First-hand investigations


Quick guides and information

Questioning and predicting 

Students should be able to;

Planning investigations

Outlines and guides to scientific reports

Many universities have excellent study guides and templates that you will find useful in preparing various types of scientific communication. Most are free.

Experiment checklist  A quick, handy reference to planning investigations, including a materials list and budget.

inspired-scientific-thinking an activity to get you planning your investigation


This section is not required when writing up an experiment in the laboratory, however, if the experiment were to be written as a report, then an introduction would be necessary.

An introduction provides a summary of the analysis to be undertaken. The purpose of the Introduction is to put the reader in the picture and place the research/experiment within a context.

The following may be included in the Introduction:

  • Background of the analysis to be carried out.
  • A brief review of previous research (relevant literature) to give a background – paraphrase relevant facts from the scientific literature, citing the sources to support each statement.
  • Reason/s why the research was undertaken.
  • Statement of the hypothesis (an idea or concept that can be tested by experimentation) if there is one.
  • An explanation of the different techniques and why they are used.
  • A statement of the objective/s – what you hope to achieve.

The Introduction is the what and why of the experiment, and should answer the following questions:

  • What was the purpose or objective of the experiment/research?
  • Why was the experiment/research conducted in a particular manner?
  • Why was it necessary in a broader context?

The Introduction should not include any results or conclusions. Sourced from the University of Waikato 


This is not something you would see in a high school level report or laboratory. this is something that is more commonly found in published scientific papers.

The Abstract is a self-contained synopsis of the report – an informative summary of what you did and what you found out.

The Abstract should include the following:

  • Objectives (as outlined in the Introduction) and scope of the investigation.
  • A brief reference to the Materials and Methods.
  • A summary of the results and conclusions – a brief but thorough statement of the outcome/s of the experiment.

If there is a hypothesis, you may state what it is and whether it was supported or refuted.

The following should not be included in the Abstract:

  • Literature citations.
  • Formulae and abbreviations, references to tables.

Although the abstract comes first in a report, it is best to write it last, after you have the results and conclusions. Sourced from the University of Waikato 


The aim of the investigation is written as a statement and always starts with a verb such as ;To investigate, To find out, To to identify etc.

The aim must also contain the cause and effect relationship between the independent and dependent variable. That is how the independent variable is going to affect the dependent variable. The aim should link very closely to the hypothesis.



A tentative explanation for an observed phenomenon expressed as a precise and unambiguous statement that can be supported or refuted by the investigation.

You should have sufficient knowledge and perhaps have researched or conducted related investigations to come up with an educated statement of what is expected to happen to the dependent variable when the independent variable is manipulated.



Scientific controls

What is the purpose of a scientific control?


You can use just about anything to conduct an investigation. However, what you use to collect your data must be fit for purpose. Ask yourself what will improve the reliability of your observations?

Scientific diagrams

Using lab equipment guides

  1. General instructions on how to use a compound microscope
  2. Basics of using a stereo microscope
  3. Heating substances in the lab
  4. Basics of using a Bunsen burner
  5. Setting up series and parallel circuits
  6. Science lab – equipment in the laboratory


an example of an MSDS for HSC acid

Risk and hazards- they are different. When conducting investigations, you need to ensure that you minimise hazards and risks.


Rules for doing experiments ethically from the DET

Working with animals rules from the DET

Ensure that you discuss individual ideas with your teacher and school before you commence any investigation.


The Method is often written as materials and method, is a description of the materials and procedures used – what was done and how. Describe the process of preparation of the sample, specifications of the instruments used and techniques employed.

The Method should include such things as sample size, apparatus or equipment used, experimental conditions, concentrations, times, controls etc.

While the Method does not need to include minute details (e.g. if you followed a set of written instructions, you may not need to write out the full procedure – state briefly what was done and cite the manual), there needs to be enough detail so that someone could repeat the work.

Do not keep using the word “then” – the reader will understand that the steps were carried out in the order in which they are written.

The Method must be written in the past tense and the passive voice. Sourced from the University of Waikato 

Conducting Investigations

Essentially a method should have the following when conducting a fair test.

  1. Write the set up in detail and include a diagram( sometimes diagrams are also placed in the materials section).
  2. Write down how you will conduct a trial. Include any amounts used and names of equipment and any relevant settings on that equipment. Ensure that you actually control all other variables and that you conduct your investigation safety and ethically. You may even want to include diagrams.
  3. Repeat your trials enough time to make your results reliable and consistent. If you are finding significant variation in your results, then you will need to consider that there may be a systematic error or random errors or a variable that has not been taken into account. More information can be found here.


