High Impact Practices for Research Report Writing in Science

High Impact Practices for Research Report
Writing in Science
M.A. Akbarsha
Director & Chair
Mahatma gandhi-Doerenkamp Center
Bharathidasan University
Tiruchirappalli 620 024
What is a thesis?
What is a dissertation?
What is a Ph.D. dissertation/thesis?
It’s one’s way of proving the adjudicators that he/she a competent
scientist in his/her own right, capable of standing on his/her own feet as
a scientist, researcher, and academic.
It is where one demonstrates:
That he/she is capable of making original, valuable contributions in an
active field of research.
That he/she is aware of and informed about the broad landscape of
his/her field, the background and currently competing work being done on
his/her specific sub-field, and that his/her professional opinions are wellinformed and backed up by his/her knowledge and legitimate reasoning.
That the body of work he/she submits in his/her dissertation is
comprehensive enough to merit a Ph.D.
And, perhaps most importantly, that he/she is ready to go off and
continue his/her research (if he/she so chooses) without the guidance of
his/her mentor(s).
What a Ph.D. dissertation/thesis is not:
Not the definitive work on whatever your primary
research topic is.
Not going to settle long-standing arguments in
one’s field.
Not the most important piece of research or writing
one will ever undertake.
And finally, it is very likely not even a document that
anyone outside of his/her adjudicators (with the
exception of a few good friends) will ever read.
A thesis can have different goals.
 It can be analytical, persuasive, confirmatory,
expository, informative and/or descriptive.
 As long as one will follow the correct methods of
research, then he/she can write a quality thesis
with any of these goals.
 In fact, research is usually capable of removing
any vague information about a topic.
 Therefore, one can specifically tell whether a
research result is acceptable or not.
Hallmarks of an “Excellent” Piece of Scientific
Provides a thoughtful answer to a question worth asking.
The hypothesis and central ideas of the work are clearly
The thesis clearly addresses any nuances and complexity,
but stays on track, without straying unnecessarily from
the main point.
(2) Support:
The data presented convincingly support the main
It should be clear that the author has critically and
thoroughly analyzed the data, as well as the work of
(3) Organization and Coherence:
The document is well organized and logically structured
and follows a standard scientific format that is familiar to
the reader.
Transitions are well crafted and lead the reader easily from
one experiment and/or observation and/or idea to the next.
Paragraphs make clear points in support of the
question/hypothesis and represent logical transitions from
one idea to the next.
the Strategy of Style
If a man can group his ideas, then he is a
Robert Louis Stevenson
The organization of a scientific document can
be viewed as a beginning, middle, and ending
Back Matter
Middle Sections
(4) Style:
The document demonstrates that the author has a clear
command of the English language.
The sentence style is appropriate for the scientific audience
and varied enough to keep their interest.
Words are chosen carefully and for their precise meaning.
Style is the way one communicates
the content to the audience
[Peterson, 1987]
(5) Mechanics:
The document contains very few, if any, spelling,
punctuation, or grammatical errors.
Abbreviations are defined the first time they appear in the
References follow standard, accepted format.
Form embodies the format and mechanics
of the writing
Developing a Title
Titles should
Describe contents clearly and precisely, so that readers can
decide whether to read the report
Provide key words for indexing
Titles should NOT
Include wasted words such as "studies on," "an investigation
Use abbreviations and jargon
Good Titles
The Relationship of Luteinizing Hormone to Obesity in the
Zucker Rat
Poor Titles
An Investigation of Hormone Secretion and Weight in Rats
Fat Rats: Are Their Hormones Different?
The Abstract (Summary & Conclusions?)
Issues to consider when writing an abstract
What is the report about, in miniature and without specific
State main objectives. (What did you investigate? Why?)
Describe methods. (What did you do?)
Summarize the most important results. (What did you find out?)
State major conclusions and significance. (What do your results
mean? So what?)
What to avoid:
Do not include references to figures, tables, or sources.
