Writing Topic: Tips for Writing First-Year Biology Labs

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Writing Tips for First-Year Biology Lab Reports

 

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TitleAbstractIntroductionMaterials and MethodsResultsDiscussionReferencing

Title

The Basics

The Basics: usually includes main objective, species involved, and location (if relevant). The title may be derived from the x and y-axis of the main figure

Example: The distribution and effects of invasive earthworm populations in an eastern Ontario temperate forest

Dos and Don'ts

Dos and Don’ts

Do include detail so the title is not too short or too vague.

Don’t exceed approximately 15 words.

Abstract

The Basics

The Basics: a brief description of a report that summarizes the key elements in one to three sentences each:

  • the objective of the study/statement of the problem (often taken from the title), often includes wording such as this: “This study was undertaken in order to…”
  • the main details of the methods
  • the most important results (with statistical significance if relevant)
  • the main conclusion(s) and interpretation(s) of the study (from the discussion)
Example
Dos and Don'ts

Dos and Don’ts

Do write in complete sentences.

Don’t refer to other works, include too much detail, or give statistical details (e.g., p values). 

Introduction

The Basics

The Basics – usually includes 3 paragraphs:

1. Introduces the relevance of the topic or question to be explored (why we are interested).
2. Introduces overview of current, relevant research and usually includes at least 3 cited studies (what we currently know).
3. Introduces purpose of this study*/proposes how experiment* will attempt to answer the question posed (what we will contribute).
Dos and Don'ts

Dos and Don’ts:

Do integrate source material into your writing (begin and end the second paragraph in your own words).

Don’t use source material unrelated to your topic or simply summarize results of studies without integrating this information with your own study.

Definitions

*Definitions:

A hypothesis is a possible explanation for what causes something to occur (e.g., the movement of earthworms is facilitated by human activities such as fishing and driving).

A prediction is an expected result that should be observed if the hypothesis is true – a pattern in the collected data (e.g., if the above hypothesis is true, then we should expect to see more earthworms – greater numbers and more diversity of species – near boat launches and roads).

A study usually means an observational study in which researchers observe subjects and measure variables but do not assign subjects to treatments or manipulate them in any way. In an experiment, researchers control/manipulate the primary variables and usually assign subjects to treatments.

Materials and Methods

The Basics

The Basics: describes the materials and equipment used, the experimental design, and a step-by-step process of the experiment

Dos

Do

  • include enough detail so the experiment can be repeated.
  • use the past tense and complete but concise sentences.
  • include information related to statistical methods, if used.

Results

The Basics

The Basics: presents the findings of the experiment in text and in figures and/or tables

1. Starts with a summary statement of main results
2. Includes statements of statistical significance
3. Provides a figure
Dos and Don'ts

Dos and Don’ts

Do

  • be sure to include a caption at the bottom of figures and at the top of tables and axis labels for graphs.
  • avoid redundancy between text and graphs (graphs present results more specifically).
  • use the past tense and complete but concise sentences.

Don’t

  • interpret or discuss results.
  • include any references or raw data in the text.
  • provide the same information in a figure and a table – use one or the other.
  • use vague, imprecise modifiers such as “very” and “much.”

Discussion

The Basics

The Basics: generally includes five paragraphs that explain the results of the study, suggest possible sources of error/how the study could be improved, and provide support from sources.

1. Introduction
2. Analysis paragraphs
3. Summary
Dos and Don'ts

Dos and Don’ts

Do

  • discuss all of the main results, even/especially if they were unexpected, appear not to agree with your other results, or appear not to agree with the literature.
  • begin each paragraph with a sentence that introduces a particular result, not that gives facts from another study.
  • use your textbook and other sources (such as review papers) to learn about your topic so you can present an informed discussion.
  • emphasize your own thinking – you should devise your own reasons to explain your results.
  • be sure your reasoning relates to biological processes rather than offering only logical or “common sense” explanations.

Don’t

  • use source material that is not relevant to your study.
  • over-citedon’t cite general knowledge such as material from your textbook or from review papers; cite only specific results from studies (secondary sources such as review papers present an overview of research while primary sources are studies that present the results of experimentation).
  • Place too much emphasis on experimental error as the most significant reason for the results.

Referencing

The Basics

The Basics: refer to 3-5 sources per lab assignment – references should be primary literature, not reviews, general websites, textbooks, or encyclopedia. Use the referencing style in the articles from the journal Ecology.

Example:

Hargrave, C. W., K.D. Hambright, and J. W. Weider. 2011. Variation in resource consumption across a gradient of increasing intra- and interspecific richness. Ecology 92: 1226-1235.

Dos and Don'ts

Do

  • cite in your text all specific information derived from a source.
  • check to ensure all references cited in the text are listed in the Literature Cited section and vice versa.
  • check references very carefully so that the style in Ecology is followed exactly: take note of capitalization, punctuation, the order of authors’ names, the use of “and” vs. “&,” etc.

Don’t

  • over-cite – cite only specific findings from particular studies, not general knowledge.
  • quote sources directly.
  • paraphrase a source too closely – use your own words.

 

 

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