Scientific Reports

Scientific Reports: Advice on writing your Work Placement Report

Scientific Reports*Field Reports* Comments on Style and English

Your placement report should be around 6000 words (+10%) in length. It should accurately reflect the work / activities that you have been directly involved with or contributed to. In situations where there is high confidentiality, a more generic review of the area may be necessary, and is acceptable. Always aim to get the report completed in good time; it may need to be vetted by the company before it is “released”. In the majority of placements the company will bear the costs of producing and copying the report (one for you, one for us, and at least one for the company); where this is not possible the Faculty will bear the cost (please contact the placement manager beforehand). Your report will be assessed (by your designated academic supervisor) on a Pass/Fail basis, using a simple assessment form.

The scope and style of reports can vary widely. It depends on three key factors: the report’s intended audience, the report’s purpose and the type of information to be communicated. It is likely however that your placement report will fall into one of two categories, namely (a) a Scientific Report, or (b) a Field Report.

Scientific Reports

Scientific reports (also called laboratory reports) are common in all the Sciences and Social Sciences. These reports use a standard scientific report format describing methods, results and conclusions to report upon an empirical investigation.

There are four major sections to a scientific report, sometimes known as IMRAD, Introduction, Methods, Results, And Discussion. Respectively, these sections structure your report to say “here’s the problem, here’s how I studied it, here’s what I found, and here’s what it means.” There are additional minor sections that precede or follow the major sections including the title, abstract, acknowledgements, references, and appendices. All sections are important, but at different stages to different readers. When flipping through a journal, a reader might read the title first, and if interested further then the abstract, then conclusions, and then if he or she is truly fascinated perhaps the entire paper. You have to convince the reader that what you have done is interesting and important by communicating appeal and content in all sections.

Title: Convey the essential point of the paper. Be precise, concise, and use key words. Avoid padding with phrases like “A study of …”.

AbstractCondense the whole paper into miniature form. A sentence or two summarizing each of the IMRAD sections should suffice. No new information, no supporting material, limited details, just the essential message that explains what you did and found out. Write this section last of all.

Introduction Introduce the problem, moving from the broader issues to your specific problem, finishing the section with the precise aims of the paper (key questions). Craft this section carefully, setting up your argument in logical order. Refer to relevant ideas/theories and related research by other authors. Answer the question “what is the problem and why is it important?”

Methods Explain how you studied the problem, which should follow logically from the aims. Depending on the kind of data, this section may contain subsections on experimental details, materials used, data collection/sources, analytical or statistical techniques employed, study area, etc. Provide enough detail for the reader to reproduce what you did. Include flowcharts, maps or tables if they aid clarity or brevity. Answer the question “what steps did I follow?” but do not include results yet.

Results Explain your actual findings, using subheadings to divide the section into logical parts, with the text addressing the study aims. Link your writing to figures and tables as you present the results. For each, describe and interpret what you see (you do the thinking, do not leave this to the reader). If you have many similar figures, select representative examples for brevity and put the rest in an appendix. Mention any uncertainty in measurement or calculation, and use an appropriate number of decimal places to reflect it. Make comments on the results as they are presented, but save broader generalizations and conclusions for later. Answer the question “what did I find out?”

Discussion Discuss the importance of what you found, in light of the overall study aims. Stand back from the details and synthesise what has (and has not) been learned about the problem, and what it all means. Say what you actually found, not what you hoped to find. Begin with specific comments and expand to more general issues. Recommend any improvements for further study. Answer the question “what is the significance of the research?”

Conclusions Restate the study aims or key questions and summarize your findings using clear, concise statements. Keep this section brief and to the point.

Acknowledgments This is an optional section. Thank people who directly contributed to the paper, by providing data, assisting with some part of the analysis, proofreading, typing, etc. It is not a dedication, so don’t thank Mom and Dad for bringing you into the world, or your roommate for making your coffee.

