Presenting Data from Scientific Investigations

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson we'll overview the best practices for presenting data from scientific investigations. We'll talk about how to select appropriate media, cite sources, and use symbols, equations, pictures, and graphs in your presentations.

Presenting Scientific Data

Science is the study of the natural world. All scientific investigations collect data about the world around us. Some may have applications in medicine, be the first step for upgrading your smart phone, or contain information about a renewable energy source. But after data has been collected, how do scientists spread the information?

After scientists have data, they need to present it to the rest of the scientific community. But they don't just send an e-mail with the raw data to their colleagues. They create scientific papers, presentations, or talks to share what they've learned. Here, we're going to look at some of the best practices in this process.

Selecting Media

The first step for presenting data from a scientific investigation is to decide how you're going to share the information. This all depends on your audience. Scientists that want to share information with other scientists publish their papers in scientific journals with a specific written format; students may also write lab reports in this format. Other times, scientists might share data with other scientists at a conference. In this case, they may choose to use a slideshow or video media.

Scientists also need to communicate data from investigations to the public. Often, the dense language of academic journals is too complex for the public. In this case scientists might use videos, animations, or news articles to convey the information.

Acknowledging Sources

Although the data might be entirely produced by you, it's important to acknowledge others who laid the groundwork for your investigation. Many scientific publications include an introduction to the experiment. Here, they outline previous work that has been done on the subject. These sources must be acknowledged through a references page. As different sources are referenced throughout the text, usually the author's name and publication date are included in parentheses next to the information.

Alternatively, the work might use numbers that correspond to sources in the references section. Either way, it is important throughout your entire presentation to give credit to work that was done prior to your investigation or works that helped you reach conclusions based on your data.

Using Symbols and Formulas

When reading literature, it might seem common to write out abbreviations or symbols using words. However, in science often times the most clear way to express a relationship between two variables is by using a formula or symbols. If your data involves any type of math or calculations, it's best to both explain this using words and include the formulas and calculations for the readers to see. Prior to using any symbols, it's also important to explain their meaning in your writing.

Pictorial Representations

The old phrase ''a picture is worth 1,000 words'' is quite accurate in science as well. Sometimes a clear diagram or graphic will clearly depict data and help an audience understand a process. For example, when presenting data about a complex signaling pathway, a diagram of the key components in action is a huge benefit to the reader. When discussing the implications of an anatomical investigation, it is very useful to have a diagram of the body parts you are discussing.

Sometimes using pictures will explain data more clearly than writing
signaling pathway

When incorporating pictorial representations in your work, first ask yourself if the picture or graphic adds value that cannot be gained from the text. You might also ask yourself if while writing or explaining your data if you have a certain image in your head. It can be useful to provide this image to readers as they may not be as familiar with the content as you are.

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