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UG CamGuides: What skills will I develop as an undergraduate?

Generic academic skills useful to all students

Scientific writing

graph on a computer screen

Different scientific disciplines have different styles and requirements for report writing. Your Director of Studies and supervisors will be able to advise you on what style is best suited to your subject. If you make friends in college in the year above, you could ask to look at one of their reports from last year to show you what writing looks like in your discipline. For now, you may find it helpful to think about the sort of information you wish to include in different sections of your written work.

Note that not all scientific report writing will require you to follow this structure, and you may find it easier to write the sections of your report out of order — the Methods section, for example, is a good place to start as it is very descriptive, and can be started before you have completed your experiments, data collection, or analysis.

 

Introduction

If you are required to include an introduction, you should use it to set your report in its wider context.

How does the subject of your report differ from similar research which has been conducted previously?

Does it build on this older research, or overturn it in some way?

If you are expected to include a literature review, this should be done in the introduction, referencing relevant articles, reports, or other material.

If you need to define any theories or terminology, you should also do this in the introduction.

Finish your introduction by summarising the findings of your experiments in one or two sentences.

Methods

You can begin writing the methods before experiments have begun, or while they are taking place.

Your methods should be clear and easy to follow — scientific research is meant to be replicable, which means that scientific methods need to be transparent, and able to be reproduced by others.

If necessary, break your methods down into subheadings, particularly if the experiments on which you are reporting are very complex.

Results

Your results should be clear and brief — save any detailed analysis for the Discussion section.

Charts, graphs, or tables can be really useful in helping to illustrate your results — these should be clear, and easy to interpret.

If you are expected to use specific software to generate graphs, but are unsure how to do so, speak to your supervisor or DoS.

Discussion

This is the place for you to go into more analytical detail about your results.

What is new, important, or significant about your results?

Were there any weaknesses, problems, or discrepancies?

You should address these in the Discussion section.

Conclusion

Use this section to summarise your main findings in one or two clear sentences.

If the experiment needs to be followed up in some way (with further experiments or investigation, for example), you should also state this in the Conclusion section.

What are the implications of your findings?

References

It is likely that you will not be required to cite any secondary literature in your report at all, but if you do have any references, these need to be cited in a consistent style.

Make sure you've actually read the references you're citing, and if you quote directly, do not misquote.

To learn more about referencing, read our section on Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism

Graphs, tables, images and diagrams

It's likely that you will be expected to include visual material in your reports as a way to supplement and clarify your results, and help readers understand your data. Different types of graphs and charts are more effective, depending on what you're using them to illustrate.

Tables are useful for precise numerical data.

Line graphs are helpful for showing relationships between variables and trends over time.

Bar graphs are useful for comparisons. Make sure you use contrasting colours so that it is easy to read them.

Pie charts show the proportion of the whole taken up by various parts.

Diagrams, illustrations and photographs can clarify or supplement the text.

Important things to remember when using graphs, images, tables and diagrams

  • Label everything clearly: generally the convention is to put the label above for tables, and below for everything else. Make sure your labels (e.g. Figure 1, Figure 2, Table 1, Table 2) is consistent and consecutive.
  • Position: tables and figures should be immediately above or below the relevant portion of text.
  • If the tables, graphs, images or photographs were not created by you, you need to cite their source, and note if you made any modifications. Whether tables and figures are your own work or someone else's, they still need to be labelled (e.g. Figure 1, Table 1, and so on).
  • You should not need to spend a lot of time explaining the contents of a graph, table, or other illustration in the text of your report: it should speak for itself.

Software

Over the course of your degree, you may be required to learn how to use specific software to support your learning. The exact software will vary depending on your discipline, but it could include:

  • Excel (for spreadsheets, doing calculations and equations, and generating graphs, data and statistical analysis),
  • PowerPoint (for creating presentations, posters, or images), or
  • statistical software (such as SPSS or R). More information and access to software will be available once you start your course. 

 

Image Credit

Image by Lalmch from Pixabay