And now we have a fairly standardized line-up of things that happen after this point on. First of all there's going to be an introduction. In this section we outline why we did the work, what the state of knowledge is before we undertook our work - just put the reader in the picture what this is all about. How elaborate you make it, of course, depends on circumstances. You know, some reports have to be, like a thesis would be, very lengthy; some reports to your boss on continuing an experiment that you started in the previous reporting period would be half a page, you know. But in any case this sets the stage for what is to follow.
In experimental studies there is not generally a section called theory - the theory that is needed to understand what happens is usually put in as part of the introduction. But where a study is both theoretical and experimental in nature there might, very appropriately, be a section entitled theory, in which the whole theory that is to be tested is developed at some length and evaluated and discussed. I've put a bracket??? round that to indicate that this is often omitted in experimental thesis, in experimental report.
Well, then there's a description of the apparatus, in which you discuss the equipment that you used. Here I want to put in two pleas: in all the years I've been reading reports - and I must have read a thousand, ten thousand, I don't even know how many - I don't think I've ever seen a picture, a photograph of a piece of apparatus that I've really understood. Photographs are very hard to interpret, or maybe I'm just slow about this. On the other hand, I've very seldom seen a line diagram I didn't understand. So my general comment is: don't put in photographs of apparatus. It simply isn't worthwhile. By all means draw a line diagram in which you point out the appropriate features because anybody can understand a line diagram. But photographs have beauty only to the guy who took them, the man whose equipment it is. But otherwise they don't do much good. And secondly, by all means point out the general weakness of the equipment, the features that make it less than ideal because this often helps the reader interpret what follows. Point out the equipment worked very well except when a truck passed outside, in which case there seemed to be a very severe vibration or the equipment could not be operated when the room humidity was above 70 % because something leaked. But, you know, the reader is entitled to know to what extent this isn't a perfect piece of apparatus and this is the place to tell him.
Well, let's carry on. We next come to the results section. Well, this is actually the important section of the paper describing experimental investigation because the results, of course, are the truly significant thing. This is what you did it for. The results are maybe valuable even if the rest of the paper is completely wrong, inappropriate. So perhaps this is the one that you really have to concentrate your attention on. Present your data. What do you present? I suppose one ideal is to present every data point that you ever took. Sometimes this is inappropriate; this may be far too lengthy. You have to then do some selecting — we'll discuss in the next lecture some of the problems involved in selecting. You have to display your results; you have to produce tables, diagrams. All in all, you have to give the reader a flavour of the results that you obtained and really an appropriate description as to what happened when you undertook the experiment. This is often the most difficult, in the sense that if you write the paper at the very end, you then may find a gap in the results section which by now you can no longer fill because you dismantled the equipment. So my general comment is that it's often appropriate to start writing up the results section of a report while you still got the equipment there, you're still taking data and then it often becomes clear that there's a gap and then you can go back and fill the gap. Once the equipment is gone, there's nothing much you can do about it. But this is usually the section that is worth writing first; at least that's my own particular opinion.
And lastly there's a discussion section in which you relate the results that you've obtained both in terms of the theory and the state of knowledge at the time that you started the work. Discuss whether what you did was technically or basically a success or failure. Discuss how you, you know, how your results fit in with work of others, with earlier results of yourself, and in general, you know, give the reader an impression as to your evaluation of the experiment. Again, the question as to how simple or complex to make this section depends a little bit on just what the purpose of this report is anyway.
Well, in a sense this is the end of the report. On the other hand, we haven't finished yet; we come to a few parts that are often rather tedious but often very important. The first one is recommendation. You don't generally make recommendations in a paper intended for the general public, like a published paper, but you very frequently put in recommendations when you are producing a report that's to be read by a limited number of people, perhaps in your own organization. This recommendation or recommendations are usually what is to be done next. And the time is really important is that if you know that you're going to continue to work in this particular area. Because if you don't make a recommendation then your boss is going to make a recommendation, and unless you tell him what you think ought to be done, don't be surprised if you finish up doing some thing which you feel is useless. So a recommendation is always an opportunity for you to make things easier for yourself the next time around. So by all means put in a recommendation when it's a private report.
QUIZ TIME “At the Chemist’s”
1. …-depressants: medicines or drugs that help people suffering from the mental condition or depression
2. The form on which a doctor has written details of a medicine which he/she has told you to take.
3. Another name for a shop where medicines are sold
4. Tablets like aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol that can help relieve pain.
5. Medicine that is used to cure an illness.
6. Over the … : medicines which can be sold in a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription.
7. … remedies: plants used as medicines to stop illness or pain.
8. The informal American word for a pharmacy.
9. Always read the …: make sure you take the advice given on the medicine container.