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CHEM 1810 (Lab)UVA Home

Chemical Principles Laboratory (CHEM 181L)

Common Expectations for Writing


CHEM 1811 is a complex and complicated course to teach for a number of reasons. While we try to hide this complexity as much as possible, sometimes you, the student, are directly impacted by it. For instance, there are typically 6-8 different instructors involved in the course, each of whom is trying to offer you sound advice about how to develop and improve your scientific writing skills. Though all instructors meet weekly to discuss the assignments and to develop a common understanding of goals and expectations, human variation makes complete consistency impossible.

Nevertheless, we would like to provide you a set of common expectation for your research reports, in addition to the rubric you've already received. We, your teaching team, promise to assess your work in these areas according to these expectations.

Note: This list is not comprehensive (and no list could be). It also does not include specific expectations set by your TAs, which you should most definitely honor; they are the ones who grade your work, after all.

Scroll down or jump to the section of interest:

Sections Headings, Purposes, & Typical Lengths
A full Research Report should contain four sections. The names, purpose and typical lengths of these sections for the purposes of this class is described below:
Section Heading Section Purpose Typical Length*
Abstract "What am I going to learn?" —include a concise description of the experiment and the important findings (i.e. quantitative data). 1-2 paragraphs
Experimental Section/
Computational Details
"How were the experiments done?" — describe concisely in paragraph form how to reproduce the experiment; don't include common experimental procedures (e.g. don't explain how to filter something). 1-3 pages
Introduction "Why do I care?" —explain to the reader why he/she should read the paper; start general and get specific; describe the questions to be answered. 1-4 paragraphs
Results & Discusion "What are the results and what do they mean?" — describe the results, including all appropriate tables, calculations, graphs, figures, et cetera, and explain what they mean in terms of the questions you posed in the Introduction; note assumptions, inconsistencies, possible errors, implications, significance. 2-5 pages
*In CHEM 1811, the total length of a complete report will probably be somewhere between 3-7 pages.
General Formatting

These formatting guidelines are intended to help improve readability and guide the reader through your paper.

  • Text should be 1.5- or double-spaced, 11-12 point font, 1" margins.
  • The font and font size should be consistently applied throughout the report. In other words, all text, tables, figures, captions, titles, data, equations, etc. should have the same font and font size.
  • A short, descriptive title should be centered and bolded, and placed at the top of the first page. Name, course, laboratory section, and date should be below the title. For example:

The Chemistry of the World
FirstName LastName
CHEM 1811 – Section 03
October, 16, 2011

  • Main section headings should be left-justified and bolded; sub-headings should be placed at the start of the appropriate paragraph, bolded, and concluded with a period; paragraphs should be indented. For example:
    Experimental Section
         General Procedures. All reactions were carried out…

*Slight deviations are tolerated.

Data & Analysis

These general guidelines are geared for a knowledgeable audience with a basic understanding of chemistry and chemical processes.

  • All key data/results which directly address the research question(s) should be thoroughly discussed and analyzed. Minor or intermediate data should generally be left out or only shown in the appropriate table or figure. Though intermediate data may be included in a table or figure, it should not be discussed in the text. Discuss only the key data/results. For example, "As shown in Table 1, complex 2 has the greatest absorbance at 580nm."
  • Do not show or discuss intermediate calculations unless they are uncommon. Attach a calculations page to the back of your printed report so that the grader can check you math, if necessary.
  • Detailed statistical analyses are unnecessary and unwanted. Exceptions: Significant figures should always be accurately reported; averages for large collections of data should contain standard deviations; correlation coefficients should be reported for linear regression lines.
  • Analysis should include a thoughtful discussion about the limitation of your results, how you might address limitations in a future experiment, and any new questions you would explore based on your results.
  • If an assignment only asks for a Results & Discussion section, it is fine to include a short 3-4 sentence introduction.

Tables should be formatted according to suggestions in Davis et al. Details and an example are found on p.119.

Table specifics:

  • Tables should have a concise title which accurately describes the data. It should be single-spaced and placed above the table.
  • The only borders should be placed above and below the column headings and at the bottom of the data.
  • The data should include appropriate units. These units may be placed in the title, if there are only a few different units to report, or next to the column headings in parentheses.
  • All footnotes should be placed below the bottom border. Footnotes are only necessary when there is need to explain some unique feature of the data not easily determined directly.
  • There is no need to include a table for 3 or fewer pieces of data. Simply put these in text. For example, "The C—C, C—O, and C—N bond lengths were determined to be 1.41, 1.26, and 1.30 Å, respectively."
  • Place tables near the spot where they are referenced in the text. In the text, introduce the table with something like, "As shown in Table 1,…"
  • Leave an extra space above and below the table to improve readability.

*Slight deviations are tolerated.


Figures should be formatted according to suggestions in Davis et al. Details and examples are found on pp.120-122.

Figure specifics:

  • Figures should have a concise title which accurately describes the figure content. It should be single-spaced and placed below the table.
  • The figure should not have a border.
  • Axis titles on graphs should include appropriate units in parentheses
  • Place figures near the spot where they are referenced in the text. In the text, introduce the figures with something like, "As shown in Figure X…" or "The relationship is linear (Figure 1)."
  • Leave an extra space above and below the figure to improve readability.

*Slight deviations are tolerated.


Chemical equations (and mathematical equations, if necessary) should be placed in text near the spot where they are first referenced. They should be centered on their own line and labeled with an equation number in parentheses just to the right of the equation. The equation numbers should be sequential, beginning with (1). For example:

2Al(s) + 3F2(g) –› AlF3(g) (1)




Leave an extra space above and below the equation to improve readability.

In the text, introduce equations with something like, "As shown eq 1…" Note that the abbreviation "eq" is used and it is not capitalized.

Chemical Structures

If referring to a complex chemical structure, assign it a number beginning with 1. Place the number below the structure and bold it. For example:


In the text, refer to the structure like so, "Complex 1 displays…"


All sources should be cited according to suggestions in Davis et al. Refer to pp.34-50 for the most common types of citations. Unusual sources not covered in the text may be formatted using APA guidelines (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/).

Citing specifics:

  • References should be indicated using sequentially numbered footnotes, beginning with number one (1). The footnote number should come after punctuation. For example: "Jones and coworkers claim that the C—S bond length is shorter than expected.1"
  • Don't cite lab procedure information or other common elements of the lab experiment, e.g. common chemical equations.

*Slight deviations are tolerated.

© 2004-2013 Michael Palmer