Do not include information not in report.
Additional tips:
Find out maximum length (may vary from 50 to 300+ words).
Process: Extract key points from each section. Condense in
successive revisions.
The Introduction
Guidelines for effective scientific report introductions.
What is the problem?
Describe the problem investigated.
Summarize relevant research to provide context, key terms,
and concepts so your reader can understand the experiment.
Why is it important?
Review relevant research to provide rationale. (What conflict
or unanswered question, untested population, untried method
in existing research does your experiment address? What
findings of others are you challenging or extending?)
What solution (or step toward a solution) is proposed?
Briefly describe the experiment: hypothesis(es), research
question(s); general experimental design or method;
justification of method if alternatives exist.
Additional tips:
Move from general to specific: Problem in real world/research
literature --> your experiment.
Engage your reader: answer the questions, "What did you do?"
"Why should I care?"
Make clear the links between problem and solution, question asked
and research design, prior research and the present experiment.
Be selective, not exhaustive, in choosing studies to cite and amount
of detail to include. (In general, the more relevant an article is to
your study, the more space it deserves and the later in the
Introduction it appears.)
Ask the supervisor whether to summarize results and/or conclusions
in the Introduction.
Methods Section
Some questions to consider for effective methods sections in
scientific reports.
How was the problem studied?
Briefly explain the general type of scientific procedure you
What was/were used?
(May be sub-headed as Materials)
Describe what materials, subjects, and equipment (chemicals,
experimental animals, apparatus, etc.) you used. (These may be
sub-headed Animals, Reagents, etc.)
How did you proceed?
(May be sub-headed as Methods or Procedures)
Explain the steps you took in your experiment. (These may be
sub-headed by experiment, types of assay, etc.)
Additional tips:
Provide enough detail for replication. For a journal article, include,
for example, genus, species, strain of organisms; their source,
living conditions, and care; and sources (manufacturer, location) of
chemicals and apparatus.
Order procedures chronologically or by type of procedure
(subheaded) and chronologically within type.
Use past tense to describe what you did.
Quantify when possible: concentrations, measurements, amounts
(all metric); times (24-hour clock); temperatures (centigrade)
What to avoid:
Don't include details of common statistical procedures.
Don't mix results with procedures.
Results Section
Some questions asked for effective results sections in scientific
What did you observe?
For each experiment or procedure:
Briefly describe experiment without detail of Methods section (a
sentence or two).
Report main result(s), supported by selected data:
Representative: most common
Best Case: best example of ideal or exception
Additional tips:
Order multiple results logically:
From most to least important
From simple to complex
Organ by organ; chemical class by chemical class
Use past tense to describe what happened.
What to avoid:
Don't simply repeat table data; select.
Don't interpret results.
Avoid extra words: "It is shown in Table 1 that X induced Y" --> "X
induced Y (Table 1).
Discussion Section
Some questions effective discussion sections in scientific reports
What do your observations mean?
Summarize the most important findings at the beginning.
What conclusions can you draw?
For each major result:
Describe the patterns, principles, relationships your results show.
Explain how your results relate to expectations and to literature
cited in your Introduction. Do they agree, contradict, or are they
exceptions to the rule?
Explain plausibly any agreements, contradictions, or exceptions.
Describe what additional research might resolve contradictions or
explain exceptions.
How do your results fit into a broader context?
Suggest the theoretical implications of your results.
Suggest practical applications of your results?
Extend your findings to other situations or other species.
Give the big picture: do your findings help us understand a broader
Additional tips:
Move from specific to general: your finding(s) -->literature, theory,
Don't ignore or bury the major issue. Did the study achieve the goal
(resolve the problem, answer the question, support the hypothesis)
presented in the Introduction?
Make explanations complete.
Give evidence for each conclusion.
Discuss possible reasons for expected and unexpected findings.
What to avoid:
Don't over-generalize.
Don’t repeat the results.
Don't ignore deviations in your data.
