Learning to do science: lessons from a discourse analysis of students’ laboratory reports

Gayani Sanjeewa Ranawake, Kate Wilson


Laboratory learning plays a distinctive role in science education. This study focuses on the laboratory report writing of students to investigate to what extent laboratory experience mimics the process of “doing science”. A quantitative analysis was performed to identify the different Moves in students’ report introductions according to the Swales’ (2004) CARS model which is a tool used to analyse research articles. This model is well suited to analysing student writing since they also follow the IMRD structure when writing laboratory reports. The results revealed that students generally use Moves 1 (topic generalization with increasing specificity) and 3 (presenting the present work) but Move 2 (establishing the niche) is absent in physics and biology laboratory reports and physics project reports. Move 2 is central to doing science. In contrast to the laboratory and project reports, Move 2 was present in science research placement project reports. This paper suggests that it is better, where possible, to incorporate this aspect of doing science into laboratory programs since it gives novices a better understanding of genuine research processes. This study also highlights the importance of interaction between discipline specific academics and academic language units to give students a consistent message.

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