Skip to main content

Other assessments: Scientific reports

“IMRAD forms the core of an effective scientific paper. Each IMRAD section is structured to address certain questions, and together they shape a critical persuasive argument”

Janice and Robert Matthews, Successful Scientific Writing

It is important to demonstrate your understanding of the science that you have studied and practised by writing about it in a scientific report. The general purpose is to give you practice at writing professional reports for your future career in science, where the ultimate aim is to publish your research findings in order to share them with the wider scientific community.


What does a scientific report include?

Research findings are typically presented in journals and other professional reports in the IMRaD format (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion). The purpose of each of these sections is to answer the following questions:

Introduction - Why did you do your experiments?

Methods - Which experiments did you do and how did you do them?

Results - What happened when you did them?

Discussion - What do the results mean?

There are also the following additional sections:

  • A specific title
  • An abstract or summary
  • Acknowledgments (to thank those who assisted with your work)
  • A reference list
  • Appendices (optional)

All these separate components are covered in detail in the section below.

Diagram of IMRaD in middle of other components


components

Components of a Scientific Report


Title

Purpose: To sum up your work in a single phrase or sentence.  It needs to be clear, specific and brief; its meaning should be obvious to most readers. 

  • Clear: Technical terms and abbreviations should only be used if they will be familiar to the readers of your report.
  • Specific: Give enough information to enable the reader to know if the research is likely to be of interest to their own fields.
  • Brief: Avoid obvious phrases, like ‘The role of’, ‘Studies of’, ‘An examination of”, ‘An investigation into’, ‘Research into’, and ‘An experiment on’. Titles with these words are often too long or not descriptive enough.

Example: Tamoxifen inhibits the GI phase cell cycle progression of malignant human breast epithelial cells in vitro.


Abstract or Summary

This may not always be required - check with your tutor. It will definitely be needed in a final year independent project report.

Purpose: To summarise the entire report for quick reading.  It should include your reasons for doing the work, your methods, your findings, and your conclusions. It needs to be both interesting and easy to read.

  • It is independent of the rest of the report - it is a mini-report, which needs to make sense completely on its own.
  • References should not be included.
  • Nothing should appear in the abstract that is not in the rest of the report.
  • Usually between 200-300 words.
  • Write in the past tense, in a single paragraph.

It is recommended that you write your abstract after your report.


Acknowledgements

This is only needed in a final year independent project report. Most other reports will not need it.

Purpose: To thank those who were directly involved in your work.

  • Do not confuse the acknowledgements section with a dedication - this is not where you thank your friends and relatives unless they have helped you with your manuscript.
  • Acknowledgments are about courtesy, where you thank those who were directly involved in your work, or were involved in supporting your work (technicians, tutors, other students, financial support etc).
  • This section tends to be very brief, a few lines at the most. Identify those who provided you with the most support, and thank them appropriately.

Introduction

Purpose: To state the research problem, establish your hypothesis, provide justification and state the methods, results and conclusions.

  • You must describe your research objectives clearly and simply.  Explain and define your work and state why it is distinctive.
  • Include a clear statement of your hypothesis, which states what you expect your experiment to reveal.
  • If your work is not original, just give the current background information about the research problem.  If it is original (for a 3rd year project/thesis/paper) you will need to provide a comprehensive literature review of work preceding or closely related to it to show the gap in the existing knowledge.
  • Briefly describe how you intend to answer the problem and give your results.  Detail is not needed here - leave that for the appropriate sections below.
  • Write most of the introduction in the present tense, since you are describing a current problem and current conclusions. Details of methods and results given in the introduction should be in the past tense, and future implications based on the conclusions should be in the future tense.

Materials and methods

Purpose: Provide an extensive protocol for your experiment which can be repeated by others.

This is essentially an instruction manual, to enable reproduction of the work and should provide:

  • details of the experimental design
  • details of the controls used, including their purpose
  • details of the data recording techniques
  • exact quantities and purities of reagents
  • technical specifications of the apparatus
  • specific methods of the sample preparation
  • accurate nomenclature
  • precise details of any subjects/samples included in the study
  • details of the sampling protocols  

Results

Purpose: To present your data in a manner that is easy to read and interpret.

  • This is where the core of the work is presented – your experimental data. Clarity is essential since the rest of your report hinges on what you present here.
  • The results section should be kept brief and repetition of methods or results should be avoided. Relationships between your data should be described in the text of your results section.
  • Never discuss the implications of your results in the results section – save this for the discussion.
  • Your results section may have subheadings which complement the headings in your materials and methods section.
  • Don't be tempted to exclude results that don't fit.
  • Do not present all your raw data – a pre-digested representative sample is usually adequate.
  • Make sure tables, graphs and figures are numbered and labelled.

Discussion

Purpose: To discuss the relationships between your results and how they relate to your initial objectives and hypotheses.  You should also describe the shortcomings and implications of your work.  You should provide major conclusions, supported with evidence, and suggest future applications of your research findings.

  • Do not recapitulate your results.
  • Discuss how your results are similar to or different from published findings and attempt to explain the differences.
  • If you cannot find a good explanation for your results, admit it.  It is better to admit uncertainty, rather than make up poor excuses.
  • State your conclusions and build on them with evidence from literature - making sure you are clear which findings belong to you.
  • Discuss the significance of your findings and any future implications.
  • Write in the present tense most of the time. When discussing your data, write in the past tense and when discussing future implications write in the future tense.

References

Purpose: To acknowledge sources in order to avoid plagiarism and strengthen your arguments with support from the existing literature.

  • Every piece of information that is included in your report, excluding your original data, should be referenced, preferably from peer-reviewed sources. 
  • Make sure that you include your references as you write. Tracking back to find references is a difficult task.
  • Check with your department for advice on the appropriate referencing system.

For further advice on referencing, refer to our Referencing your Work SkillsGuide.


Appendices

Purpose: To present additional data that is too extensive to be included within the main body of the text.

  • Appendices are not included in all scientific reports; however, they are frequently included in the back of theses. For example, printouts of raw data or other supplementary materials may be included as appendices at the back of a thesis.
  • Different types of material included in the appendices can be labelled as Appendix 1, Appendix 2, and so forth.
  • Some electronic journals now offer scientists the opportunity to include extra materials that are too extensive for the main body of a journal article in an ‘eAppendix’.

Confirm the inclusion of appendices with your tutor or supervisor.


Printable guide

 

Thumbnail of Scientific Reports top tips

A single page printable guide with our top tips for writing scientific reports.

Click on the link above or the image to download the PDF.

Recommended books and eBooks from our collection

Related books and eBooks from our collection