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WE 253 Writing Research Reports

Teacher Tips and Answers


Page 253

Writing Research Reports

Imagine that you are rowing in tropical waters, and a friend calls out to you: “Don’t tip the boat! The world’s most venomous fish is right beneath you!”

You’d probably row faster.

And once you got to safety, you’d probably have plenty of questions: “What kind of fish is it? How big is it? How does it attack? Just how venomous is it?”

A research report gives you a chance to ask such questions about an interesting topic and find amazing answers. Follow along on a research expedition!

© Thoughtful Learning 2024

What’s Ahead

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Writing a Research Report

To write a good research report, you need to do four things: (1) choose an interesting and specific topic, (2) gather information about your topic, (3) make a plan, and (4) write an engaging and accurate report to share what you have learned.

Prewriting Choosing a Specific Topic

Choose a Topic 🟪 The first thing you have to do when you write a research report is to find a specific topic. (Fish is a general subject; bizarre fish is more specific. More about that later.) You also have to find a topic that works well for your assignment and for the students who will later be reading or listening to your report.

Create a Cluster 🟪 You may want to use a cluster to begin your topic search. First, put your subject in the middle. After looking over information about your subject, list specific questions that interest you.

Research Cluster

* Put a star next to the question(s) you want to answer in your paper. This will be your specific topic and focus.

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Prewriting Gathering Information

Create a List 🟪 Once you have selected a topic (stonefish, for example), decide what you want to learn about it. Listing questions about your topic is one way to do this.

  1. How does a stonefish inject venom?

  2. How strong is the venom?

  3. What does the venom do to the victim?

  4. How can the venom be counteracted?

  5. What does a stonefish look like?

  6. Where does a stonefish live?

  7. What does it eat?

  8. How does it get its food?

  9. Would you die if you ate a stonefish?

Tip  Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Asking questions that begin with what, how, who, when, or why will lead to more interesting answers.

Review Your List 🟪 Readers expect certain qualities in a research report. Here are some of the characteristics readers expect to find in a scientific research report.

  1. A description of the subject (what it’s like, where it lives)
  2. Habits or characteristics (what it does or doesn’t do)
  3. Illustrations or photographs (what it looks like)
  4. Diagrams or charts (how it compares to similar things)
  5. Historical information (how it fits into our history or culture)

Add to Your List 🟪 Always keep your list of questions in front of you and add questions that come to mind as you do your research. Remember to make sure that your questions cover the requirements for the assignment.

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Find Good Sources 🟪 It’s impossible to write a good research report without good information.

  • Look for books and magazines in the library.
  • Search the Internet for articles and videos. (See pages 299–304.)
  • Interview people who know a lot about your subject.

Mark Both Print and Digital Sources 🟪 When you “mark” a source, you are reminding yourself where you found important information. This can be done in many ways.

When Using Print Information

  • Use book tabs to mark important sections of a book or article. You might choose different colored tabs for each question.
  • Use highlighter tape or sticky notes to mark key ideas, words, or phrases. (If you have printed an article from the Internet, you can write directly on those pages.)

When Using Digital Information

  • Gather and organize links to information and articles using a site or app your teacher recommends.
  • Take notes using your computer, your writer’s notebook, or index cards.

Use a Gathering Grid  🟪 A gathering grid can help you organize the information you collect. (See the following page.)

  • Write your topic in the upper left-hand corner.
  • Write your questions down the left side of the grid.
  • Write your sources across the top. (Sources are books, interviews, magazines, websites, and so on.)
  • Search your sources and write your answers on the grid, or record where you can find your answers (such as in your writer’s notebook, on numbered index cards, or in your electronic notebook).

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Sample Gathering Grid

The following gathering grid relates to the topic of the sample research report on pages 264–267. This is only part of the grid, but it will give you a good idea of how a gathering grid works and how you can build one for your report.




Magazine Articles

Internet Sites/Blog Posts/ Videos

How does a stone-fish inject venom?

Through 13 spines,
Stonefish, p. 3

Two glands per spine, “Synanceia” Reef

How strong is the venom?

Could kill 1,000 mice, Keri Venuvial

What does the venom do to the victim?

Pain, paralysis, death, “Synanceia” Reef

How can the venom be stopped?

Medical help, hot water,

Needles of Pain, p. 27

Anti-venom from horses,

"Deadly Stonefish"

What does a stonefish look like?

Like a bumpy gray stone, Stonefish, p. 11

Bulging eyes, huge mouth, spines, "Deadly Stonefish"

Note  Part of this sample grid has been left out.

