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Learning Resources - Scientific Reports Useful Terms

Factor - Anything that may influence the outcome of an activity.

How carefully you control the factor(s) in your experiment/investigation, will contribute to your results.


Accuracy - The term used to describe how exact your measurements are, for example how close to the real value they are. Equipment you use will affect accuracy.

Weights measured on a balance that records weight to 0.01g will be more accurate than those measured on a balance that records weight to 0.1g.

Taking measurements to the nearest 1mm will be more accurate than taking them to the nearest 1cm.


Precision - Precision depends on how accurate your measurements/observations are and also how careful you are in respect of the detail of your investgiation.


Reliablity - Results that are reliable will be repeatable. In general, measurements of the same quantity, when taken several times, are likely to produce varying results. This could be due to variation in samples and/or limitations in your equipment.

The best estimate of a quantity is the average of several repeat measurements. By repeating the measurements in your experiment/investigation you can improve the reliability of your results.


Range - The range is the difference between the highest and lowest of a set of values and for your scientific report would relate to the range of data you collect and the range of repeated results.


Anomalies/Outliers - Are results that do not fit a clear pattern shown by the other results. A result which has a different value to that which you expected and therefore consider wrong, may have been caused by errors in method(s) or abnormalities in specimens which can cause anomalies/outliers.


Preliminary Work - Work that you carry out as part of your planning to help you clarify what you want to do and how to go about it. By carrying out a trial experiment/investigation, this will help plan for your main experiment/investigation and will show any faults in your method.


Independent variable - a factor that can be varied or manipulated in an experiment e.g. time, temperature, concentration, etc. It is usually what will affect the dependent variable.

There are two types of independent variables, which are often treated differently in statistical analyses:

(1) quantitative variables that differ in amounts or scale and can be ordered e.g. weight, temperature, time.

(2) qualitative variables which differ in "types" and can not be ordered e.g. gender, species, method. By convention when graphing data, the independent variable is plotted along the horizontal X-axis with the dependent variable on the vertical Y-axis.


Dependent variable - A dependent variable is what you measure in the experiment and what is affected during the experiment. The dependent variable responds to the independent variable. It is called dependent because it "depends" on the independent variable. In a scientific experiment, you cannot have a dependent variable without an independent variable.

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