Guidelines for Methods and Materials and Results
Methods and Materials:
1. Is the methods and materials section in past tense? Some professors require that the methods and materials be in the passive voice without the use of “I” or “us.”
2. If the method was obtained from a lab manual or based upon published literature, is the manual or journal cited and are changes made to that procedure noted?
3. Does the paper specify the genus and species name of all organisms?
Ex: Brasica rapa (Genus species)
4. Are the apparatuses, tools, machinery, and other piece of equipment described?
5. Are the conditions and quantities of material specified?
6. Do the paragraphs flow in a readable way and avoid sounding like a recipe, and have enough detail (but not too much) such that another scientist could repeat the experiment?
Results:
1. Does the written part of the results summarize the data and point out important trends or patterns in the data?
2. Does the written data “send” the reader to important findings and mention figures and table by number in the text of the paragraph?
3. Is the quantitative data, which may also be in the form of graphs and tables, integrated into the body of the results?
4. Is the word “significant” only used when the data has undergone statistical tests that indicated the difference was statistically significant?
5. Is the data presented as tables or graphs clear and do the graphs accurately describe the results of the experiment?
6. Are the graphs and tables clearly titled to go with well written descriptive body text (or figure legends) that accurately describe the table or graph? Are all axes labeled clearly? (Table title on top, Figure title on bottom)
7. Are the results presented in a way that is relevant to the hypothesis?
8. In some cases, sample calculations should be shown or further explanation of calculations should be included in the appendix.
9. The results section should only describe the results; there should be no analysis or interpretation of the data.

 

Science Writing Workshop III—Discussions
Discussion:
So, you did the experiment. What did you find? How does that relate to your hypothesis? What does that mean to you, to the experiment, to the rest of the world? Why is it important? What might have gone wrong? (Why? How?) What went according to plan? What surprised you? What would you have changed? How would you expand the project?
1. Are the results discussed in the context of supporting or not supporting the hypothesis? One can never prove something experimentally, but one can disprove or support a hypothesis or conclusions.
2. Are the conclusions reached from the results logical and explainable?
3. Are other studies used, if needed, to compare the results of this experiment or paper with other published data?
4. Are negative results explained in the context of experimental error, confounding variables, or some other hypothesis taken from personal experience or the literature?
5. Does the discussion address the major implications of your findings?
6. Does the discussion include other possible experiments or observations that could enhance the understanding of the topic?


These questions were originally created by Sarah Cutler and Erin Whitehouse are taken in part from:

McMillan, Victoria, E. (2001). Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences. 3rd edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins.

 