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Prewriting Recording Information

Take Notes 🟪 There can be a lot of information to record for a research report. Your grid will help you keep track of key facts, but some facts may not fit. That’s when you need to use your writer’s notebook or note cards. Simply write the question at the top of the page or note card and then list the additional information. Record the source and page number.

How does a stonefish inject venom?

Through 13 spines on its back that stick up when the fish is angry or stepped on. There are two venom glands per spine.


"Needles of Pain," Buckley, p. 3

Write Down Quotations 🟪 When you read or hear something that you want to use “word for word,” copy the quotation just as it was written or spoken. (Place quotation marks before and after a quotation.)

How can the venom be stopped?

“Anti-venom is made by injecting non-lethal quantities of venom into a horse. . . . The animal’s immune system produces antibodies that neutralize the toxins. Blood samples are drawn and centrifuged. The remaining white blood cells contain the precious antibodies. This is the serum that hospitals administer to victims.”


"Deadly Stonefish," NatGeo (Video)

Note  When you use exact words from books, magazines, the Internet, and interviews, you need to do two things: put quotation marks around the words, and tell the reader where you found the words you are quoting.

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Prewriting Organizing Your Information

Create a Writing Plan 🟪 A writing plan can help you stay organized as you write your research report. You can use the PAST strategy to form a writing plan.

Purpose: To report about a subject

Audience: Teacher and classmates

Subject: Stonefish

Type: Research report

Develop an Outline 🟪 To organize the details you have gathered, use an outline like the one below. Think about your beginning, middle, and ending, as well as how you will organize specific details.

I. Beginning

    A. Stonefish ambushing another fish

    B. Fisherman stepping on one

II. Middle

    A. Appearance

      1. Bulbous eyes and gaping mouth

      2. Body like pebbly rock, gray, red splotches

      3. Thirteen spines and venom glands (photo)

    B. Habitat

      1. Tropical waters around globe

      2. Reefs, rocky overhangs, sea floor, camouflaged

    F. Treating venom

      1. Get out of water; get medical help—anti-venom

      2. Soak wound in hot water; remove spines

      3. Don’t close wound

III. Ending

    A. Summary

    B. Final interesting fact—some people eat them

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Writing Developing Your First Draft


Begin with an Interesting Lead 🟪 All writing needs a good lead or hook—something that will start the report with a bang. An anecdote is one way to begin.

  In the hot afternoon sun, the coastal ocean’s waves are peaceful. In the coral reef below, everything seems to be completely normal, but a second glance reveals the stonefish. It is hidden so well, in plain sight, that most animals wouldn’t give it a second glance. However, an unsuspecting fish just happens to swim by.

  SNAP! In a flash, the fish is gone. The stonefish has had its dinner.

Tell What You’re Going to Cover 🟪 Include a focus statement or a controlling idea that clearly states your topic and some subtopics you are going to cover.

. . . The strange stonefish is the most venomous fish in the oceans. Read on to discover its appearance, habitat, diet, adaptations, and life cycle.

Try Other Beginnings 🟪 You can also use a number of other ways to begin your report: a quotation from an interview, a surprising statement, a description of a creature from your research paper—to name a few.

Express Yourself

Use your own words as much as possible. If you do use some direct quotations from other people, make sure to give them credit. (Not crediting sources is a mistake called plagiarism.)

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Connect Facts in Paragraphs 🟪 Simply listing the facts you’ve gathered would give you a research report like a shopping list—useful but very boring! You need to organize your facts into clear, colorful paragraphs.

You also need to include interesting information and carefully elaborate or explain each part with specific details. And, finally, be sure that the information is enjoyable to read. To turn your list into an interesting paper, follow these suggestions:

Adding Details: Elaboration
  1. Use a variety of trustworthy sources.

  2. Take good notes, double-check your facts, and always sort out fact and opinion.

  3. Organize your paragraphs using different text structures (compare/contrast, problem/solution, cause/effect, and so on).

  4. Use transitions or linking words to tie your ideas together throughout the paper. (See pages 24–26 for transitions to use with each text structure.)

  5. Use headings, lists, quotations, illustrations, charts, and diagrams to make your key points stand out.

  6. Link your ideas across paragraphs by restating an idea,
    building upon an idea you have already mentioned, or repeating important words or ideas.

Shaping Your Ideas: Craft
  1. Include specific examples, definitions, and figures of speech (such as similes and metaphors) to help explain your ideas.

  2. Vary your sentences by using different structures and beginnings. (See pages 469–470.)

  3. Use a teaching tone—serious, but interesting.

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Explain the Key Points Clearly 🟪 Consider using questions, headings, or lists to make your key points stand out from the rest of the paper.


