Argonne National Laboratory

Mapping Out Your Science Report
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1.What am I trying to say? 2.What words will express it? 3.What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4.Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?" —George Orwell

Writing a report is no simple task. To make the process easier and more manageable, plan ahead. You should not only give yourself enough time prior to the deadline to begin writing, but also set aside time to brainstorm and create an outline before you begin writing a draft.

Brainstorm

Often the first step to mapping out your report is to brainstorm ideas. One way to start this process is to think about your purpose, audience, and goals. From there, you can begin writing down ideas based on how well they explain or support your purpose and goals, and on how closely they align with your audience’s interest and knowledge of the topic.

State your purpose — Why you are writing the report? Are you trying to summarize? Make an argument or persuade people? Examine something about which little is known? Respond to another study? Evaluate a procedure?

Identify your audience  Who is likely to read your report? Identify what a typical audience member may already know about your project and what you will need to explain to them (see section on Knowing your Audience).

State your goals — What do you want your audience to understand or do as a result of reading this report? Write down 23 key takeaways. These can be written as a single-sentence thesis statement, a bullet point list, or a paragraph summary.

Outline

Once you have brainstormed all relevant ideas, it is time to start organizing these ideas in an outline. Outlines are useful because they allow you figure out the most logical order for the different components of your report. If created carefully, a detailed outline will help cut down on the time it takes to actually write the report.

Outlines can be formatted in various ways. Some options include a bulleted list, a tree diagram, a storyboard, or a series of sticky notes that you can rearrange. Regardless of the format, all outlines should be detailed and employ long phrases or full sentences rather than 1 or 2 word topical phrases. The outline should also include any references to key studies that you wish to refer to in your report.