Avoid speculation that cannot be tested in the foreseeable
One has to write ONE
At the end, “Dr” can be
prefixed to ones name
Writing a thesis is hard, painful work
The fun part (the research) has already
been done
It’s unlike any other document
Thesis writing is not a marketable skill
A thesis is the license for academia
In the process, one will learn
How to research
How to write
It will introduce ones research to a wider
The adjudicators
Fellow researchers?
It will make one famous
It will radically change science
It will advance our knowledge
Just a little
Main benefit is in teaching one to research
Ok, when do I start?
So I’m motivated
 When do I actually
start writing?
6 months before the
end of my grant?
No, the day you start
your PhD
Write it all down!
Don’t worry, it’s never
too late to start
PhD thesis
Opens a new area
Provides unifying
Resolves long-standing
Thoroughly explores
Contradicts existing
Experimentally validates
Produces ambitious
Provides empirical data
Derives superior
Develops new
Develops new tool
Produces negative
So, how do I start?
Write a thesis message
1 sentence
1 paragraph
1 page
Everything one writes
should be directed at
Thesis (noun).
1. A proposition maintained
by argument
2. A dissertation advancing
original research
Thesis message
One is tackling an
important research
He/she has made an
original contribution to
its resolution
What next?
So, I’ve got a good
thesis message
 What do I do next?
Write the table of
Logical structure of
your thesis
How long will it take?
Depends on many
Heavy-tailed distribution
How long is a piece of string?
How much you’ve written
as papers
Min = 2 months (v. rare)
Max = infinity
Mean = infinity
Median = 6-9 months
“Your thesis is your
P. Prosser
Give it 9 months
Write it up
Fill in gaps, expts …
“You have to know
when to let it go”
Put a fence around
what you’ve done
What next?
So, I’ve got a good
thesis message
 And a table of
contents, timetable
and committee
 What do I do next?
What next?
What do I do next?
Work to your
Writing each chapter
Don’t start with the
Introduction or
Start where the author
feels happiest
Typically a middle
Write outwards
Finally Conclusions and
end with the Introduction
Write everything with
the thesis message in
Writing each chapter
Get feedback before
writing too much
One person to read each
chapter as it is written
Another person to read
thesis in order
Lay some good
Writing each chapter
One will discover holes
in your research
Theorems you haven’t
Experiments you didn’t
Different problems or
Mix writing with more
Rule of Three
Within each chapter, repeat 3
Within thesis, repeat
contributions 3 times
Intro. We will show ..
Body. Show them ..
Concl. We have shown ..
Intro chapter
Main chapters
Conclusion chapter
But don’t bore reader
E.g. in introduction be brief, in
conclusions be broader
Common mistake
Complex sentences
full of long words?
A thesis should be a
simple, convincing
Common problems
It’s never possible to
cover all issues
So you will never
It’s sometimes
enough to identify
the issues
Examiners greatly
appreciate finding a
few mistakes
Common problems
Writing too much
There are rules about
maximum length
But rarely rules about the
Nash’s PhD thesis
27 pages long
Won him a Nobel prize
What are examiners
looking for?
Review of literature
Is the literature
Is the review critical
or just descriptive?
Is it comprehensive?
Does it link to the
methodology in the
Does it summarize
the essential
Is there a clear
Are precautions
taken against bias?
Are the limitations
Is the data collected
Is the methodology
What are examiners
looking for?
Presentation of
Have the hypotheses
in fact been tested?
Are the results shown
to support the
Is the data properly
Are the results
presented clearly?
Are patterns identified
and summarized?
Discussion and
Are the limits of the
research identified?
Are the main points
to emerge identified?
Are links made to the
Is there theoretical
Are the speculations
well grounded?
It’s all over
What do you do next?
Turn it into a book
Publish some journal
articles around it
Make copies for your
parents, …
Make a copy for yourself
Or end up there
It’s all over
Finished writing the
 What to do next?
Just think, you’ll
never have to do it