 The stonefish’s appearance and its ability to change color help it hide. When hiding, the stonefish looks like a stone. It rarely moves and can stay still for days.

 The stonefish’s venom also protects it from predators. It is the most venomous fish in the world. The venom comes from . . .

Note Look at the middle section of the research report on pages 264–267. Notice how the writer builds his ideas and connects them from one paragraph to the next.

Add Information as Needed 🟪 After you develop each part, decide whether you need more details to explain an idea. If you do, try inserting quotations, illustrations, or charts. These can add interest as well as information to your paper.


End with a Strong Point 🟪 End your report with a summary of your main idea or a strong point about your subject. Also consider taking a look into the future or giving your readers a final idea to think about.

 With its venomous spines for protection, the stonefish is one of the deadliest fish in the oceans. It has excellent camouflage and can stay still for days upon days, so it is pretty hard to spot. Despite all these dangers, some people in Japan actually eat stonefish. They are safe to eat if prepared correctly. Reportedly, they are delicious.

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Revising and Editing Improving Your Research Report

Use a Checklist 🟪 Use the following checklist as a guide when you review and revise your report. Use the “Editing and Proofreading Checklist” on page 66 when you are ready to check for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar.


_____ Does my research report follow the requirements for the assignment?

_____ Do I have three main parts: a beginning, a middle, and an ending?

_____ Do I organize my main ideas in a logical way?


_____ Does the introduction help readers understand and become interested in my subject?

_____ Does a focus statement or controlling idea clearly state what I intend to cover in my paper?


_____ Do I use information from reliable sources and give proper credit to each source?

_____ Do I arrange my details according to familiar patterns (compare/contrast, problem/solution, cause/effect) and tie the details together effectively?

_____ Do I connect my ideas from one paragraph to the next with transitions or headings?

_____ Do I present or clarify my points in a variety of ways: charts, lists, quotations, definitions, and illustrations?

_____ Do I use an interesting, teaching tone?


_____ Do I offer a final summary or thoughtful question for my readers to consider?

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Sample Research Paper

In this research paper, Jimmy Klaves delves into the mysteries of the strange and deadly stonefish.


The lead hooks the reader with a narrative opening.
In the hot afternoon sun, the coastal ocean’s waves are peaceful. In the coral reef below, everything seems to be completely normal, but a second glance reveals the stonefish. It is hidden so well, in plain sight, that most animals wouldn’t give it a second glance. However, an unsuspecting fish just happens to swim by.

SNAP! In a flash, the fish is gone, and the stonefish has had its dinner.

A fisherman is walking along the shoreline and decides to go into the water. Just as he is putting his foot down, he feels a sharp and searing pain. He has stepped right on a deadly creature. The writer states the focus. The strange stonefish is the most venomous fish in the oceans. Read on to discover its appearance, habitat, diet, adaptations, and life cycle.

The writer uses headings to identify each new part.

Some physical features make the stonefish unique. First, it has two large, bulging eyes on each side of its head. After that, it has a big mouth that can open to be bigger than its body. Finally, there is something called a lachrymal saber below the eyes.

Attached to the head is the triangular-shaped body, with gills for breathing. On the stonefish’s back, there are 13 flesh-covered spines. With two venom glands for each at the base of the fins, the stonefish is deadly. It also has rough skin with wart-like things all over it so it looks like a rock. Another physical feature is that it doesn’t have a swim bladder (the organ that makes fish float). Finally, it has two large pectoral fins near the gills that help it move around very slowly. There is also something called the dorsal fin, which steers it in a certain direction and has spines on it as well.

Facts, statistics, and examples, bring the topic to life. The stonefish is relatively small, but its eggs are bigger than most ocean animals’ eggs at 0.06 inches. Usually, about 6–15 inches long, the largest stonefish ever recorded was about 20 inches—tennis racket size! It is usually brown or gray, the color of the stone. It also has splotches of red, orange, or yellow on its body, and has a white mouth. However, it can change all of those colors to hide from prey or predators. The stonefish uses its natural habitat to hide in the reef.A public domain image shows the fish’s appearance and includes a source credit.

Stonefish Camouflage
Alan Slater, Dahab 2003, public domain


The stonefish can be found in a lot of different areas from French Polynesia, to the Red Sea, to Japan, to Africa—always in tropical waters. It can even sometimes be found in rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. Stonefish normally live in a water depth of 11 feet or less, and sometimes even in tide pools. However, some stonefish dwell at depths of up to 130 feet. They hide in coral reefs, under rocky ledges, in the mud or sand on the seafloor, or by rocks covered with algae and coral.


