This guide can be used by GCSE science and AS Level and A Level biology, AS Level and A2 Level chemistry and physics students who need to help to write up science coursework as part of their syllabus. This can apply to AQA, Edexcel, WJEC, OCR, SQA and CCEA specifications. However it also can be used as a general guideline for students who require help, advice and tips on how to write science practicals, scientific experiments and science reports for degree and university levels. It can also help students with the writing of science experiments and reports for Medicine, Biochemistry, Biomedical Science and Forensic Science as well as other subjects including Psychology, Ecology and Environmental Science.
There is a general standardised formal structure to writing science, biology and chemistry reports which you will need to follow. This section will deal with the basics that all science students should be aware of when writing up chemsitry coursework or biology coursework. All science practicals should be written in impersonal past tense. Impersonal means that you should avoid using any personal pronouns. These are phrases that include personal terms such as we, I, you, they, he or she. Past tense means that you must describe the experiment as if it has already been carried out (with the exception of any planning section that you may need to submit as part of your report). Avoid using future tense in any science, chemistry or biology practicals or writing it as if you are describing a method or instructions for others to follow. This can be quite difficult to master at first. Here is a couple of examples of the right and wrong way to style your report.
Wrong Personal - "WE added five cm3 of buffer solution to tubes A and B and then I incubated both tubes in a water bath at 37 degrees centigrade."
Right Impersonal - "Five cm3 of buffer solution WAS added to tubes A and B and THEN both tubes were incubated in a water bath at 37 degrees centigrade."
Wrong Future Tense - "YOU WILL need to label 5 tubes from one to five and add 1cm3 of reagent to each." Or "WE WILL be labelling 5 tubes from one to five and ADDING 1cm3 of reagent to each.""
Right Past tense - "Five tubes WERE labelled from one to five and 1cm3 of reagent WAS ADDED to each."
The sections usually included in science reports are:-
Your science report title should be short but detailed enough to accurately describe the work that has been carried out. At the top of your report you should also include the date and your name (the author) and the name of any collaborators if there were any.
Aim - The aim section should describe what the purpose of the biology or chemistry experiment is in no more than two or three sentences. This is fine for most reports for high school up to GCSE level.
Abstract - As you begin to study at a higher level i.e post 16/ undergraduate / university / postgraduate you will need to include an abstract section instead. This is a summary in one paragraph of the entire work including results and conclusion. In academic publications the abstract is useful as it allows others to quickly judge if your work is relevant and of interest to them and warrant more detailed reading. It provides a similar role to the summarised content you find on the back cover of a book. The most difficult aspect in writing an abstract is trying to summarise a long and complex report in a short paragraph without leaving out anything important.
This shows your understanding of the science behind the report but it must be relevant. In the science coursework background / introduction you include any background information you have found whilst researching your topic. Include relevant previous work done by yourself or others. Diagrams and images can be included if you so wish, but remember if you do use other sources such as books, other publications or internet sites then you MUST list those sources in your reference/ bibliography section.
Your science experiment hypothesis should be clear and be in the form of a question that you want to find the answer to. Ideally the question should have a yes or no answer. For example in a chemistry practical the following hypothesis may apply : "Does vitamin C in orange juice oxidise over time when exposed to the air?" A clear and well written hypothesis can help point the way
to what data you need to gather to help you find the answer. Once you know what data you need that helps in the experimental design. So as you can see the hypothesis is the foundation around which your report should be designed and built.
From the science experimental data you obtain (if the experiment is well planned and carried out) you should be able to say if the hypothesis has been either supported or not in your conclusion section.
Your science practical method should include a list of the equipment and the method used.
As already mentioned above, try to write your method in the the past tense (ie you are describing something you have already carried out) and avoid personal pronouns (I, we, you, he, she etc). As an example "Four test tubes were labelled 1 to 4" is better than "You will need to label four test tubes 1 to 4" or "We labelled four test tubes 1 to 4". This is quite tricky at first but you get the hang of it once you have written a few reports.
Your method must be detailed enough for others to follow and repeat your work if required but should NOT be written in a style as if it is a series of instructions for others. Again quite tricky until you get the knack. The reproducibility of results by others is one of the cornerstones of the scientific method.
