Appendix B: Writing Scientific Reports

The resources below contain guidelines for how to write a scientific report. You should always follow the specific instructions for assignments in your class, but these resources provide additional help that might be useful.

Please note that there are different opinions expressed – for example, not all agree on the verb tense you should use in a report.  However, there are some great examples and guidelines here.  If you don’t know where to start, I suggest starting with the website from Bates College.  Good luck!

References (Online):

Department of Biology Bates College, (2011, March 7). The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper.

Deel, Sarah. (2006, January) Lab Report Guide: How to Write in the Format of a Scientific Paper. Carleton College Biology Department.

Tischler, Marc E. Scientific Writing Booklet. (ret. 12/4/2018)  Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, University of Arizona.

 References (Books)

Heard, Stephen B. (2016) The Scientist’s Guide to Writing: How to Write More Easily and Effectively throughout Your Scientific Career. Princeton University Press, 320 p. ISBN-13: 978-0691170220

This book provides tips to improve scientific writing and to improve productivity.

Pechenik, Jan A. (2013) A Short Guide to Writing about Biology. Pearson, 276 p. ISBN-13: 978-0205075072

Although this is written for biologists, most of the book is applicable to the writing in the geosciences.  It is a concise and well-written book.

Silvia, Paul J. (2018) How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, 2nd ed. APA LifeTools, 110 p. ISBN-13: 978-1433829734

This is a motivation book – need tips to help you write more productively?  Look here!


List of common feedback comments on scientific reports written for the Laboratory Techniques in Geology course at JMU:

  • Did you edit for spelling and grammar?
  • Do not use the possessive (“the spectrum’s range.”). Use alternative sentence construction like “the spectral range,” or “the range of the spectrum.”
  • Don’t include website references for published peer-reviewed papers (this is different from citations of YouTube videos).
  • Include citations of references within the text.  Include the year in your citation.
  • If you can quantify something, do.
  • No direct quoting in scientific writing.
  • Written in 3rd person (sometimes 1st person is OK).  2nd person is not OK.
  • Write in complete sentences.
  • Methods: only include relevant information about your measurements. Past tense is typically used.
  • Results should always include text: a description of the data.
  • Label your figures (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.)  and include figure captions.
  • Interpretation: we are looking for application and creative scientific thinking as opposed to recitation of information.
  • Graphs in digital form only. Label all figures, including ones you borrow from other sources.  Refer to figures in the text.
  • You should include figures in your introduction and results.

Licenses and Attributions

Text written by Elizabeth Johnson, JMU

CC-by License