A good scientific report has a clear and accurately organised structure, divided into headings and sub-headings. The paragraphs are the fundamental unit of reports.
The structure and scientific conventions you should use in your report will be based on your department or subject field requirements. Therefore, it is always best to check your departmental guidelines or module/assignment instructions first.
The following is a general structure for a typical scientific report also known as IMRaD or introduction, methods, results, analysis and discussion.
The abstract is a short summary of your project. Here, you should state your research questions and aims and provide a brief description of your methodology. It also includes an overview of your most significant findings. It is best to write this last after finalising the report.
This is where you set the scene for your report. The introduction should clearly articulate the purpose and aim (and, possibly, objectives) of the report, along with providing the background context for the report's topic and area of research. A scientific report may have an hypothesis in addition or in stead of aims and objectives. It may also provide any definitions or explanations for the terms used in the report or theoretical underpinnings of the research so that the reader has a clear understanding of what the research is based upon. It may be useful to also indicate any limitations to the scope of the report and identify the parameters of the research.
The methods section includes any information on the methods, tools and equipment used to get the data and evidence for your report. You should justify your method (that is, explain why your method was chosen), acknowledge possible problems encountered during the research, and present the limitations of your methodology.
If you are required to have a separate results and discussion section, then the results section should only include a summary of the findings, rather than an analysis of them - leave the critical analysis of the results for the discussion section. Presenting your results may take the form of graphs, tables, or any necessary diagrams of the gathered data. It is best to present your results in a logical order, making them as clear and understandable as possible through concise titles, brief summaries of the findings, and what the diagrams/charts/graphs or tables are showing to the reader.
This section is where the data gathered and your results are truly put to work. It is the main body of your report in which you should critically analyse what the results mean in relation to the aims and objectives (and/or, in scientific writing, hypotheses) put forth at the beginning of the report. You should follow a logical order, and can structure this section in sub-headings.
The conclusion should not include any new material but instead show a summary of your main arguments and findings. It is a chance to remind the reader of the key points within your report, the significance of the findings and the most central issues or arguments raised from the research. The conclusion may also include recommendations for further research, or how the present research may be carried out more effectively in future.
Similar to your essays, a report still requires a bibliography of all the published resources you have referenced within your report. Check your module handbook for the referencing style you should use as there are different styles depending on your degree. If it is the standard Westminster Harvard Referencing style, then follow these guidelines and remember to be consistent.
Scientific report/lab writing and essay writing differ in style. Compared to essay writing styles, scientific report writing styles expect the following:
Recommendation: Check out the further resources for more advice, AND also take a look through scientific articles and research - use your reading effectively!
Reading scientific papers is an excellent way of not only developing your knowledge of a subject, but also developing your scientific writing practices and gaining a greater understanding of what is to be expected. When reading, be sure to keep in mind the author's use of language and phrases, ways of presenting and discussing evidence, and ways of organising, structuring, and formatting material, as you may wish to emulate or imitate (NOT plagiarise or copy) the styles you read.
Science Writing Resources for Learning by The University of British Columbia
Scientific Writing Resource by the Duke Graduate School
Scientific Writing by the Royal Literary Fund
Successful Scientific Writing by Janice R. Matthews, John M. Bowen and Robert W. Matthews
Writing for Science Students (Palgrave Study Skills) by Jennifer Boyle
The Scientist's Guide to Writing: How to Write More Easily and Effectively Throughout Your Scientific Career by Stephen B. Heard
Writing for Biomedical Sciences Students (Macmillan Study Skills) by Harry Witchel
Successful Scientific Writing: A Step-By-Step Guide for the Biological and Medical Sciences by Janice R. Matthews
Date Handling and Analysis (Fundamentals of Biomedical Science) by Andrew Blann
How to Write a Scientific Paper: An Academic Self-Help Guide for PhD Students by Jari Saramäki
Free and Purchasable Courses:
Writing in the Sciences run by Coursera
Science Writing run by The University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education