Here is an example of a winning scientific investigation from the Young Scientist award. 

A writing guide from UTS including other useful links. Writing is a work in progress, and the more you do it, the better you get.


  • Design and evaluate investigations to obtain primary and secondary data and information.
  • Conduct investigations to collect valid and reliable primary and secondary data and information.

Question: Watch this video on a simple plant growth experiment and suggest ways this investigation could be improved regarding the reliability of primary and secondary data.


  • Select and process appropriate qualitative and quantitative data and information using a range of appropriate media.
quantitataive v qualitataive.png


Analysing and processing data and information see the numeracy page for more information.

This section states what you found.

The following will be included in your Results:

  • Pictures and spectra.
  • Tables and graphs whenever practical.
  • Brief statements of the results in the text (without repeating the data in the graphs and tables). When writing about each picture, graph or table, refer to it parenthetically e.g. (Figure 1).
  • If possible, give a section of related results and then comment on them rather than presenting many pages of irrelevant results and then discussing them at the end. Subheadings can be used to divide this section so that it is easier to understand.

Massive quantities of data or raw data (not refined statistically) can be presented in appendices.

Include only your own observed results in this section.

The following should not be included in your results:

  • What you expected to find or what you were supposed to have observed.
  • References to other works (published data or statements of theory).

Use the Discussion section of the report for these.

The Results section should be written in the past tense and passive voice, avoiding the use of “I” and “we”. Sourced from the University of Waikato 

What is Data?

Types of data

Quantitative and qualitative definitions 

Summarising  quantitative and qualitative data types 


Representing quantitative data- using tables

You should get into the habit of writing your observations as you conduct your investigation. You can record and write your observations using various formats. However, you need to use a table when communicating results in a laboratory report.

Parts of a result table

  • A heading that reflects what the table is showing. This could also be used when constructing a graph.
  • Headings for the independent variable and dependent variable, including units. The same headings and units should appear in your graph/s.
  • Independent variable in the left of the table and dependent variable on the right. This way, the cause and effect are reflective of the aim and/or hypothesis. A simple example is shown below.
  • Write numbers in the cells, not units, these should be in your headings.


The following four dot points come from this link. There is also a great deal more detail that students should find useful as their studies progress.

  • Bar/Column Graph: best for comparing data values such as height or weight. This graph is best used when analysing multiple samples or groups as it allows the reader to quickly and easily compare data values. 
  • Line Graph: best for demonstrating a change in data over time. A line graph can be used to track a single sample or can incorporate multiple lines to compare trends in change over time. This makes the line graph extremely versatile in its use and easily one of the most important graphs to master.
  • Pie Chart: best for comparing percentages or fractions. In a pie chart, the circle (which represents the whole) is divided up into sectors to represent portions of the whole- the larger the sector, the bigger the portion. A great use of a pie chart would be to summarise a budget, a monetary one or even a metabolic budget. 
  • XY scatter plot: best for identifying trends between two different sets of data. A trend line is required to determine a correlation. One example would be latitude and the diameter of tree trunks. 


Analysing data and information 

State your interpretation of your findings, perhaps comparing or contrasting them with the literature. Reflect on your actual data and observations.

Explain or rationalise errant data or describe possible sources of error and how they may have affected the outcome.

The Discussion must answer the question “What do the results mean?” It is an argument based on the results. Sourced from the University of Waikato 

Further information


Trends and patterns in data 

Graphing analysis 

Data Analysis & Graphs.  Information on what to include in graphs, what graphs to use, sample graph data and a checklist for graphing.

A couple of practice activities and some useful information( not written by me, sourced from the web( author unknown).

Self-evaluation tools 


This is the summing up of your argument or experiment/research and should relate back to the Introduction. The Conclusion should only consist of a few sentences and should reiterate the findings of your experiment/research. If appropriate, suggest how to improve the procedure, and what additional experiments or research would be helpful. Sourced from the University of Waikato 

Further information


Cite any references that you have used, ensuring that each item in the reference list has an in-text citation, and every in-text citation has a full reference in the reference list at the end of your paper.

Ensure that the references are formatted according to the style required by the journal (or your lecturer/supervisor), and be careful with spelling (the author whose name you misspell may be asked to review the paper!) Sourced from the University of Waikato 

See writing for science page for more information for other types of science writing.

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