References Within the text, cite references by author and year, for example “Fry (1999) stated that …” or “several studies have found that x is greater than y (Fry 1999; Smith 1999).” For two authors, list both names, and for three or more use the abbreviation “et al.”, for example “Fry and Smith (1999)” or “Fry et al. (1999).” Attribute every idea that is not your own to avoid plagiarism. In this reference section list alphabetically only the people and publications that you cited in the report. Provide sufficient detail to enable somebody to actually track down the information. List all authors for the “et al.” publications. Follow a standard format such as the examples below, and note the distinctions regarding italics, capitalization, volume/page numbers, publisher address, etc. between the various kinds of references. Full information on the “Harvard Style of referencing” can be found at

  • Personal (unpublished) communications
    Cited in the text only, e.g., “… x is greater than y (Fry 1999, pers. comm.).”
  • Lecture Notes
    Fry, M., 1999: Iron transport in the blood. April 1 lecture, BIOC2120.
  • Web Site
    Fry, M., 1999: Iron transport in the blood. Internet: <>.
  • Single Author Journal Paper
    Fry, M., 1999: Iron transport in the blood. Blood 5, 123-132.
  • Multiple Author Journal Paper
    Fry, M., A.K. Smith and C.E. Jacks, 1999: Iron transport in the blood. Blood 5, 123-132.
  • Book
    Fry, M., 1999: Iron transport in the blood. Star Publishers, London.
  • Government/Technical Report
    Fry, M., 1999: Iron transport in the blood. Report A5002, Institute for HaematologyStudies, University of Leeds.
  • Chapter in an Edited Volume
    Fry, M., 1999: Iron transport in the blood. In Smith, A.K. and Jacks, C.E., eds., Progress in Haematology. Star Publishers, London.

Appendix If necessary, one or more appendices containing raw data, figures not used in the body of the paper, sample calculations, etc. may be included. They are considered as additional material to the report, and may not be examined by the reader at all.

Field Reports

Field reports are common in disciplines such as Psychology, Nursing and Education, and might be applicable to placements in a “field setting”. For example, an SES student in a school sports setting, or a biology student in a conservation project. These types of reports require the student to analyse his or her observations of phenomena or events in the real world in light of theories studied in the course.

Since field reports are used to combine theory and practice, they involve both description and analysis. It is important to be aware of and avoid the most common student error when writing field reports of presenting description without any analysis of what has been described or observed.

Field reports usually consist of the following elements:

  • Description – what you have seen or observed
  • Analysis – strengths and weaknesses, reflection or evaluation of observations in light of theory and key concepts of your course or the broader context of your discipline.
  • Appendix – information that supports your analysis but is not essential to its explanation i.e. full transcripts of observations, maps, logs, etc.

Field reports usually do not have a specific format; you may choose to have separate sections for the description and analysis parts of your report or to have paragraphs that combine these two types of writing , i.e. an event is described and then its theoretical significance is analysed.

While standard academic writing tends to be objective and impersonal, the language used in field reports can be simpler, more direct and personal. Personal pronouns such as I and we can be used. It may also be appropriate, depending on your task, to record your subjective impressions and feelings.

The function of field reports is to describe an observed person, place or event and to analyse that observation.

We all observe people, interactions and events in everyday life; however, your job when writing a field report is more structured. When writing a field report you need to:

  • systematically observe and accurately record in detail the varying aspects of a situation;
  • constantly analyse your observation for meaning (i.e. what’s going on here?, what does this mean?, what else does this relate to?);
  • keep the report�s aims in mind while you are observing;
  • consciously observe, record and analyse what you hear and see in the context of a theoretical framework.

Description Your audience has not witnessed the situation, people or event you are discussing; thus, their only knowledge of it will come from your description. Give them enough information to place the analysis that will follow into a context.

Analysis You have provided the reader with a description of the situation, people or events you observed. You also need to provide an evaluation what you have observed and let the reader know how these events and observations relate to theory, key concepts of your course or the broader context of your discipline.You should have kept in mind the theories and issues you encountered in your course when making your observations. Part of your task in analysis is to determine which observations are worthy of comment and evaluation, and which observations are more general in nature. It is your theoretical framework that allows you to make these decisions. You need to show that you are looking at the situation through the eyes of an informed viewer, not a lay person.

