaluate all the data you report and do not be discouraged if your results differ from published studies or from what you expected
· Justify all tables and figures by discussing their content and labeling them clearly
· Be creative in your presentation of data, your analysis, and your interpretation of data - play around with different variations before completing your report
· Do not force conclusions from your data or fudge data by omitting that which does not support pre-conceived conclusions
· Make sure all calculations and analyses are relevant to the hypotheses you are testing and the overall objectives of the study
· Justify your ideas and conclusions with data, facts, and background literature and with sound reasoning
· Ensure to keep the different sections of the report discrete, i.e. methods in the methods section, results in the results section, and leave discussion and interpretation of those results for the discussion section
· Plan your writing:  organize your thoughts and data, and sketch the report before actually writing.  This will help maximize your time efficiency and lead to a concise, well structured report