Lab reports are an essential part of all laboratory courses and usually a significant part of your grade. If your instructor gives you an outline for how to write a lab report, use that. Some instructors require a lab report to be included in a lab notebook, while others will request a separate report. Here’s a format for a lab report you can use if you aren’t sure what to write or need an explanation of what to include in the different parts of the report.
A lab report is how you explain what you did in your experiment, what you learned, and what the results meant.
Lab Report Essentials
Not all lab reports have title pages, but if your instructor wants one, it would be a single page that states:
- The title of the experiment.
- Your name and the names of any lab partners.
- Your instructor's name.
- The date the lab was performed or the date the report was submitted.
The title says what you did. It should be brief (aim for ten words or less) and describe the main point of the experiment or investigation. An example of a title would be: "Effects of Ultraviolet Light on Borax Crystal Growth Rate". If you can, begin your title using a keyword rather than an article like "The" or "A".
Introduction or Purpose
Usually, the introduction is one paragraph that explains the objectives or purpose of the lab. In one sentence, state the hypothesis. Sometimes an introduction may contain background information, briefly summarize how the experiment was performed, state the findings of the experiment, and list the conclusions of the investigation. Even if you don’t write a whole introduction, you need to state the purpose of the experiment, or why you did it. This would be where you state your hypothesis.
List everything needed to complete your experiment.
Describe the steps you completed during your investigation. This is your procedure. Be sufficiently detailed that anyone could read this section and duplicate your experiment. Write it as if you were giving direction for someone else to do the lab. It may be helpful to provide a figure to diagram your experimental setup.
Numerical data obtained from your procedure usually presented as a table. Data encompasses what you recorded when you conducted the experiment. It's just the facts, not any interpretation of what they mean.
Describe in words what the data means. Sometimes the Results section is combined with the Discussion.
Discussion or Analysis
The Data section contains numbers; the Analysis section contains any calculations you made based on those numbers. This is where you interpret the data and determine whether or not a hypothesis was accepted. This is also where you would discuss any mistakes you might have made while conducting the investigation. You may wish to describe ways the study might have been improved.
Most of the time the conclusion is a single paragraph that sums up what happened in the experiment, whether your hypothesis was accepted or rejected, and what this means.
Figures and Graphs
Graphs and figures must both be labeled with a descriptive title. Label the axes on a graph, being sure to include units of measurement. The independent variable is on the X-axis, the dependent variable (the one you are measuring) is on the Y-axis. Be sure to refer to figures and graphs in the text of your report: the first figure is Figure 1, the second figure is Figure 2, etc.
If your research was based on someone else's work or if you cited facts that require documentation, then you should list these references.
Even with the resources already available to writing fellows concerning writing in the sciences, a consultation involving a lab report can be daunting, because it’s not always clear which general writing rules should be broken, and which should be adhered to. The goal of this handout is to therefore summarize the awkward and wrong-sounding aspects that SHOULD appear in a lab report, so a writing fellow can know whether or not he should accept a wince-inducing format, phrase, structure, or word use. However, all guides to writing in the sciences should come with this disclaimer: how one should write his report depends heavily on the professor. No pamphlet on science writing should ever be relied upon for always being right. The best we can do is give general common guidelines.
The Use of “I” and “We”
In general, “I” and “We” will often be used in lab reports. However, in sections that more closely resemble traditional writing (such as the beginning of the introduction), the 3rd person should be used. Basically, if the point being discussed is something the student actually did, the student should use the 1st person; however, any examples or general information should not. As usual, the 2nd person should never be used.
Tense use within a section should be consistent; however, tense use can change between sections. Introduction is usually present-tense at the beginning, when the background information is being summarized, and past-tense when talking about the findings of a previous study, or when the hypothesis is being stated (A cockroach does x. In 2006, these people found y. We hypothesized z). The methods section is usually in the past tense, as is results and discussion. The conclusion or abstract, being a compilation of all the other sections, will have multiple tenses. The most awkward, but completely correct, aspect of tense use in lab reports is the abundance of the past perfect tense, which is rarely accepted in traditional writing. The methods section, especially, often includes both the simple past tense (“we did x”) and the past perfect (“Y was done”).
Redundancy is abundant within lab reports. However, some basic rules exist concerning what should and should not be repeatedly included. In general, each individual section should follow common-sense rules of redundancy, but between sections, many points may be stated a ridiculous number of times. The desired result is for each section to orient the reader enough so that he does not have to flip back to a previous section to figure out what a current section is saying. Here are some examples of ideas that should appear in multiple sections:
The title is awkwardly detailed. It should be a spoiler for the most exciting result from the study. If the titles of novels followed the format of lab report titles, they would say something like “In the investigation concerning the murder of millionaire John Smith, the butler was found to be the killer.”
The abstract summarizes everything; everything in the abstract should appear somewhere in the report. Because of this, the abstract should be written last. Note: in Organic Chemistry lab reports, instead of having the abstract at the beginning of the report, they have a conclusion at the end. The two are analogous. They should both include the general idea and a tiny bit of general background, the hypothesis, a sentence on methods, the most note-worthy results and discussion points, and a statement on why the results are significant or what should be studied next.
The first part of the introduction should be like a mini-essay, following most the general rules we know. It should start by presenting the general concepts behind the topic and procedure, and gradually narrow down to the specific ideas surrounding the tested hypothesis. The introduction section should end in the hypothesis. Often, a short statement on how the general methods used will prove the hypothesis is included.
This section should only include the methods used—no information surrounding them (that should have been in the intro), or results obtained from them, should be included. Though it should be in paragraph form, someone with experience with the material—say, another student in the class—should be able to repeat the experiment by following the methods section. If a given procedure from a manual or another paper was used, citing that procedure, instead of typing it out, is generally accepted (i.e., saying “we dissected the cockroach in accordance with the lab manual (King et al., 2011),” instead of stating the actual dissection steps).
These will sometimes include a brief summary of the hypothesis and the methods used. The professor should have stated his preference; if not, advise the student to ask the professor about it. If statistics are involved, they belong in the results section, and a statement of what the statistic means (for example, a p value of 0.01 means the results are statistically significant) should be stated; the implications of the results and statistics, however, go in the discussion section only. The results should reference the figures and tables, and should include only the important information from the figures and tables—they should summarize, rather than verbalizing every part of, the data.
Once again, the discussion will state the hypothesis and methods, usually saying why the method was relevant to the hypothesis—saying something like “doing x, and observing y, would indicate z.” The section should then say what their results say in terms of the hypothesis. Data should be compared and contrasted within the discussion. Look at it like the discussion is the “essay” to the result section’s “book;” no “quote/evidence,” or in this case, piece of data or statistical analysis, should be presented without stating relevant discussion points about why anyone cares about that particular piece of evidence.
Figures and Tables
The figures and tables should include detailed enough footnotes (for tables) or legends (for figures) so that the reader does not need to flip back through the methods section to figure out exactly what is being represented. For example, if the image is a graph of cell voltage versus time, the figure legend would not just say “Cell voltage over time;” it would say something like, “Cell voltage over time. The voltage was obtained by extracellular recordings taken while stimulating the cell with an electrical stimulus.”
What Shouldn’t Be Awkward
As in typical essay writing, the ideas should be presented in a logical fashion, sentences should be clear and flow well, and transitions between sentences should be clear. Those issues should be regarded in a manner consistent with any other consultation. The only thing that needs to be kept in mind is that many sections contain word limits, so conciseness is emphasized more than in most other kinds of writing.
Prerequisite: You are ready for this course if you can write in paragraphs and use a simple calculator. You’ll need a ruler.
Description: Once you understand the lab report formula, you’ll be able to make a good looking, easy reading report from any experiment: good experiment, bad experiment, or even that messy incident in the kitchen that didn’t quite work out as planned… Oops. Perhaps some experiments belong in the back yard.
Seriously, though, I’ll show you EXACTLY how to do 23 simple steps in the correct order to make a good lab report every time, guaranteed. All this information is provided in under two hours of follow-along videos, so that you can learn all the basics quickly. Additionally, there is a really, really simple experiment that you can perform yourself to craft your own report with your own measurements and data. You’ll master report writing, and you’ll save tons of time with future reports and experiments.
The big ideas you’ll be learning:
- Writing a solid, readable lab report that tells a story
- Making a template for future lab reports to save time
- Thinking like a scientist before, during, and after the experiment
- Organizing data
- Making measurements that are scientifically precise
Videos and material included: 25 videos (2 hours total) plus 4 printable pdf worksheets.
Topics: Topics are listed in the collapsible righthand sidebar at the top of this page. The topics will be active links to the course materials immediately when you sign up using the buttons to select between Just This Course or Get All the Courses!
Suggested schedule: 2 hours to watch videos, and 1-4 hours to complete the experiment and write your report. Experiment has an overnight wait.
Age: 13+ years old.
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Lab reports are your introduction to communicating science. They follow the same format of peer-reviewed journal articles, which are the foundation of scientific knowledge. The purpose of your lab report is to communicate your research in a clear and systematic way. The reader should be able to follow your logic, reproduce your experiment, understand your results, and see how these results and their implications fit into the larger context of your field of study.
