It is important that you have a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of your report as there will be slightly different expectations depending on the type of report that you are writing. This section of this guide is appropriate for:
Structure is very important to report and scientific writing. Where essays may allow authors to choose their own structure, reports tend to be more standardised. Though the structure of reports may vary slightly between disciplines there are some common features detailed below:
Here is an example title which illustrates these points:
This title tells us the key variables (sleep deprivation and memory recall), is concise (10 words total) and indicates the methods used in the experiment (matching task).
The example abstract shown in the table below is taken from a piece of visual psychology research:
Trypophobia is characterised by an aversion to particular configurations of holes. Cole and Wilkins (2013) investigated the spectral characteristics of trypophobia inducing images; they found that these images possess an excess of contrast energy at mid-range spatial frequencies. Furthermore, it was found that this spectral characteristic was also shared by ten of the world’s most poisonous animals. The authors concluded that any stimulus possessing this spectral characteristic might induce aversion because the human visual system has been selected for its ability to recognise these objects as potentially dangerous. The experiment presented here tested this notion by observing whether participants showed any activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), when viewing trypophobic stimuli. Participants viewed two slideshows whilst their heart rate was monitored throughout (one slideshow contained ten trypophobic images whilst the other contained ten non-trypophobic images). It was found that regardless of participants' self-reported level of aversion to inducing stimuli, all showed a significant increase in ANS activity when viewing trypophobic stimuli. These results are interpreted as support for the adaptive visual detection mechanism suggested by Cole and Wilkins (2013). Potential brain regions involved in this mechanism and future directions for research are discussed.
The opening sentences provide the reader with the context for the research by introducing the topic and key academic literature.
|This sentence highlights the motivation for conducting the experiment - in this case wanting to test one of the conclusions from Cole and Wilkins (2013).|
|Next, the reader is given a brief overview of the method used to collect the data - try to keep this as short as possible!|
|The primary results of the research are then summarised in a single sentence.|
|Finally, the reader is provided with an indication of how the results have been interpreted.|
When you come to write your own abstract, it is important to remember that it will be the first part of your report that anyone reads. As such, it is important that it is well structured, contains all of the essential information and conveys it an efficient way
- Background and context that the reader needs to understand the contents of the report
- Why it was important to study this topic
- How your research addresses a gap in the pre-existing literature/addresses a problem in the world
- The research methodology that you will be using
- The aims and objectives of your research
- Hypotheses (for deductive testing projects) or expected outcomes (for inductive exploratory projects).
This approach to writing an introduction shares some overlap with writing literature reviews. For more guidance on writing literature reviews, see our online study guide.
This isn't an exhaustive list but is intended as a guide to the type of information you might include in your appendices.
The purpose of scientific and report writing is to communicate ideas in a way that is efficient and simple to understand. Though your report will include some specialist vocabulary, you do not need present your ideas in a complicated way or use unnecessarily complex language. Here are some key points to help develop your scientific/report writing:
1. Personal vs Impersonal Voice
Report writing should be written in a formal, impersonal way; this means avoiding the inclusion of personal expressions or statements to ensure that your work is impartial and objective. Consider the following example:
"The participants had big, purple bags under their eyes"
vs. "The participants showed clear sign of sleep deprivation"
The first example uses subjective language ("big") and fails to convey the information in an impartial way. By contrast, the second example tells the reader the relevant information but does so in a way that is objective and clear, rather than being vague or open to interpretation.
Reports are usually largely written in the past tense as they often describe events, such as experiments/observations that happened before the time of writing. It is important to note however, that you will not write your whole report exclusively in the past tense. For example:
Appropriately using a combination of these tenses in your writing will help to improve the clarity of your writing.
3. Technical Terms
As mentioned before, you will be required to use some specialist language but you should try and keep this to a minimum - don't try and show off by overloading your writing with unnecessarily technical language! Relatedly, whilst abbreviations can be helpful when used appropriately, too many abbreviations can actually make your report harder to understand. As a guide, if an abbreviation is in common use, feel free to use it in your report (remembering to write the name out in full the first time you use it), if not, don't start creating abbreviations just to save words or avoid repetition! For example, "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" is commonly referred to as "MRI" so this would be appropriate to use in your report, whereas "sleep deprivation" is not generally abbreviated, so substituting this for "SD" in your writing would not be appropriate.
Good scientific and report writing requires the same level of planning and attention to detail that you put into designing experiments, and collecting/analysing data.
Here are our three top tips for writing top-notch reports: