Did you know that lab reports are the most frequent type of paper written for science lab experiments and count up to 25% of a course? With such a huge percentage, little attention is paid when it comes to how to write a lab report correctly. The professors make it worse because they don’t have a standard requirement and each expects something a little different from their students. Irrespective of disparities, all lab reports have the same goal: to document all your findings and communicate their significance. A lab report has many critical elements to it such as raw data, a hypothesis, and material lists. Bearing this in mind, we can now describe essential components and lab report format. Once you know the purpose and pieces, you can quickly adapt to a professor’s needs.
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To write an outstanding lab report, it has to present data. Also, it will exhibit a writer’s grasp of the concepts behind the data. It’s not enough to record the observed and expected results; you should also:
Detect why and how variances occurred.
Describe how they affected your experiment.
Illustrate your understanding of the concepts the research was aimed to examine.
Note: A format alone is not enough to replace clear thinking and organized writing. Your ideas must be organized carefully and expressed coherently.
Lab reports differ depending on the instructions of your professor. A typical lab report may consist of such parts:
Materials and Methods
Not all lab reports have a title page. It will solely depend on your professor. It is a single page that contains:
The name of the experiment.
Your name and those of any lab partners.
The name of your professor.
Don’t include it if it’s not a requirement.
The title aims to put emphasis on the focus of the experiment. It communicates to the reader what the report will entail. It may reveal the conclusion, but it’s not a must. An example of a good title is: “An Experimentally Determined Formula for the Buoyant Force of Water.”Remember to keep it short and specific.
Don’t use abbreviations or be wordy.
It is a summary of the report that you’re writing which does not exceed 250 words. It should contain interpretation, results, and an explanation of your experimental procedures. It should be written distinctly so that your readers will immediately be able to assess the significance of the lab report to their research. The report itself begins after an abstract. An abstract in other words is a mini version of your report.
Don’t have more than one paragraph, use a lot of technical terms or make it too detailed.
An introduction aims to present the objectives of your argument scientifically. Here, you should offer enough background information for the reader from the broad context of the study to the hypothesis. A hypothesis is a tentative, tested answer for a scientific question. For example: “The rate of respiration is affected by temperature.”The introduction presents your objectives and your hypothesis.
For easy creation of your hypothesis, consider the below prompts:
You raised additional questions from a previous experiment. Concisely indicate the results of the previous trial and how it led up to the present investigation. A particular theory may make an astounding prediction. Succinctly state how the theory and your experiment relate to each other.
The research may provide solutions to real world problems. Therefore describe how so.
Don’t state any results or conclusion, leave out any background information and materials and methods.
For you to learn how to write a lab report, your methodology should offer appropriate sequential criteria for assessing the data gathered. For others to be able to experiment in future, provide complete details of how the experiment was achieved. Nevertheless, refrain from writing a step by step account of your procedure. Remember that it’s not necessary to explain a series of implied actions.
In your lab manual, it is okay to include numerous details for your benefit but it is not necessary to repeat them in your report. A sentence such as “For the preparation of a sample of zinc iodide, acidified water, iodine, and zinc got heated until the water boiled away”is satisfactory. Here, you should also remember to include specific apparatus or innovative techniques if they were used.
Don’t be overly detailed, copy the procedure found in the lab manual, forget to use past tense when writing the method or include your results.
In this section, you should summarize your data, highlight essential trends or patterns and support your views with descriptive statistics, details, and examples of representative cases. You should remember to avoid comparing your findings to those of other scientists. Also, don’t discuss why your results were or were not in line with your predictions. The results should appear in a logical order.
This section contains graphs, data tables or any notes made during the experiment. For the data tables, make sure to label them clearly, and all units of measurements should as well be recorded. If you are going to use graphs, instead of using dots, use X or O. Ensure that you label each axis with a variable.
Data collected can be of two different kinds. It can either be Quantitative or Qualitative data. Quantitative data is observable and can either be ordinal or interval. Quantitative results are measured in kilometers, grams, degrees, etc. On the other hand, Qualitative data is based on observations and does not have a numeric value. It’s the things that you observe with your senses. They vary in quality but not magnitude.
Don’t discuss the results.
A discussion is among the most critical sections of a lab report. It must be original. It indicates your ability to interpret and comprehend the results of the experiment. When you discuss the quality of your data, the reader should be in a position to draw conclusions from your results. Does the data support your initial hypothesis? Why or why not? Additionally, you may be required to discuss other scientists’ work. Are your findings consistent with theirs? Lastly, you can recommend what form the additional research might take. An example: “In this experiment, for the results to get an easy interpretation, we tried to minimize the role of friction. For us to see how the results may differ, it would be interesting to repeat the experiment and this time use a high friction system such as a wood block sliding down a wooden ramp.”
Regardless of whether it happened or not, human errors don’t count and therefore:
Don’t say the time was not enough or “I knocked over my flask and lost some of the material.”
This is a list of the references cited in the lab report. An example may be your lab manual or textbook and sources from the scientific literature. You should never include sources that you did not cite in your text as much as they may prove to be useful background reading.
The formatting of citations may vary from one academic field to another. In the world of science, CSE and APA documentation styles are the ones that get used regularly.
Don’t assume the required format, always check with your professor.
So what did you learn from the experiment? A conclusion is a section where you state and demonstrate what you have learned from the research, regardless of whether your hypothesis was rejected or accepted. It is essential because it helps you to comprehend the value of the lab and persuades the reader that the lab was a success. You should be specific when providing the details of what you’ve learned.
Don’t summarize the results (instead, give the implication or the meaning of your results) or deviate from the objective of your experiment.
This is where you put information that does not necessarily have to be included in your report but can be of help to some readers who want to know more about the details. If you decide to have appendices, remember to make references to them at least once in your text. To referrer to all graphs, figures, and tables, you should number them.
Some of the information found in an appendix includes:
Raw data in drawings, photographs or tables that may be of use for one to understand specific findings.
Sources of materials that are hard to find or other information that relates to the methodology of the experiment.
Calculations that expand on those that are in the methods section.
Don’t contain all the items in one appendix; each piece should go in a separate appendix.
You should always remember to edit your paper twice. One time for content and the other time for formatting.
You should never plagiarize your lab reports. It may result in you having failed grades or the worst case scenario, an expulsion.
You can use third person, passive voice or present tense when writing most of the lab reports. You should only use past tense when describing specific observations and methods or when citing experiments or research done in the past.
You should choose a lab that’s familiar to you.
When recording external data, only use the specified format as per your professor’s requirements. Always cite your sources.
For you to truly learn how to write a lab report, the first rule that you should always observe is to keep the report relatively short. For a one-week lab, a few pages of text should be sufficient. Should you feel overwhelmed, you can start by attempting to answer questions from your instruction sheet or lab manual to get a clue of what to address. If there were any errors in your data that occurred during the experiment, make sure to include them. Discuss possible reasons as to why the data collected might be wrong. Additionally, if you had a do-over, state what you would do differently to improve the quality and accuracy of the experiment.
Lab reports play a significant role in all of your laboratory courses and are usually a vital part of your grade. It is a matter of following all the above steps with the requirements of your professor in mind for you to come up with an outstanding report.