General Comments about Writing a Scientific Paper (Lab Report)
Scientific papers are to be prepared in standard format as if they were to be submitted for publication in a journal (e.g., Mycologia). This handout should be read carefully before handing in your scientific paper. A more detailed description of a scientific paper is provided in the handout, “How to Write a Lab Report,” by Dr. Donald French.
The production of a scientific paper is the culmination of any research project. In such a paper, the investigator presents the results of his/her work and an interpretation of those results. In addition, a scientific paper should contain a sufficiently detailed and accurate description of the methods used in the study to allow other investigators to independently verify and evaluate the results. A scientific paper should contain the following sections: Title, introduction, methods, results, discussion, literature cited, tables and figures. A description of the expected content of each of these sections is given below.
General Format for Scientific Papers (Lab Reports) in BIOL 3401L
Scientific writing should be clear, concise, and accurate. Use “I” or “we” and the active voice (not passive voice) wherever possible (“We used D-frame nets to sample benthic invertebrates…” is active voice whereas “D-frame nets were used to sample benthic invertebrates…” is passive voice). Active voice is more accurate (you identify who is doing what) and slightly more concise. Avoid excessive use of adjectives and adverbs (i.e., “flowery” language). Strive for quantitative and accurate descriptions of events. For example, it would be better to describe the weather (during data collection, perhaps) as sunny, with temperatures ranging from –5 to 0 C and a 25 kilometer per hour wind than “bitterly cold.” Scientific papers must always be typed (double-spaced). The copy you hand in should be produced on a letter quality or laser printer. Staple the pages together with no covers and no blank sheets of paper. Number all pages. Pages should have a 2.5 cm margin (~1 inch) on all sides. Scientific names must be in italics and should be included in parentheses following the first mention of the common name of a species (if you use one). Use “military time” (e.g., 1400 and not 2:00 PM) and “continental dating” (e.g., 25 August 1997 and not August 25, 1997). Metric measurements should always be used (e.g., meters, not feet or yards; hectares not acres).
Two very common grammatical errors that you should avoid:
1. “Data” is the plural form of “datum”. Therefore, it is NOT correct to say that the “data is …” You should say “the data are…”
2. “Effect” is a noun, whereas “affect” is a verb. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that “lack of sleep effected your performance on an exam.” Instead, it affected your performance.
Title of Research Study
The title states the focus of your experiment. The title should be to the point, descriptive, accurate, and concise (ten words or less). The title should accurately reflect the scientific paper’s content without being too vague or flashy. The title can usually draw attention of the reader to your work. It should clearly represent the work presented. For example, “The effects of rabies on circus monkey populations” is a better title than “Circus monkeys” or “Rabid monkeys decimate the big top!” If the purpose of the experiment is to measure the gravitational acceleration of the earth using pendulum as the experimental apparatus, the title should be like “Measurement of the Gravitational Acceleration Using Simple Pendulum”.
Do not use footnotes. Literature citations in the text generally take either of two forms, depending on the context. Note the formats in the following example:
Rabies has been noted as a problem in captive populations of primates for decades (Barnum and Bailey 1956; Curious-George 1980). However, Koko (1991) found that few breeders actively screen for the disease.
Never use direct quotations in scientific writing; it’s just not done. Usually it is best to paraphrase the paper you are citing. Note also that many/most of the statements made in the Introduction and Discussion are supported by literature citations.
Internet references. Do not use these unless they are an electronic version of a typical scientific journal. Most internet sources are, at best, the same thing as citing an encyclopedia. At their worst they are propaganda placed by companies to make themselves look good. Until it is easier to sort these out, these references should be used with caution. However, they may help you to find other literature citations.
Use the following outline for the lab report:
*NOTE: No title page please.
Title of Research Study
BIOL 3401L Lab Report Grading Rubric Semester/Year _________________
Names: Group #
Grading Sheet for Lab Reports (Lab reports)
Title of Research Study
Statements of question & hypothesis(es) under investigation are clear and correct.
Provides logical argument for why question & hypothesis(es) are being investigated.
Experimental design is described completely and clearly.
Steps/procedures are proper and justified.
Experimental and control variables and assumptions are correctly chosen and justified.
Methods provide for appropriate test of selected hypothesis.
Data are presented without causal interpretation or implications.
Data are summarized and displayed appropriately in graphs or tables. (NOTE: Please include all table/figures in a section following the Literature Cited)
Trends in data are made clear in text without repeating the information in tables or graphs (figures).
Figures and tables are properly numbered, captioned, and referred to in text.
Figures and tables can be properly interpreted without reference to text.
Questions and hypotheses stated in Introduction are addressed.
Conclusions are supported by the data.
Alternative explanations are discussed.
Speculations are clearly stated as such and logically derived from data.
Additional hypotheses are generated.
Unexpected results are interpreted without unnecessary reference to experimental error.
Appropriate comparisons to textbook(s) are made and properly cited.
Interpretation and information presented are correct given sources available to student.
Writing is clear and free of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
Lab report Subtotal:
Extra Credit (+1 pt each)
Data are analyzed statistically. (up to 2 pts.)
Appropriate comparisons to primary literature are made and properly cited.
Methods are illustrated by images or graphics and referenced. (NOTE: Please include all table/figures in a section following the Literature Cited)
Additional experiments are designed.
Additional experiments are completed.
Properly incorporate and cite data from other lab groups(s).
Extra Credit Subtotal:
Lab report Scores (out of 20): Extra Credit: