In this lesson we will learn about the different sections of a scientific practical report and the style in which they are written.
By the end of this lesson you will be able to:
- Name the different sections of a scientific practical report, in the correct order.
- Describe the type of content written in each section of a practical report.
- Describe the scientific writing style that is appropriate for practical reports.
What is a Practical Report?
- Scientific practical reports (‘prac reports‘) are a formal way of documenting practical experiments.
- They summarise the reasons for conducting an investigation, describe how it was carried out, and record and reflect on the findings.
- Practical reports have a defined structure, to make sure they include all of the relevant information.
- They also need to be written in a way that is easy for others to understand and replicate.
- This presentation will discuss how to write a scientific practical report for junior high school. The format will stay much the same all the way through high school, and even university.
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Parts of a Practical Report
- Practical reports follow a defined structure. They are broken up into several sections, each with their own heading and specific type of content.
- The different sections are (in this order):
- The title of a practical report is a short description of the practical investigation.
- It shouldn’t be too long, but should contain enough information that the reader can tell what the experiment is about.
- For example:
- “The Effect of UV Light Exposure on the Growth Rate of Bacteria” is a much better title than something like “Bacteria Investigation”, which is too short and vague.
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- The introduction to a practical report provides some relevant background information about the topic being investigated.
- It sets the context for the investigation by making links to current knowledge in field, and explains why the experiment was conducted.
- An introduction should be relatively short – usually one or two paragraphs.
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- The aim of a practical experiment states the purpose of the investigation.
- What question is the experiment attempting to answer?
- The aim will often start with phrases such as “This experiment aims to… ” or “The purpose of this investigation is to…”.
- The aim can usually be stated in a single sentence.
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- Before every experiment it is important to think about what the possible outcomes might be.
- A hypothesis is an ‘educated guess’ about what might happen.
- It’s a guess because you cannot be absolutely certain what is going to happen, otherwise there would be no need for the investigation.
- It’s an educated guess because some reasoning is applied to the prediction, based on your current knowledge of the topic.
- A hypothesis will often start with a phrase such as “It is predicted that…”.
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- The materials section of a practical report is a list of everything that is required to conduct the experiment.
- It should include all equipment and any chemicals that are needed.
- Materials information needs to be specific and detailed.
- For example, if you used a beakers during the experiment, you need to specify its size (in mL).
- A bullet list is fine for this section (but only this section).
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- The method section of a practical report is an account of all of the steps taken during the experiment.
- The method needs to be thorough enough that someone could conduct the exact same investigation with only the method as instruction.
- For example, “The mixture was filtered using a piece of filter placed inside a glass funnel, placed on top of a conical flask…” gives much more information than simply writing “The mixture was filtered”.
- The method must be written in past tense.
- For example, “The crucible was placed inside a pipeclay triangle…”, not “Place the crucible inside the pipeclay triangle…”.
- Together, the materials and method sections of a practical report are similar to a cooking recipe – one is a list of ingredients and the other is a series of instructions.
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- The results section of a practical report is where all observations and outcomes are recorded.
- It may consist of:
- ▸ Written comments
- ▸ Tables
- ▸ Graphs
- ▸ Photos
- There is no interpretation or analysis of the results in this section; that comes in the next section.
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- The discussion section of a practical report is where the results are analysed.
- This section addresses many aspects of the study, including:
- ▸ How can the results be interpreted?
- ▸ How reliable is the data that was gathered?
- ▸ Were there any problems during the investigation?
- ▸ How could it be done differently or expanded upon?
- In a high school practical report, there may also be some specific discussion questions that need answering.
- The discussion section forms the most significant part of the report, so it should be addressed in detail.
- It demonstrates your ability to interpret and analyse new scientific information.
- If the practical report is part of an assessment, a large part of your grade will be based on how well this section is completed.
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- The conclusion of a practical report is a final statement about the outcomes of the investigation.
- It only needs to be a couple of sentences, mentioning:
- ▸ Whether the aim was achieved or not (link this directly back to what you wrote in the aim section).
- ▸ Whether the hypothesis was accepted or rejected (link this directly back to what you wrote in the hypothesis section).
- ▸ What was learned from the experiment.
- Remember, it is not important if your hypothesis was correct or not. And even if you didn’t achieve your aim, there is always something you will have learned something from carrying out the investigation. So if things didn’t go as planned, you can still write a meaningful practical report.
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Scientific Writing Style
- Scientific writing is a bit different to other styles of writing and it can take some time to become familiar with it.
- Here are some things to keep in mind when writing scientific reports:
- Be clear and concise.
- Avoid rambling and confusing sentences.
- Be precise and objective.
- Avoid biased, generalised or emotional statements.
- For example, avoid saying things like “That always seems to happen…”, “It turned a beautiful blue colour…”, or “It was really exciting…”.
- Write in third person.
- Don’t say “I”, “we” or “they”.
- For example:
- ▸ Instead of writing “I noticed that…”, write “It was observed that…”.
- ▸ Instead of writing “We adjusted the height…”, write “The height was adjusted…”.
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- The parts of a scientific practical report are:
- Title: What is the report about?
- Introduction: What background information is relevant to the study?
- Aim: What is the experiment attempting to find out?
- Hypothesis: What is the predicted outcome?
- Materials: What equipment and chemicals are needed?
- Method: What was the procedure?
- Results: What were the outcomes?
- Discussion: What do the results mean?
- Conclusion: What is the overall statement about the study?
- Scientific writing should be clear, concise, accurate, objective and in third person.
(Header image: Frédéric Prochasson, Adobe Stock)