A Report should contain the following sections:
There may also contain an Appendix for additional information not included in the main report e.g. raw data tables, informed consent forms, instructions to subjects, questionnaires etc.
This guide is to be used to assist your writing of practical reports and project dissertation. Bear in mind practices may vary according to institution and therefore your reports may have strict guidelines and marking criteria. As expectations can differ, it is suggested that you check with the board or staff member who will be marking your work.
The title is a concise statement of your work – as brief as possible – a max of 10 – 12 words is recommended, with no abbreviations. If it is structured as a question, make sure it ends with a question mark.
Poor: ‘An experiment to investigate the effect of a prior bout of sprint training on HR response to a subsequent bout of sprint training of similar intensity’
Better: ‘Heart rate response to repeated sprint training’
The abstract is essentially a synopsis of the experiment or study, and should be written concisely in normal English, without abbreviations. The author should assume the reader has some knowledge of the subject but has not read the paper. Thus, the abstract should be intelligible and complete in itself; in particular it should not cite figures, tables, or sections of the paper. It should summarise the main subsections: introductory statement, methods, main findings, discussion/concluding statement that puts your results in context. You should give numerical values for key results and state if differences / correlations etc are significant (with P values).The abstract shouldn’t normally exceed 250 words.
The introduction places the study in context i.e. explains the complete background of the study. For example, why the study has been undertaken, the objectives and importance of the study and justification as to why you have come to the concluding research question or hypothesis. You should summarise the work that has been undertaken in the area. Consequently then, this section should include references to relevant research papers.
The aims of the study, the research question and any hypothesis/es should be summarised in the introduction with a concluding paragraph.
The funnel model is a useful way to structure most introductions:
With your introduction you may be able to construct some hypotheses regarding what you think should happen in your study.
A hypothesis is NOT a question and should be specific,
For example, ‘the intervention will improve running performance’ is too vague.
Both the independent variable (intervention) and dependent variable (what we are measuring) must be stated precisely.
E.g. ‘It is hypothesised that warm-up will decrease 400m running time’ is better. As in this example, both the independent variable (‘warm-up’) and the dependent variable (‘400m running time’) have been stated, while the direction of the change has also been specified (decrease).
If possible in a hypothesis you should always try to predict a direction. Use ‘increase/decrease, bigger/smaller, faster/slower rather than ‘improve’, ‘better’, ‘worse’, for these are more specific.
Methods: (Always write in the third person past tense)
This section describes the procedures of your study in just enough detail so that others can repeat your results. NEVER provide a list of equipment/materials. You should only include detail that would affect the outcome of the experiment.
E.g. wearing gloves while taking blood is to be expected and does not affect the results of the experiment. On the other hand, the equipment used to analyse the blood is important (manufacturer, make, model) as different machines can give different results. When the procedure is not standard, more detail should be provided, including theoretical justification for the steps.
The Methods section can be divided simply into a number of subsections, for example:
Participants: Describe how participants were recruited, from what group (e.g. undergraduate students), the number of participants and their sex. Provide participant descriptive data (mean ± SD for age, stature and body mass (not weight) as minimum with appropriate SI units) and give other relevant information e.g. fitness levels, smoking habit, whether they are on any medication etc.
Protocol/design: Describe whether you used a between or within subjects design. Describe the number of conditions, whether there was a control, whether conditions were blind and counterbalanced, time between conditions etc. If your protocol was complicated you might consider using a figure to support the text and aid the reader.
Specific variables: If you are measuring a number of dependent variables then you may want a subsection on each e.g. Anthropometric measurements, Pulmonary measures etc.
Statistical analysis: This section should give clear information about the statistical methods used to analyse the data sets that are reported in the results section).
Results: Results should be presented clearly and simply. Results MUST be text supported by tables and/or figures. You should never present results in tables/figures without describing the results in words and referring to the figures. E.g. ‘Warm-up decreased 400m running time (Table 1).’ Titles for tables and figures must be informative so that the reader can understand what the data are about without having to refer to the text. Use your judgement as to whether the results should be presented as figures or tables – never both. If presenting as figures, select the type of chart you will use carefully and always label all figures and tables correctly. Make sure that numerical results always have the correct units (SI); not only in the text, but also in tables or figures. Make sure you report any significance (P value) within the table or figure and explain in a footnote. If you have a lot of results then use subsections as for the methods section.
If the methods section did not describe the statistics then these should be explained here e.g. ‘A paired samples t-test was used to compare 400m running times between groups‘; then report your results.
When reporting your results the following points are essential.
- ALWAYS include mean values and SD. Raw data usually goes into an appendix.
- ALWAYS report P-value to the nearest level of significance e.g. ‘P<0.05’ not P=0.04322. Common increments are 0.05, 0.01, 0.005, 0.001 etc.
- DO NOT DISCUSS YOUR RESULTS – simply report facts e.g. ‘x was faster than y’ NOT ‘x was faster than y because…..’
- SPSS sometimes gives P as 0.000; report as P<0.001
Remember these are the minimum guidelines. Sometimes the results of statistical analysis need to be expressed in more detail e.g. 65 ± 2 s, (t ( 8 ) = 4.5, P < 0.05). Check with your supervisor/teacher.
Tips on tables and figures:
- Always include an appropriate title legend for each table and figure, number it and refer to it in your narrative e.g. Figure 1, Table 1, Table 2 etc.
- The title legend goes ABOVE a table but BELOW a figure.
- If you use non-standard abbreviations always use an explanatory footnote.
- When presenting mean values in a figure include ±1 standard deviation error bars.
The structure of the discussion is the reverse of the introduction. Begin by explaining your SPECIFIC results in non-statistical language and then move towards a more general interpretation of your results. DO NOT simply repeat the results section. You need to relate your results to the existing literature, which you have already summarised in your introduction. Do your results agree/disagree with others? (If not then why not?) Your own, justified opinions should be apparent to the reader. Comment on what your results add to the understanding of a subject. You can also comment on limitations of your study and/ or suggest modifications to your methods but this should NOT dominate the discussion. Obviously you DO NOT want to heavily criticise your own work.
Always end with a concluding paragraph. Here you should draw together the main findings of the study and if appropriate indicate the practical relevance of your results.
All references should be cited in the text and listed alphabetically by first author surname in the reference list. Most references should be to peer reviewed journal articles. References to text books and reliable internet sites (e.g. for government reports) should be used sparingly and selectively. References to Wikipedia and the un-reviewed web sites of self-proclaimed experts are generally unacceptable. Some excellent, comprehensive guides are available on the web.
CHECK YOUR WORK FOR SPELLING AND GRAMMATICAL ERRORS– both electronically AND manually (some errors are not detected by a spell-checker e.g. too/to etc.) ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO READ YOUR WORK – Also question ‘DOES IT MAKE SENSE’?
In a laboratory report, appendices often are included. One type of appendix that appears in laboratory reports presents information that is too detailed to be placed into the report’s text. You may also wish to include here examples of informed consent forms that have been used or individual results. You may also be asked for selected statistical output to be included.