Your scientific paper will be written in the same format that professional scientists use to report their research. Scientific writing is brief, concise, and specific. You can write an excellent paper that includes all the necessary details in about 4 or 5 pages. Before you write your first draft, make sure you Understand the Experiment.
Every scientific paper includes each of the following parts:
Once you've written your rough draft, fix it up using the Handy Checklist
Don't make a Big Mistake. Avoid the pitfall of plagiarism.
Understanding your Experiment
The hardest part of understanding your experiment is knowing
A hypothesis is a statement that can be tested by conducting an experiment or collecting data. A hypothesis is sometimes described as an "educated guess," but is really a specific prediction. A hypothesis can be proven FALSE, but is
For example, suppose we want to study the effect of staying up late at night to cram for an exam. Does it help your grade, or hurt it? A simple hypothesis might be:
But scientists always try to make their hypotheses as specific as they can. So a better hypothesis would be:
This statement is testable. All we need are some good data on student sleep patterns and exam scores. We could test our hypothesis by performing an experiment, but it might be tough to find students who would be willing to risk making bad grades just to test our hypothesis. So instead, we can use a survey to collect the data, and see if the data support our hypothesis or refute it.
A good hypothesis deals with the relationship between two variables. In this case, one variable is the amount of sleep a student gets, and one is the student's grade on the exam. These two variables are expected to have a clear cause-and-effect relationship. We suspect that a lack of sleep will CAUSE the student's grade to be low. We call the grade the dependent variable because it depends on how much sleep a student gets. In any experiment, the scientist manipulates one variable to see how it affects the other variable. The one that the scientist manipulates is the independent variable , which causes changes in the dependent variable. When you look at a hypothesis, you should be able to quickly figure out which variable is independent and which is dependent.
Your title should be about 8 to 12 words long, and should mention both the independent and dependent variables.
A bad title: "Exam grades"
A weak title: "Sleep vs. Exam Grades"
A strong title:
Notice that both the independent variable (amount of sleep) and the dependent variable (exam score) are mentioned. It is clear that the grade depends on the amount of sleep.
The purpose of the introduction is to set the stage for your hypothesis. Your introduction should begin with background information that is general. Imagine that you are writing your introduction for a friend who has never had college biology. Give a clear explanation of what your study is all about, defining any specialized terms you use. Organize your introduction carefully: start off very broad, and then narrow down what you are talking about. For example, if you are writing about the effects of sleep on exam performance, you should start with the basics: why people need sleep, what happens during sleep, and what are some known results of a lack of sleep. In this part of the paper you will want to use information from various sources that you look up in the library, and cite the sources correctly. Then, narrow down your introduction to the specific hypothesis you tested.
Your methods section is pretty easy to write if you are careful about a couple of things:
The Results Section has two elements:
The text should describe the pattern or trends seen in your data. It should be short, but should give your reader a mental picture of what your results show. The results should be so complete and clear, that the reader doesn't have to look at your graph to get a clear picture of what the data show.
"The data from my survey show that students who get very little sleep before exams generally make grades less than 70%. Students who sleep less than 3 hours do not benefit greatly, but students who sleep 6 or more hours improve their exam scores by 150n average. In general, the more sleep a student gets before the exam, the better their exam grade will be. The pattern is the same in Biology 111 and 112. Students in Biology 112 generally score higher than students in Biology 111."
Note that the results section describes the general pattern, but does not list every data point. The data points are presented in graphs and tables.
Unless the nature of your data prevent it, you should graph your results. You are not required to use a computer - but you must use graph paper or a ruler to produce neat, accurate graphs. Colors are nice, but not required. Neatness counts!
A good graph has:
This is a good graph:
The red labels on the graph above are to show YOU what to include in your graph.
Don't put these red labels on the graphs you turn in!
The Discussion section is the hardest one to write, but is the most important. You can't write a good discussion until you have the rest of your paper in good shape.
Your discussion may or may not answer all of the following questions:
In your Literature Cited section, you must list every source you used in writing your report. The correct format is:
Author, date, title, publication information.
Horton, M.L., Kirchoff, B.K. and E.P. Lacey (1996). Enzymes. Pp. 35-48 in Principles of Biology: Molecules to Organisms, M.L. Horton et al, eds. Edina: Burgess International Group, Inc.
Citations from the Internet (World Wide Web) are somewhat different:
Author (date of message or visit), title of Web page or article, name of Web site, complete path.
Beeman, Richard (May 9, 1997). Insecticide Resistance in Tribolium. Tribolium Home Page, http://bru.usgmrl.ksu.edu/beeman/resist.html
__ Title includes both independent & dependent variables
__ Organization (correct material under each heading)
__ Appropriate use of past tense
__ Appropriate use of personal pronouns (I, he or she...but never "you")
__ Appropriate use of active voice
__ Literature is cited correctly in text
__ Spelling checked
__ Grammar checked
__ Scientific terminology defined.
__ Factors that might affect the experiment are introduced.
__ Hypothesis stated clearly.
__ Independent variable identified correctly.
__ Dependent variable identified correctly.
__ Written in your OWN words (not copied from the manual).
__ Written in paragraph form (clear & understandable).
__ Methods described adequately (important details included, unnecessary details eliminated).
__ Lab manual cited as the source of your methods.
__ Species you studied identified by its proper scientific name.
__ Purpose of each essential supply, chemical, or instrument explained.
__ Measurements and tests explained clearly
__ Data trends clearly described.
__ All data sets graphed.
__ Graphs neat & legible.
__ Graphs built and labeled correctly (variable & units of measure)
__ Do the data support the hypothesis?
__ Results compared to the class average?
__ Why did you get the results that you did? What caused things to turn out the way they did? Can you explain the chemistry, the physiology, or the evolutionary biology that produced the pattern you saw?
__ Discussion of the results of other students in the class? (What was their hypothesis? Was it supported or refuted? Why?
__ What further experiments might be interesting to perform? What would the hypotheses be?
__ How do your results matter to living organisms? (at the cellular level, or the whole-organism level)
VI. Literature Cited (5)
__ Complete citation for each source used (author, year, title, and publication information).
__ Have you cited the required number of sources?
Copyright © Michael Richmond. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.