How do I begin a writing assignment?

(Technical Memos and Laboratory Reports)

A logical response to this question may be, “That’s easy! Start with the introduction and keep writing until the conclusion.” This strategy, however, will cost you valuable time. We suggest a different system that starts with the core of your assignment: your objectives, methods, and results.

1. Begin by understanding your objectives

Academic and research papers generally begin with a problem that needs a solution or a question than needs to be answered. Write down that problem or question in your own words. You won’t know when you’ve solved the problem if you don’t know what it is.

2. Keep a clear and complete laboratory notebook

As you conduct your experiments, keeping a solid laboratory notebook will help you write your technical memos and reports. Click here for general advice on writing laboratory notebooks. Your instructor will have specific guidelines for his or her class.

3. Examine your data and results.

Transfer all of your data and calculations to tables and graphs. Look closely at the data. Find relationships among the results. Figure out what the numbers are telling you. Is there something important about a specific sample? How did your sample change when you introduced an additive? Which additives made the greatest difference? What happened when you introduced contaminants?

4. Make a List of Your Results.

Organize your results. When you know what the data says, figure out why it matters. What, why, and how are as important as the data. Another way to think about this process is to ask yourself “So What?” often, then write out the answers in complete sentences. Use these answers to develop your conclusions.

Analyze each procedure in order of importance, then list them that same way. You now have an outline for writing up the Methods and Results sections of your technical memo or laboratory report.

5. Compare your outline with the format headings.

The format for your Technical Memo or Laboratory Report has specific headings. You may, however, need to add subheadings if your discussions are lengthy or complicated. For instance, if you had sets of significant results that require detailed discussion, you may want to add subheadings to the “Results” section.

6. Begin the introduction and conclusion after you have drafted the Methods and Results sections.

The Introduction and Conclusion sections contain concise restatements of your results and the conclusions derived from them, so write them when your findings are fresh in your mind. You should now be close to having a solid draft of your Memo or Report.