Students of biology often mistakenly believe that they do not need to cultivate good writing skills. However, like all scientists, biologists must be able to effectively communicate their hypotheses, procedures, methodologies, results and conclusions. The clear, precise and logical presentation of data is the core of scientific reporting, enabling other scientists to replicate experiments and thereby corroborate or falsify previous findings in order to arrive at reliable, reproducible results.
Though you may be required to submit a number of different kinds of paper during the course of your biology degree, the most common one is likely to be the lab report. Far from being a routine matter of simply ‘writing up' your results, a well-written lab report requires a great deal of careful thought, planning, and attention to detail. It is therefore imperative to leave yourself sufficient time to compose your essay, which may need to go through several drafts before arriving at a version suitable for submission. Taking time to plan, write and rewrite your lab reports could make a huge difference to your overall grades.
A typical biology essay should have a concise, informative title, followed by a brief, one-paragraph abstract of the paper to follow (this will usually be written last).
The introduction then presents your objectives and hypothesis, and may also indicate the broader scientific context and significance of the work.
The rationale and parameters thereby clearly stated, the next section will describe your materials and methods. This is a crucial component of any formal lab report, at once providing a detailed account of the procedures that were followed and serving as a set of instructions for others to replicate the experiment.
This section should be thorough and precise yet avoid unnecessary detail, including only what is necessary in order for the experiment to be accurately reproduced.
Next, the results section presents your findings in a clear, well-structured and accessible way (perhaps using a chart or graph format), highlighting those observations that are most relevant to your hypothesis. This section should not contain an interpretation of the results, which must instead be presented in a separate discussion section.
Your discussion section is where you 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 in biology to provide plausible explanations for your outcomes, and compare your results with those of other studies.
Finally, your conclusion will succinctly summarise your findings and suggest potential follow-up studies.
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