There are many ways that we can communicate science and knowledge to each other. The following are some general descriptions of- and tips on different genres within science communication. Remember that these are just the basic instructions, so always check your assignment description in case of deviations from these instructions.
What is a lab journal?
We use a lab journal to give you instructions and assignments during a lab class. You provide the answers to questions, outcomes of experiments, or drawings of organisms directly in the lab journal. This means that a lab journal is different from a lab report because it focuses specifically on the results section of a report.
The background information and goals of the study are usually provided by a short description, or through a few questions that you need to answer.
Reports are often used to describe a lab experiment (lab report) or a field project (field report). Regardless of the type of report: the aim of a report is to communicate the work you have done and what you have found.
Reports roughly follow the IMRaD format.That is, there will at least be an introduction, description of methods, presentation of results and a discussion. How much detail each of the IMRaD segments need, will vary with each assignment. For more information on the IMRaD format see here:
In a report, the materials and methods and the results are usually the main focus of the content. However, the other sections such as abstract, introduction, discussion and conclusions may be shorter, or sometimes even completely absent. This will vary between different assignments, and depend on the focus of the course. Make sure to read the assignment and know what is expected!
These differences between different reports make it difficult to set one standard for all. Therefore, it is very important to read your assignment text properly to make sure you have understood what is expected in your report.
What is a lab report?
In a lab-based class, you often have to hand in a lab report at the end of it. The aim of a lab report is to communicate the lab work you have done, why you have done it, and what you have found.
NOTE! Read your specific assignment, which might deviate slightly from this format. Make sure you understand what is asked from you, and if you don’t understand, ask.
Lab reports follow a basic IMRaD structure (Introduction, Materials and methods, Results and Discussion), and may not contain all of the components. Usually, a lab report looks something like what is outlined below, but remember, this may vary:
Introduction: Explain why you will be doing this experiment. What is it about, what do we already know, and why are we interested in learning more (i.e., your experiment)? This is also where you formulate your research question(s) and hypotheses.
Materials and Methods: Here you describe exactly what you did to come to your results. You can refer to your instruction manuals and lab protocols for the details on the steps you took. Make sure to also include any deviations, changes, or unusual situations that occurred during your experiment(s)! Each step in the process may influence the results you found, and thus need to be clearly communicated. Even if (or, especially when!) something went wrong, you missed a step, etc.
Results: This is often the main focus of a lab report. Here, you present tables and graphs of outcomes of the experiments, schematic drawings of the studied organisms, etcetera. If you write about your results here, make sure only directly describe what you found. Speculating on what your results mean, or why you did (not) found what you expected, needs to be in the discussion only.
NOTE! Always provide a legend text with your figures or tables. The general rule is that a figure and legend together should be fully understandable even when you take the rest of the report. Refer to your specific assignment to see what the figure legends should contain.
Discussion: This part is used to interpret your results: did you find what you expect, and if not, can you think of a reason why? What do your results mean in the bigger picture of biology? End with a conclusion of your main finding(s).
In a scientific essay you analyse a scientific problem or question by using earlier studies and to some extent your own ideas and opinions. The scientific essay deviates from the IMRaD structure by lacking a materials and methods and results section. It contains an introduction paragraph, a main body/discussion and a concluding paragraph. It is also important to have a strong title.
In the introduction you let the reader know what your scientific essay is going to be about. Here it is advantageous to develop a specific question you want to answer. The introduction is usually just one paragraph (unless you are writing a longer essay) and consists of three things:
- 1. General statements: Sentences that introduce background information relevant to your essay. In a short essay there will typically be only one or two of these, but in longer essays they might make up for a whole paragraph. They should become more specific as you progress, until you reach your thesis statement.
- 2. A thesis statement: What your essay is about/the question you want answered.
- 3. An outline of the main ideas you want to discuss. This outline is sometimes included in the thesis statement and does not have to be a sentence on its own.
The main body of the scientific essay consists of several paragraphs and discusses the idea or topic you introduced in your introduction paragraph. Here you try to find an answer to the question in the introduction by using scientific literature and discuss arguments, connections and context, methods, data, what is unknown, different findings etc. The size of this section depends on your assignment. To ensure a good flow to your essay: make sure that your paragraphs are organized in a logical order and that the transitions between them are easy to follow. They should naturally lead towards your concluding paragraph.
This paragraph answers to your introduction paragraph. It includes a summary of the main points of your essay and final comments. In the summary you can also say something about what meaning your discoveries might have for the society or future research.
A blogpost is a fun way to communicate about your work to the broader public. It is usually a relatively short and light text understandable for everybody where you can include photos or other figures. There are no strict rules to how to write a blogpost related to science, but here are some general tips:
- Consider who your audience is. How you write and what you write will often depend on who is going to read your blog.
- Do not forget to introduce yourself. It would be natural to include some information about yourself in your first blogpost so your readers know a little about who you are.
- Emphasise readability. Blogs are supposed to be easy to read. Try to avoid overly complicated words and phrases.
- You can be personal. In blog posts you can include your own opinions, personal experiences and reflections. Are you writing about a field trip and found the field work exciting, then nature beautiful, but the weather annoying? You can write that!
- Include pictures, drawing etc. If you have taken photos from your lab work or have drawings related to your blog post - include them.
- Limit the use of references. If you refer to other people’s works you should of course provide references. However, in a blog post it might be beneficial to limit the use of references to improve readability. An alternative is to use footnotes, which are a bit easier to hide among the text without interrupting the flow.
For some examples on different blog posts from students at BIO have a look at this website: https://biopraksis.w.uib.no/
What is a poster?
A scientific poster is used to give a quick insight into your research aims or research findings to other scientists. You could say that a poster is somewhere in between a scientific written text, and an oral presentation: posters contain text where you can explain some background information, the research question, methodology and main conclusions. However, a good poster gets your message across in a few words as possible. The use of clear visual elements, such as graphs and diagrams is therefore crucial. An image says more than a thousand words.
A poster session
Posters are usually presented in so-called ‘poster sessions’, where many scientists display their poster at the same time. As a viewer on a poster session, you are typically scouting the posters, looking for new insights and the latest updates from your field. However, there is a lot of information and limited time, and therefore very little time to judge whether a particular poster is interesting enough for you to stop and read more about. As a presenter, you thus want to get your message across in as little time as possible. Therefore, it is important that your poster:
- • Has a clear and understandable title
- • Looks aesthetically pleasing
- • Uses clear figures and graphs to highlight main results
- • Contains the bare minimum of text needed to communicate your message, in a large enough font size to read comfortably from a distance.