La Trobe University


La Trobe University


La Trobe University



Writing in the Sciences, Technology & Engineering

Written assignments in the sciences, technology and engineering come in a range of forms and usually require strong evidence and precision. Subject guides will give you specific information regarding assignments for particular subjects, but there are also a number of general features of good scientific writing:


1. Appropriate and relevant content

When writing in the sciences, it is especially important to "stick to the topic". In an essay, everything you write must relate to the essay question. In a laboratory report, everything you write in the introduction must be related to the exact topic and everything you write in your discussion must be related to your results. You need to be careful not to "go off on a tangent" and start to present or discuss random ideas that are not related to the exact topic or question.


2. Substantiated (supported) claims from high quality academic sources

In order to build a strong argument, claims made in scientific writing need to be supported, usually with information from a reliable, academic source.

It is VERY important to use reliable sources of information for your written assignments. For most (but not all) subjects, websites are NOT acceptable academic sources. Commercial (.com) websites are the most likely to be unreliable. The author of a commercial website is often not known and the pages may contain biased or inaccurate information. Ask your lecturer, demonstrator or tutor whether website information is allowed for a particular assignment.

For more information on finding credible sources and evaluating websites for your assignments, go to Achieve@Uni Using Information: Evaluating information


3. Proper acknowledgement of sources (referencing)

When you use information from sources such as books and journal articles, you are using ideas that you did not create yourself. As these ideas belong to someone else, it is important to acknowledge the person or people who created the ideas. In academic writing, this is done by providing references to show where the ideas came from. Referencing at university is quite complicated and takes some time to learn. For more information see the Achieve@Uni module: ‘Using Sources: Science & Technology’.


4. Adequate and accurate paraphrasing of information

In addition to providing references, you also need to paraphrase information from other sources. This means you must put the ideas in your own words. This may seem strange and difficult at first, especially if the information is complex and hard to understand, but there are good reasons for paraphrasing. Paraphrasing shows the person who is marking your work that you understand what you are writing about. It also helps you to keep a consistent writing style. Every writer has their own style and your writing will flow more smoothly if all of the sentences are written in your own natural style. Even if you provide a reference, you still need to paraphrase information before you include it in your written assignment. If you don’t, you may be accused of plagiarism.


5. Appropriate academic style and language 

Precise – use specific terminology where appropriate

Concise – aim for maximum content, minimum words

Formal – avoid personal, emotional and colloquial (everyday) language

Clear structure and flow – Order points logically & link ideas within and between paragraphs

For more detailed information and examples of appropriate academic writing please see Achieve@Uni Writing at university


Writing in psychology needs to have a formal, academic scientific style, which avoids personal, emotional or poetic language. All assignments in psychology must follow APA 6 style for layout, formatting, language style and referencing. The Psychology 2016 Undergraduate Student Handbook which can be found on the LMS page of every Psychology subject.

Planning and writing a psychology essay requires these five steps. The steps may need to be repeated as you edit your essay.

  1. Analyse the question - identify key instruction words, the topic/s and specific aspects to be discussed. You will need to read and re-read the essay topic many, many times!
  2. Research the topic - ask a series of questions about your topic to focus your research. Seek information from a wide range of sources. Keep a record of all sources used so that you can include them in your in-text references and reference list.
  3. Plan the essay - organise key ideas and related themes, taking into consideration format restrictions and word limits. Make sure you record which sources you used for which information. The easiest way to do this is to write an in-text reference next to your notes.
  4. Write the essay - construct these ideas into the key elements of an essay: an introduction, a discussion (or body) divided into a number of paragraphs, and a conclusion. The writing style is formal and impersonal. Edit for errors.
  5. Write your reference list – make sure you use APA 6 style.

Please see below for a more detailed explanation and example of a Psychology essay (Pdf).

For further helpful hints on writing psychology essays, the following sources are strongly recommended:

  • Burton, L. J. (2010). An interactive approach to writing essays and research reports in psychology. Milton, Queensland: John Wiley and Sons, Australia.
  • Findlay, B. (2012).  How to write psychology research reports and essays (6th ed.). French’s Forest, N.S.W.: Pearson.


Laboratory Reports

10 Steps to writing a good laboratory report

  1. Identify the research topic
  2. Conduct a literature search
  3. Review the literature –make a reference list as you go
  4. Organize your information and develop a list of key arguments
  5. Develop your research hypotheses
  6. Collect the data –run the study>
  7. Analyse the data
  8. Interpret your data analyses and decide on your findings
  9. Write your report
  10. Finalise reference list, proof read, write abstract

See below for a detailed explanation of the Sections of a psychology Laboratory report and Psychology Laboratory Report Pre-submission checklist.

Research Proposals

A Research Proposal is written to explain why and propose how research will be done into a chosen topic. The proposal helps clarify what should be happening as the research is carried out. It demonstrates that you know what you are planning to do because the research question has been identified and justified. It shows you know how you plan to answer that research question.

8 Steps to writing a research proposal
  1. Identify the research topic
  2. Conduct a literature search
  3. Review the literature –make a reference list as you go
  4. Organize your information into the common themes of previous studies
  5. Name your research question
  6. Develop your research hypotheses
  7. Explain how the data will be collected
  8. Write reference list 

See below for a detailed explanation of the Sections of a Psychology Research Proposal and Psychology Research Proposal Pre-submission checklist. 

