Writing a Research Report

Writing Resources at MIT

Besides the information noted in your course materials and this handout, other writing resources are available:

Standard Research Report Components

Scientific and technical research reports generally follow a conventional format that includes a title, an abstract, a reference (or Literature Cited) section and the components of the IMRAD structure:

The IMRAD structure

Introduction answers "why?"

Methods answers "when, where, how, how much?"

Results answers "what?"


Discussion answers "so what?"


Writing Process

No writing process works universally: whatever enables you to start and continue productively is fine. Consider what routines actually produce writing rather than procrastination, and do those. Here’s a commonly used process for successful writers:

Sample Writing Process


  • Make notes, scribble ideas: start generating text, drawing figures, sketching out presentation ideas.
  • Ignore neatness, spelling, and sentence structure--get the ideas down.
  • Analyze audience and purpose to focus your writing.


  • Start with whatever section is easiest to write.
  • Skip around to different sections as needed.
  • Keep writing.


  • Work on content first, then structure, and then style.
  • Keep focused on your main purpose: communicating, reasoning, and presenting clearly.
  • Ask for comments from people who will offer useful critiques.
  • Circle back to prewriting as needed.


  • Check all data for accuracy.
  • Review everything for grammatical, mechanical, and usage errors.

Writing well is a complex and recursive process; few writers start with their title and write their text in order. You should start writing whatever sections seem easiest; you can even start all sections simultaneously: write the section headers at the tops of clean sheets of paper, and prewrite whichever section appeals to you at any time. Whatever process or starting point you choose, start now, so you have chance to revise and refine your work.


Guidelines and Suggestions









This section includes enough detail that readers can trust the results and potentially reproduce them. It is written as a process description, not as a lab manual procedure. Be precise, complete, and concise: include only relevant information—no unnecessary details, anecdotes, excuses, or confessions.

Sample Components of Methods Section



exact specifications and quantities of experimental materials

detailed experimental procedures

organism identifications: genus, species, strain; sources; special characteristics

techniques for tracking functional variables (timing, temperature, humidity, etc.)

specific equipment and software

analytical techniques: assays, equations, statistical strategies

With all the detail, the section must be very well organized to make sense to the reader and to allow easy reference. Headers help to create a sense of order and coherence.



These are some of the qualities of a good Results section:



This section offers your interpretations and conclusions about your findings. The Discussion reflects your main intellectual contribution: This is your chance to demonstrate your ability to synthesize, analyze, evaluate, interpret, and reason effectively. Your readers are looking for well-supported opinions, not for leaps of fancy or mere repetitions of your findings, so you will need to think carefully about your findings in order to draw conclusions that are neither too narrow nor too broad.

The following list offers content options and a possible sequence: