Like all scientists, chemists must be able to effectively communicate their hypotheses, procedures, methods, results and conclusions in writing. The ability to write clearly, succinctly and precisely is crucial, enabling other chemists to replicate experiments in order to arrive at reliable, reproducible results.
The best writing in chemistry, as in science generally, is simple and direct. Such writing is not only the most readily understood, but also tends to be the most forceful and authoritative.
Whenever writing in chemistry you should:
- Strive for clarity, concision and economy.
- Keep your sentences short and to the point.
- Eliminate redundancy and avoid digressions.
- Be precise in your choice of words.
- Use transitions.
- Use the third person, passive voice, unless instructed otherwise.
- Use tenses consistently and make sure the subject and verb agree.
- Avoid beginning a sentence with a numeric value, equation or symbol.
- Use the past tense to describe a procedure except when citing but the present tense for scientific facts (e.g. the properties of a molecule).
- Cite your sources as well as your findings.
- Proofread your paper carefully and never simply rely on your computer spell-checker.
The title of your paper should clearly and succinctly reflect its contents. It may state the subject of the article or its major conclusion, and should be as concise and informative as possible.
The abstract is a clear, highly condensed summary of the report. Its purpose is to inform busy readers and researchers of the report’s contents without having to read it all. It should succinctly state the principal objectives and scope of your experiment and concisely summarise the results and principal conclusions. It should be no longer than a short paragraph of around 300 words.
The introduction should provide all the information needed to make sense of the rest of paper. It should state the principle objectives, methods and conclusion, and may briefly summarise the relevant theoretical background. An introduction should usually take up no more than three-quarters of a page.
A good experimental (procedure) section should include all and only that information necessary for another researcher to replicate what you did in the lab. If your experimental procedure is taken from a lab manual, do not copy it out but simply reference the source, noting any changes you may have introduced. It is often a good idea to subdivide this section into the following three sections: Materials, Preparation of Compounds, and Instrumentation.
Your results section should present the data in condensed form, preferably tabulated for ease of reference. All tables, charts, graphs, diagrams and figures must be numbered and labelled so that you can refer to them in the discussion section. This section should also include any sample calculations.
Your discussion section is the most important part of your lab report. In this section you should:
- analyse and interpret your results with reference to your tables and diagrams;
- assess the quality and limitations of your data and procedure;
- evaluate the extent to which the findings support your hypothesis;
- draw upon your background knowledge to provide plausible explanations of your experimental outcomes;
- compare your results with those of other studies and expected values (as calculated or drawn from the literature); and
- draw your conclusions.
Your discussion section should end with a brief summary or conclusion regarding the significance of the work.
The conclusion should refer back to the objectives stated in the introduction, summarise your findings and discuss the implications of your study. You might also briefly indicate possible lines of follow-up research.
Be sure to provide complete references, listing all the literature you cite or otherwise draw upon in your paper. These must appear in alphabetical order and in accordance with your department’s preferred citation style.
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