Writing for Engineering

Technical Reports

Engineers, computer scientists and information technologists write technical reports in order to share information with their colleagues, managers, clients and others. It takes a lot of time, effort and practice to become a skilled technical report writer.

A well written technical report requires a number of skills including:

  • research skills to acquire high quality, relevant information for your report
  • analytical and critical thinking skills in order to select appropriate content, analyse it, evaluate it, and make recommendations
  • the ability to write clearly and concisely in English
  • excellent formatting skills and attention to detail to achieve a high quality presentation of your report
  • the ability to proofread your own work


A technical report has its own particular style and format and is different from an essay or a laboratory report. Technical reports usually have the following sections:


Title Page

Summary (sometimes called an abstract)


Table of contents

Glossary of terms







Not all readers of technical reports will want to read every section. What they read will depend on the information they require. Some may only be interested in the technical detail; others will be more interested in the final analysis or recommendations. Thus it is important that a technical report has clearly defined numbered sections, clearly labeled with headings and subheadings allowing the reader to easily navigate to sections of interest.

See below for a formatting guide for technical reports and a detailed guide (with examples) to the required Sections of a Technical Report. 

Laboratory Reports – Biology, Physics, (some) Chemistry, Pharmacy & Agricultural Science

It’s a good idea to think about why you are writing a lab report in the first place. While writing lab reports will be an assessment requirement in most subjects, you are also developing certain skills. Firstly, you are learning to relate practical work with theory. This is an important part of what scientists do.

Secondly, when you write a lab report, you are also practising what scientists do – communicating their research to others. Scientific knowledge grows when scientists conduct research and communicate their findings to others who may then build on this information to find out more answers to problems or questions. Scientists write papers and have them published in academic journals or deliver their papers to other scientists at conferences. When you write a lab report, you are developing skills as a trainee scientist.

Even if you don’t end up working as a scientist, writing a laboratory report helps you to develop graduate capabilities. In addition to gaining knowledge and developing skills in a particular discipline of study, it is expected that you will leave university with a range of skills that will be useful to you in many future situations. Some of the graduate capabilities you can develop by writing a lab report include inquiry research skills (locating suitable sources of information), critical thinking and problem solving skills, quantitative literacy skills, the ability to work in a team,  and of course, the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in writing.


Double space your report (except reference list & appendix) and make headings centred and in bold UPPER CASE. Number all pages. Use 12 point Times New Roman or Arial font. Write paragraphs; do not use dot points. The sample Science Laboratory Report below will give you a clear idea of formatting requirements.


See the information under the tab ‘Scientific Writing Style’ for guidelines about how to write your report in a scientific writing style.


Binomial Names

When writing reports involving living things, the full scientific name of each species is given on first mention in the text. Thereafter, the generic name may be abbreviated to its initial letter (except when starting a sentence where the full form is needed). For example, Bufo marinus becomes B. marinus.



Include units for all relevant calculations e.g.  1mA x 1KΩ = 1V

Numbered answers need to be rounded off to 2 or 3 decimal places. e.g. π x 2 = 6.283185307 à  =6.283


Word Limit

Word limits may vary so check with your demonstrator or lecturer for each report.

See below for a detailed guide (with examples) to the required Sections of a Science Laboratory Report, an Example of a Science Laboratory Report, and an example of a Science Laboratory Report pre-submission checklist.

What is it? An annotated bibliography is a list of reading material (literature) that you select on a specific topic, with comments (annotations) summarising the key ideas of each reading, and your evaluation of its contribution to your topic.

Usually an annotated bibliography assignment is a step on the way to writing a research essay or report, but sometimes it is used as an assessment task on its own.

What is it for? An annotated bibliography might serve a number of purposes:

  • To help you identify the key information for your assignments

  • To show your tutor/lecturer, or a peer, your selection and interpretation of relevant readings

  • To build your skills of summarising and critically evaluating texts

  • At a broader level it helps other students/researchers decide if this is a useful text for them

What does it look like?

An annotated bibliography is arranged alphabetically by author’s family name (like any reference list). Each entry starts with the full reference (bibliographic details) of a source (the citation). This is followed by a brief annotation of about one paragraph (approx. 100 -150 words) per citation (see the sample below).You might need somewhere between 5-20 sources, depending on your assignment.

Each annotation should include:

  • A clear explanation of the topic or theme of the research material

  • An identification of the key argument(s) in the source

  • A description of the author’s method (e.g. how they came to their conclusions)

  • A concluding sentence or two that describes what this research material will contribute to your essay

You don’t need to read the whole book or article, at this stage.

  • Read the introduction or the key sections dealing with your topic

  • For a journal article, read the introduction and conclusion and use the subheadings to locate the most relevant parts.

  • For a scientific paper, look at the methods and the main findings as well. Scan the discussion (what did they ask? what did they learn?)

  • For a report, read the summary, intro, conclusion and recommendations at the end. Use your judgement about how much more you need to read in order to know what this source says and does.