The writer vividly describes the way the creature catches prey. Some of the foods the stonefish eats are small fish, shrimp, and other crustaceans. The stonefish has an interesting way of getting its food. It doesn’t hunt or gather. It just waits there camouflaged until a fish goes by it, and then eats it. It prepares its spot by digging a hole with its two pectoral fins and can sit motionless for hours upon hours until it senses prey. Its mouth has a vacuum, so it uses that to eat the fish whole, and the fish is gone in 0.013 seconds. It swallows them when they are least expecting it, an ambush.


The stonefish’s appearance and its ability to change color help it hide. When hiding, the stonefish looks like a stone. It rarely moves and can stay still for days.

Each paragraph focuses on a different adaptation. The stonefish’s venom also protects it from predators. It is the most venomous fish in the world. The venom comes from the spines on its back, with two venom glands for each spine. The spines usually stay down, but when the fish is angered, they go up, the venom glands burst, and the victim is injected with the neurotoxin. The stonefish releases an amount of venom equal to the amount of pressure on it. It can release up to six of its spines at a time, with enough venom to kill 1,000 mice. If victims don’t get medical treatment, they could die within hours.

Descriptive details paint a clear picture. The stonefish has one more adaptation—the lachrymal saber located just beneath the eyes. It is a switchblade, which means it comes out on both sides. The stonefish pushes the lachrymal saber with its cheekbones. It can cause nerve and cell damage resulting in cell decay. This helps the stonefish stab unwary predators.

Life Cycle

Stonefish usually live alone, except for mating season, and even then they don’t spend that long with each other. When stonefish meet up, they lay jelly-like eggs in sacks and bury them in the sand using their large pectoral fins. When the babies are born, they immediately have full camouflage and venomous spines. These newborn stonefish will live 58 years.

Treating Venom

The writer focuses on helping victims of the venom. Stonefish venom can be deadly, but luckily there is a way to treat it. If you get stung, get out of the water right away or when you pass out you will drown. The toxin can kill you, so find medical help immediately. Hospitals have anti-venom that can neutralize the toxins. If untreated, the venom causes spontaneous pain, difficulty breathing, convulsions, paralysis, tissue damage and decay, cell decay, and even death. If you can’t find a doctor, put your wound in hot water. Use tweezers to remove any spines from your skin, and whatever you do, don’t close the wound. It will make the venom worse. A stonefish can survive out of water for up to 24 hours, and even a dead stonefish can still kill you, so beware.

The writer sums up the report and ends with a surprising final fact.

With its venomous spines for protection, the stonefish is one of the deadliest fish in the oceans. It has excellent camouflage and can stay still for days upon days, so it is pretty hard to spot. Despite all these dangers, some people in Japan actually eat stonefish. They are safe to eat if prepared correctly. “It’s like eating fried worms,” said Chef Jerome Itzen. “You’ll forget the taste but have a great story to tell afterward.” No thanks. I’ll let other people tell that story.

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Citing Sources

Your teacher may ask you to make a list of the materials (sources) you used to write your research report. In that case, you will need to include a bibliography page or works-cited list at the end of your paper. The examples below show what information to include for common sources.

  • Create your source list on a brand new page.

  • Center a title on the page: “Bibliography” or “Works Cited.”

  • List your materials in alphabetical order.

  • List the author by last name, then first name.

  • In a handwritten paper, use underlining instead of italics.

  • Book: Author (Last Name, First Name). Book Title. City where the book is published, Publisher, Copyright year.

    Buckley, James, Jr. Needles of Pain. Minneapolis, MN, Bearport Publishing, 2021.

  • Magazine: Author. “Article Title.” Magazine Title, Date (day month year), Article page numbers (if numbered).

    Glass, Keith. “Synanceia.” Reef, Jan 2023, pp. 34–35.

  • Online Video: Author(s). “Title of Video.” Website title. Uploaded by Name of User, post date, URL.

    “Deadly Stonefish.” YouTube. Uploaded by National Geographic, 11 June 2009,

  • Personal Interview: Person Interviewed (Last Name, First Name). Personal interview. Date (day month year).

    Venuvial, Keri. Personal interview. 15 Jan. 2023.

  • Web Page: Author (if listed). “Page Title.” Site Title, Sponsor or publisher, Post date or last update, URL. Date accessed.

    MacGrouther, Mark. “Reef Stonefish.” Australian Museum, Australian Museum, 20 Apr. 2021, Accessed 25 Apr. 2023.

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