Writing for Chemistry

Writing Standards in the Chemistry Major

General Characteristics

  1. Clear.  This is perhaps the most important characteristic of all writing, but is especially important when detailed, complicated experimental data is discussed.  Be sure you say what you mean and mean what you say.   Use short sentences and get to the point.
  2. Dispassionate.  Good scientific writing is free of bias and personal opinion.  Report the facts.
  3. Mechanically sound.  This goes without saying.  If your writing is free of grammatical and spelling errors, it is easier for the reader to understand.
  4. Documented.  Statements and conclusions are supported by data, not feelings or opinions.  If your data are inconclusive, it is better to state this than to force the data to fit some hypothesis or literature value.

Hints and Suggestions

  • Do not use first person ("I," "we," etc.). Use the past tense (you did the experiment already).
  • Do not be verbose.  Get to the point!
  • Do not start a sentence with a number unless it is part of a chemical name.
  • Do not capitalize the names of chemicals unless you are beginning a sentence.
  • Do not use the words or phrases "basically," "dealt with," "dealing with," "create(d)." Leave bases to baseball and solutions with pH > 7; leave dealing to Las Vegas and Atlantic City; and leave creating to the Fine Arts department.
  • Regardless of  what your spell-checker says, "absorbency" is not a word unless we are analyzing diapers.  Always use "absorbance."
  • Do not say things like "the goal of this experiment was to introduce to the student the technique of chromatography."  Say "Carotenoids were purified using chromatography." Leave the student out of the discussion.  Everyone knows you are a student. Tell the reader what you DID and HOW you did it.
  • Use the words "precise" and "accurate" correctly.  Accuracy refers to how close your value is to the standard or known value.  Precision refers to how close together your results are; data cannot be precise unless you have done more than one trial.
  • Use the words "clear" and "colorless" correctly.  Water is clear and colorless.  Sunglasses are clear and green.  Milk is cloudy and colorless (white).  Muddy water is cloudy and brown.
  • Report data and results with units and with the appropriate number of significant figures.
  • Do not include statements of opinion.  For example, stating that the experiment was difficult or tedious is your opinion and does not belong in a reporting of the results of your study.
  • The literature value of a physical property is just that; it is not the "literary" value.
  • Use numbered endnotes for referencing.  You need to reference anything you have to look up, even if it is in your textbook, the lab manual, or the CRC handbook or Aldrich catalog.
  • Please run the spell-checker.
  • Please staple together the pages of your reports.

Lab Report Guidelines

Lab Reports for Fundamentals of Chemistry (CHEM 105L-106L)
Short Lab Reports for Organic Chemistry Lab (CHEM 253L-254L)


Page prepared by Elza C. Tiner, from material provided by Dr. Anne Reeve.