Be careful to base any evaluations or conclusions you make in your analysis on what you have observed. Do not manipulate what you have observed to fit into a predetermined theoretical framework. Consider questions such as:

  • What is the meaning of what you have observed?
  • Why do you think what you observed happened? What evidence do you have for your reasoning?
  • What events or behaviours were typical or widespread? How were they distributed among categories of people?
  • Do you see any connections or patterns in what you observed?
  • Why did the people you observed do it that way? What are the implications of this? Do you agree with this method?
  • Did the stated or implicit objectives of what you were observing match what was achieved?
  • What were the relative merits of the behaviours you observed?
  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches you observed?
  • Do you see connections between what you observed and the key concepts in your course and what you have read?
  • How do your observations fit into the big picture of this topic area such as the whole education or justice system?
  • Have you learnt anything from this?
  • What education, research or professional value did you get from this field work?
  • Did the allocation of resources impact on what you observed? e.g. were there too many children in the class, was the court list overcrowded?
  • How have your observations changed your perceptions of the field and professional practice?

General Comments on Style

  • After a full stop, a new sentence should be separated from the stop by two spaces. Word processors tacitly acknowledge this � if you put two spaces at the end of a line where one character would normally wrap, they “know” not to put a space at the beginning of the next line, and in any case your text looks much better.
  • Punctuation marks such as commas, full stops, semi-colons etc should follow the preceding word without a space.
  • There should be no spaces between brackets and the words they surround.
  • Do not join grammatically unrelated ideas together with commas.It is preferable to use short sentences but if you write longer ones, join them together with conjunctions or make some clauses relative; semicolons are also useful.
  • Start a new paragraph at the beginning of the line (do not tab or indent).Leave a blank line between paragraphs.Do not start a new line for a new sentence unless the break is natural (that is, the previous sentence finishes at the end of the previous line).Only press the return key when you want to start a new paragraph.
  • Be aware of ‘non-breaking’ spaces or hyphens.They should be used when you want to prevent breaks round a line, for example in references, as above, or for initials and names.Press Ctrl-shift and the space bar or hyphen to achieve this in Word.
  • Use the metric system of measurements. Abbreviations of units are used without a following period.
  • Numbers should be written as numerals when they are greater than ten or when they are associated with measurements; for example, 6 mm or 2 g but two explanations of six factors. When one list includes numbers over and under ten, all numbers in the list may be expressed as numerals; for example, 17 sunfish, 13 bass, and 2 trout. Never start a sentence with numerals. Spell all numbers beginning sentences.
  • Avoid using the first person, I or we, in writing. Keep your writing impersonal, in the third person. Instead of saying, “We weighed the frogs and put them in a glass jar,” write, “The frogs were weighed and put in a glass jar.” An exception to this can be made in some field reports.
  • Avoid the use of slang and the overuse of contractions.
  • Be consistent in the use of tense throughout a paragraph, do not switch between past and present. It is best to use past tense.

Some common errors of English usage

  • Take care with “it’s” and “its”.Do not use an apostrophe when the meaning is “ofit”, as in “Morphine is an opiate. Its main effects are….”.”It’s” is an abbreviation of “it is” as in “It’s incorrect to use abbreviations in formal text”.
  • A related error is to introduce an apostrophe into plurals, or “plural’s” as some would say.
  • Drug names do not begin with a capital letter unless they are trade names, e.g. aspirin and Panadol.
  • The word “data” is a plural; hence “data are….” rather than “data is….”.Other plural words are: bacteria, media, criteria, phenomena.
  • “Dependent” is an adjective, “dependant” is a noun.So responses are “concentration-dependent”, not “dependant”.A dependant is someone who depends on someone else, as young children are their parents’ dependants.
  • “Lead” as a noun is the element (Pb), or possibly the strip of leather used to stop your dog escaping.The former is the only use in which this spelling is pronounced so as to rhyme with “red”.Errors are often seen in the use of this word as a verb.”Lead” is the present tense.The past tense is “led”; ie this word does not follow the same rule as “read”.
  • Latin words or phrases such as “in vivo, in vitro, in situ, et al, etc” should be in italics. Names of species should be in italics. The first word should have a capital letter but the second should not, and you may abbreviate the first letter after the first inclusion. For example: Homo sapiens, which can thereafter be written as H.sapiens; Mycobacterium leprae, later written as M. leprae.
  • Some words are frequently misspelled: occurred, protein, receive, noradrenaline, albumin, penicillin, parallel are examples.
  • All sentences must have a verb.