Your science experimental results section should be well presented and include your data in table and graphical form. Any calculations you used on your data including statistical tests if required should also be in this section. Presentation is everything and all graphs should have a title and all axis should be labelled. Do not scale your graphs so that they fill the entire page and butt right up against the margin (a pet hate of mine). It is better to divide your scale by two and have a smaller half sized graph in the centre of the page. If you use this approach you may be able to fit more than one graph per page allowing the reader to review your graphical data and spot trends more easily. If the graphs are on separate pages then they have to flip back and forth between them. You need to choose the correct type of graph for the data you are presenting. A histogram is ideal for comparing two groups whilst a line graph is better for showing how enzyme activity varies with temperature.
You must resist the temptation to make any comments on your results in the results section. That is what the conclusion section is for. An experienced scientist will, by looking at the your results, be formulating their own conclusions based on your data and you should not influence your reader by including your own thoughts and comments here. Once the reader has reviewed your data and maybe come up with their own conclusion they can then move on to the conclusion section and see if your conclusion and theirs agree.
This is where you review your data and state your opinions and arguments of what the results show AT LENGTH. A half page conclusion is not going to get you a good grade. You should quote the data in the results section in support of the scientific conclusion you are making. Such as "as can be seen by graph 3 there is a marked difference between group A and group B which allows the conclusion that ....." etc.
You should state if the hypothesis has been supported or not. Your readers can then decide if they agree or disagree with your conclusions. This is the basis of scientific debate. If the data obtained is not sufficient to support or reject the hypothesis state why and propose further work that will help to generate more data allowing you to be able to draw a firmer conclusion.
You should include here sources of error that might effect the results. Remember a good scientist is always self critical.
If you have used measuring apparatus such as weighing scales for mass or glassware for measuring volumes then you may need to calculate the percentage error of the measuring apparatus. The formula is the smallest graduation halved then divide that number by the volume or mass measured. Finally multiply by 100 to get a percentage.
If you have used a pipette to measure 20cm3 of solution and the smallest graduations on the pipette are 0.1cm3 apart this means that the actual volume dispensed may be 0.05cm3 (which is 0.1 ÷ 2) above or below 20cm3. The actual amount dipensed will be between 19.95cm3 and 20.05cm3.
To calculate the percentage error for this measurement
0.1÷2=0.05 and (0.05÷20)*100 = 0.25%
Also you could propose here further work or investigations that might be able to produce further data that will support your conclusions.
Always suggest improvements Some students believe, mistakenly I may add, that suggesting improvements to an experiment is admitting that they did not carry out the experiment competently. However there are always improvements that can be made. Even if you are sure that you carried out the experiment to the best of your ability, you may have been limited by the equipment available or time. If you had to repeat the experiment again ask yourself what you would do differently to achieve a better result. If you did make a mistake during the experiment, include it in your evaluation, say what effect it may have had on the result and state what you would do to avoid it next time. In my experience students who do not suggest any improvments in their report and state that they did not make any mistakes because they are just well, awesome do not get the best grades. It is always a good idea to suggest improvements as it shows that you are capable of critical thinking.
You must include all the external sources of information you have used in compiling your report. Each source should be described in sufficient detail to allow the reader to locate and read the source themselves. One standard way for example of quoting a section in a book would be to in this format.
Author(s), Book Title and Edition (year of publication),Publisher, page numbers
Stryer L, et al, Biochemistry 5th ed (2002),W.H.Freeman & Co Ltd, p102-105
Or for a magazine or paper in a scientific journal.
Author(s)(year),Title,Publication and volume, page numbers.
Watson J.D. and Crick F.H.C.(1953) A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid Nature 171, 737-738
If there are more than two authors for a source name the main or first author and use the Latin "et al" which means "and others".
For website sources you should quote the full website address.
We hope you have found this guide on how to write a science practical useful and wish you the very best with your grades.
By Emlyn Price - Home Tutors Directory
This guide is original and has been based on our own experiences of advising students during many years of tuition. It is protected by copyright. You may use this for your own personal use or for teaching purposes. It should not however be re-published wholly or in part on other websites or in written publications and certainly not passed off as anyone else's work. If you have seen this article published elsewhere we would like you to let us know by contacting us here.. We can then take action against them.
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