Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Academic Writing: Writing Scientific Lab Reports

Writing accurately and scientifically helps us to share our hypothesis and conclusions with the rest of the world and contribute towards the advancement of documented and written forms of knowledge. Scientific lab reports add to the cumulative knowledge of man. They help us to verify our conclusions, concepts, procedures and practices. They become the focal point for our research paper writings, conference presentations and submissions to scientific journals.

Scientific Reports: All scientific reports employ the scientific method based on two kinds of logic—inductive logic (particular to general) and deductive logic (general to particular). We use inductive logic to develop a hypothesis and then employ deductive reasoning to verify the hypothesis. At times our hypothesis does not stand the test of our deductive reasoning and we have to abandon it. Then we think of a new hypothesis for renewed testing.

Scientific Practice: Over the centuries scientific practice has developed its own unique procedures and exactitude. Invariably lab reports are organized around seven sub-themes namely: title, abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results and discussion, conclusion and literature cited.

1. Title: A title should be succinct and provide all the factual details of the lab experiment. It should be between five to ten words and use keywords to catch the attention of the reader.

2. Abstract: An abstract is usually a short, single paragraph which summarizes the research experiment without providing too many details. However an abstract presents the major findings and the procedure followed.

3. Introduction: While writing a scientific introduction you should clearly state your objective. An objective involves what you have set out to prove. Then you must explain the context, why this work is singular and important. At last you should state the lab you are working for, name of your supervisor and significant dates including the start of the project and its completion.

4. Materials and Methods: Materials and methods fall in the category of instruments, methodology and procedures. In this sub-heading you must explain the materials connected with your research experiment, instruments and procedures. This section should also show the way of tabulating or calculating the results. Sometimes the materials used can be separated from the methods.

5. Results and Discussion: This is the most important section of the lab report as it provides the results of the scientific experiment based on calculations, tables and graphs. The data should not be left unexplained. A clear discussion of every graph and table must be provided and how a particular conclusion follows from it.

6. Conclusion: The conclusion summarizes the test results and procedures. It explains how, what was stated in the objective, has been realized. The conclusion also states what new knowledge has been acquired through the scientific experiment and how it advances the scientific field under investigation.

7. Literature Cited: This section lists all the scholarly books and research articles actually consulted and differs from a general bibliography where lots of information is provided. Remember that most scientific journals have their own specifications for citations but citations must be alphabetically arranged.

Language: The language used in writing a lab report must be precise, objective and verb-loaded. Writers are often advised to use the passive voice (the verb to be+ the past participle of the verb) while elaborating upon methods and procedures.

New technologies: Researchers now take recourse to new technologies and computer programs such as GNU Octave, Mathcad, Maple, Atlas/ti, Jasymca A MATLAB or Baudline to organize their research data.

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