Lab Report Checklist
Title:
1. Does the title precisely state the topic and experimental organism of the paper or experiment?
Abstract:
1. Does the abstract concisely present the main points of the paper including the hypothesis, introduction, results, and conclusions?
2. Are there words or phases that could be eliminated?
Introduction:
1. Is tense consistent? It is often easier to write the Introduction in the past tense, but some (writers and professors) prefer present tense
2. Are key concepts significant to the paper or the experiment introduced?
3. Does the introduction put the current experiment in context with previous work?
4. Is there information that is unnecessary and can be eliminated or are there concepts that need to be explained in more detail?
5. Is the hypothesis clearly stated in the end of the introduction and does the introduction lead up to the hypothesis?
6. If needed, is the null hypothesis clearly stated?
Ex: If trichome number is controlled by a single on/off gene, then smooth parents should have exclusively smooth offspring.
7. Is the alternative hypothesis clearly states, if needed?
Ex: Alternatively, if the interbreeding of hairy Brassica does not produce offspring with more hairs, the resulting generation will show wild-type characteristics.
Methods and Materials:
1. Is the methods and materials section in the past tense? Active voice is clearer and more interesting—the trend in the biological sciences is to use active voice. Some disciplines and professors (notably chemistry) still prefer passive voice without the use of “I” or “we”.
2. Does the paper specify the genus and species name of all organisms?
Ex: Brassica rapa (Genus species)
3. Are the apparatuses, tools, machinery, and other piece of equipment described?
4. Are the conditions and quantities of material specified?
5. Has someone else (another investigator, the professor who wrote the lab manual) outlined a procedure which you followed? If yes, summarize briefly any changes you made and refer the reader to the article/lab manual you followed.
6. Have you used enough detail so that the experiment could be accurately repeated by another independent investigator, but not so much that the methods and materials are long and overly tedious to read? (Did you avoid writing a recipe?)
Results:
1. Does the written part of the results summarize the data and point out important trends or patterns in the data?
2. Do the written data “send” the reader to important findings and mention figures and table by number in the text of the paragraph?
3. Are the quantitative data, which may also be in the form of graphs and tables, integrated into the body of the results?
4. Is the word “significant” only used when the data has undergone statistical tests that indicated the difference was statistically significant?
5. Are the data presented as tables or graphs clear and do the graphs accurately describe the results of the experiment?
6. Are the graphs and tables clearly titled with figure legends that accurately describe the table or graph? Are all axes labeled clearly?
7. Do figures (graphs, pictures) have descriptive titles at the bottom? Do tables have descriptive titles at the top?
8. Are the results presented in a way that is relevant to the hypothesis?
9. Is it necessary to show calculations or raw data? Could such detail be better in an appendix for the truly curious?
10. Did you avoid interpreting the results? The results section should only describe the results; there should be no analysis or interpretation of the data.
Discussion:
1. What did you find? How does that relate to your hypothesis? What does that mean to you, to the experiment, to the rest of the world? Why is it important? What might have gone wrong? (Why? How?) What went according to plan? What surprised you? What would you have changed? How would you expand the project?
2. Are the results discussed in the context of supporting or not supporting the hypothesis? One can never prove something experimentally, but one can disprove or support a hypothesis or conclusions.
3. Are the conclusions reached from the results logical and explainable?
4. Are other studies used, if needed, to compare the results of this experiment or paper with other published data? (Proper citations?)
5. Are negative results explained in the context of experimental error, confounding variables, or some other hypothesis taken from personal experience or the literature?
6. Does the discussion address the major implications of your findings?
7. Does the discussion include other possible experiments or observations that could enhance the understanding of the topic?
Literature Cited:
1. Are in-text literature references cited as (author(s) date) in text?
2. Are all the papers cited in your paper listed in correct format in the literature-cited section at the end of your paper? (There should be no papers you did not read in your literature cited.)
3. Have you cited all the papers in your literature-cited section within the body of your paper? (Hint: if you haven’t mentioned a particular article in your paper, don’t put it in your literature cited. If there were anything key or important in an article, you would have cited it.)
4. Consult a reference manual (McMillan ch. 6, esp. pp. 118-124, Keys for Writers or the APA Style Guide, http://www.apastyle.org/elecref.html) or journal articles for models.These questions were originally created by Sarah Cutler (’03) and Erin Whitehouse (’02) are taken in part from:

McMillan, Victoria, E. (2001). Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences. 3rd edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins.
Guidelines for Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences
General Notes:
1. Be concise
2. Keep verb tense consistent, especially within sections of lab reports. Active voice is much clearer than passive voice. (McMillan, pp. 65, 145-147)
3. Proofread! Tips: read paper out loud or find someone (non science folks are especially good for checking writing as separate from content) to read the paper.
4. Maintain a constant level of tone or formality. Avoid “mall speak.”
5. Words like basically, and then, hopefully, and utilize (among others) are over used and contribute little to your paper. Avoid them.
4. Consult a writing guide. Victoria McMillan’s Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, Third Edition. (St. Martin’s, 2001) is one great source.
Hints for citing articles:
1. If there is information in your paper that you can find in an introductory textbook, you don’t need to cite it.
Ex. Don’t cite: Brassica have been bread to grow quickly. (Williams and Hill, 1986).
Do cite: In addition to their hardiness, rapid-cycling Brassica produce up to ten generations of seeds every year; this makes them ideal for selective breeding experiments (Williams and Hill, 1986).
2. Quote (and cite!) IDEAS, not another scientist’s words. You will (almost) never need to take a direct quote from an article. (See McMillan pp. 97-98)
3. If you want to use information from an article cited in something you read (i.e. something you did not read) leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
Ex. No: Plant growth and development are often unstudied in secondary level biology and general science classrooms due to lack of plant material (Crowder, et al, 1980).
Yes: Plant growth and development are often unstudied in secondary level biology and general science classrooms due to lack of plant material (Crowder, et al, 1980 in Williams and Hill, 1996).
4. If you have already mentioned the authors in the sentence, proper in text citation looks like this: Williams and Hill (1986) describe selected breeding criteria for Fast Plants.
This is the article I’m citing:
Williams, P. H., Hill, C. B., 1986. Rapid-Cycling Populations of Brassica. Science, New Series, 232 (4756): 1385-1389.