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Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

Writing Tips: Lab Reports and Scientific Papers


Guidelines for Student Lab Reports and Scientific Papers


“The ABC of science communication is that it should be:

            Accurate and Audience-Adapted




There are four main types of scientific writing within an academic setting: theses and dissertations, lab reports, scientific reports, and manuscripts for publication. Scientific writing can vary widely depending on your topic, discipline, or place of publication. The following six section lab report is commonly referred to as the scientific method and is the basis of all scientific writing. Scientific reports don’t follow the scientific method of writing. A scientific report is an expanded literature review of a topic that has already been explored, and usually ends with an overview of known facts. Reports follow the standard essay guidelines, and a thesis statement is needed. These reports are usually written for class purposes or for submission to a discussion section of a journal.



The abstract should give a brief overview of the entire paper. The length is usually 250-300 words, although many professors and journals have a specific 7-8 sentence format that must be followed. The general flow of the abstract follows the scientific method, with one sentence for each section; the results generally have two sentences.


The abstract is written in the past tense, since the experiments took place in the past. The abstract may be the only part of the paper that people will initially browse and, therefore, must be succinct and clear. At the end of the abstract, key words (4-6 words) are listed to help the reader understand the main subjects covered in the paper.


      Example: Key words: E. coli H1334, Western Blot, food allergies, Vaccinium, Ardisia


Introduction /Literature Review

Give enough description and background information from the text and other sources to establish the importance of the system or principles investigated. This section of the literature review is the most important as it defines the unexplored niche and how your research will help to understand it. However, journals will vary on the extent of the literature review since some journals want more literature cited in the discussion section.


Materials and Methods

1. Summarize the methods: Specify exactly what was done and when it was done.

a)  Name the organism and/or the tissue(s) used. The exact organism (genus and species), strain type and number, and possibly the cross parents will be required. The Genus is capitalized and the species is not, while the entire term is italicized (Arabidopsis thaliana var. sddl-1)   

                        No    Rats were used 

                        Yes   Male Sprague-Dawley Fischer F344 rats were used 

b) Name the important reagents. The source of the reagents must be identified.

                        No    Methanol

                        Yes   Methanol (Sigma, Inc., St. Louis, MO) 

c) Name the instrument(s) used to collect data.




  1. Present the data. A table is often the most efficient way of presenting results. Tables must have descriptive titles, and numbers must have units.
  2. Summarize the data. The results of several trials are summarized by taking an average. Data may be summarized in a table or in a graph. A verbal summary of the results should also be made in the text of "Results." Graphs provide a visual interpretation of the results. Graphs must have a descriptive title, numbers must have units, and axes must be labeled. A verbal interpretation of the results should be made by describing relationships between the data. Point out similarities and differences between the results of the several trials or treatments, and associate those relationships with the differences of the trials or treatments you are comparing. Quantitative comparisons are most useful, such as expressing a treatment result as a percentage of the control result.
  3. No citations are made in "Results" because there can be no other source for the results of your experiment.



  1. State whether you got the results you expected.
  2. Explain why your results agree with expectations or do not agree. Discuss possible experimental error that could confound your results or limitations of your experimental design. Also, use citations as supporting or contradictory evidence for your results. This is very important to help your research fit into the unexplored niche.
  3. State your conclusions, providing an example from the results as evidence for each conclusion.
  4. Explain the meaning of your results in terms of the scientific principles investigated in the experiment.
  5. DO NOT make “all or nothing” conclusions.



The conclusion contains very general statements about the experiment and possibly future routes of experimentation as well as implications of the presented research. This usually is not more than three to five sentences long.



Acknowledgments, References, Appendices

References or a bibliography are required in a paper, but Acknowledgments and Appendices are not always required. Acknowledgments are people/organizations that helped you interpret the data or gave insight to your research, but did not contribute to authorship. This distinction will vary among investigators. References and Appendices vary widely and usually conform to a specific journal or professor.


Key Tips for Science Writing

  1. Do not use first person.         
      We added hydrochloric acid to the beaker.     
     Hydrochloric acid was added to the beaker.
  2. Acronyms are a scientist’s best friend. For example, carnitine palmitoyltransferase-1 would be CPT-1. However, when first used in the paper, the entire name must be spelled out with the acronym in parentheses behind it. Note: Make sure to use the correct nomenclature for the topic. For instance, CPT-1, cpt-1, cpt-1, and Cpt-1 are not the same.
  3. Adapt to the audience. A full background of a topic may not be necessary if specialists are reading the paper. However, professors may require a more in-depth literature review for the paper.
  4. The Results and Discussion section will be the bulk of your paper.
  5. The Methods section must be explicitly clear. Someone who is not familiar with your work should be able to read your paper and perform the same experiment.
  6. Don’t duplicate your data in the results section. Present a group of data in a graph only,not a table and a graph.



Malmfors, B., Garnsworthy, P., Grossman, M. (2000). Writing and Presenting Scientific Papers.    Nottingham University Press, Nottingham, UK.

Day, R.A. (1998). How to Write & Publish a Scientific Paper. 5th ed. Oryx Press, Phoenix.



How to Write the Results Using Tables, Graphs & Text

In the results section, raw data should be presented, summarized, and interpreted in a meaningful way. However, the interpretation should not include citations or comparisons to other work. Presentation of data is usually accomplished with a table or graph, whether the data are numerical or not. Data from multiple trials can also be summarized in the table by including an entry for the average value or most frequent observation. Tables must have a descriptive title, and all numbers must have units.


The data presented in the table should be interpreted both visually and verbally. A graph provides a visual interpretation of the data and also summarizes the data from multiple trials when average values are plotted. Graphs must have a descriptive title, both axes must be labeled, and units must be provided for numbers. The independent variable is plotted on the x axis, and the dependent variable is plotted on the y axis.


For example, if your data are measurements of growth at intervals of time, time passes independent of any experimental manipulation, while the amount of growth measured depends on what time the measurement was made. Therefore, the x axis would be time, and would be labeled in the unit of time that was used, such as minutes, days, or years. The y axis would be growth and would be labeled in the unit of growth that was measured, such as cm, kg, individuals, or optical density. Other parameters manipulated in the experiment, such as nutrients, would be represented on the graph by separate curves or bars. Because the reader can see the differences between the curves or bars of the graph, the graph provides a visual interpretation of the results.


A verbal interpretation of what is seen in the graph should be presented in the text. Point out similarities and differences between the results of the several treatments, and associate those relationships with the differences between the treatments you are comparing. Quantitative comparisons are most useful, such as expressing a treatment result as a percentage of the control result.


No citations are made in the results section because there can be no other source for the results of your experiment. The only exception to this rule is if you are using someone else's data, in which case the source of the data must be cited. Citations and a complete analysis of the paper are included in the discussion section.