Lab reports have four standard sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. These sections are sometimes collectively called “IMRAD” as an easy way to refer to this style of report. This standard format closely relates to the scientific method, as you can see in the diagram below. Notice that the second half of the scientific method mirrors the first; your lab report should follow a similar structure.
While the content of the lab report follows the scientific method, the structure follows the shape of an hourglass; this is a helpful visual to keep in mind while writing your reports. In the diagram below, you can see that the introduction begins broadly and narrows to your specific study; the methods and results stay focused only on your research; and the discussion expands and returns to the broader scope defined in your introduction. The size of each box illustrates the relative size of each section – the methods and results are usually quite brief, while the discussion is the longest portion of the report.
- Begins with broader scope of your research question
- Gradually narrows to your specific study topic
- Concludes with your hypothesis, prediction, and rationale
- Specific to your study only; provides sufficient detail for others to reproduce your results
- Specific to your study only; provides a summary of your findings; no raw data
- Begins by relating your data to your hypothesis and predictions
- Expands to put your results in context with those of other studies
- Concludes by discussing broader implications of your study and direction for future research
How To Guides
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Introduction:� What is the context in which the experiment takes place?
The primary job of any scientific Introduction is to establish the purpose for doing the experiment that is to be reported.� When scientists do research, the main purpose that guides their work is to contribute to the knowledge of their field.� That’s why the scientific context they establish in their introductions usually consists of summarizing previous research reports published in the field.� A scientific contribution to the knowledge of the field can be understood only within the context of what other scientists have done.
The main purpose of writing a lab report, of course, is not to contribute to the knowledge of the field; but to provide you the opportunity for learning.� That’s why it’s important to begin the lab by establishing that learning context.� The learning context provides a way for you to situate the lab report within the overall purpose for doing the lab in the first place:� to learn something about the science of the course you are taking.
An effective introduction to a lab report typically performs the following tasks, generally in the order presented:
pertinent�information about the scientific concept (this information can come from the lab manual, the textbook, lecture notes, and other sources recommended by the lab manual or teacher; in more advanced labs you may also be expected to cite the findings of previous scientific studies related to the lab).
Materials and Methods:� What did you do and how did you do it?
There are various other headings one may find for this section of the report, such as "Experimental Procedure," "Experimental," or "Methodology."� Sometimes Materials and Methods may be separated in different sections.� But however it is titled, the main tasks of the Materials and Methods are to describe (1) the lab apparatus and the laboratory procedure used to gather the data and (2) the process used to analyze the data.
Materials and Methods takes the reader step by step through the laboratory procedure that the experimenters followed.� The rule of thumb in constructing this section is to provide enough detail so that a competent scientist in the field can repeat, or replicate, the procedure.� The challenge, however, is to do so as efficiently as you can.� This means, for example, not including details that the same competent scientist already knows, such as descriptions of standard procedures that most everyone in the field would already be familiar with.
Results:� What did you find?
This is the heart of the scientific paper, in which the researcher reports the outcomes of the experiment.� Report is a key word here because Results should not contain any explanations of the experimental findings or in any other way interpret or draw conclusions about the data.� Results should stick to the facts as they have been observed.
Generally speaking, the Results begins with a succinct statement (a sentence or two) summarizing the overall findings of the experiment.� After that the Results integrates both visual (graphs, tables, drawings) and verbal (words) representations of the data.� The verbal descriptions consist of series of findings (general statements that summarize or give the important point of a visual) and support for the findings (further details about the data that give pertinent information about the findings).
Discussion:� What does it mean?
The purpose of the Discussion is to interpret your results, that is, to explain, analyze, and compare them. �This is the point at which the researcher stands back from the results and talks about them within the broader context set forth in the Introduction.� It is perhaps the most important part of the report because it is where you demonstrate that you understand the experiment beyond the level of simply doing it.� Do not discuss any outcomes not presented in the Results.
The Discussion section often begins by making a statement as to whether the findings in the Results support or do not support the expected findings stated in the hypothesis.� It’s important to make such a comparison because returning to the hypothesis is crucial to basic scientific thinking.� The statement of support or non-support then leads to the next logical issue, an explanation of why the hypothesis was or was not supported by the data.� The explanation might focus on the scientific reasoning that supported the original hypothesis (based on the scientific concept on which the lab is founded) and on changes to or errors in the experimental procedure and how they could have affected the outcomes.� The Discussion also provides the opportunity to compare the results to the research of others.
Conclusion:� What have I learned?
The Conclusion returns to the larger purpose of the lab, which is presented as the learning context in the Introduction:� to learn something about the scientific concept that provides the reason for doing the lab.� This is where you demonstrate that you have indeed learned something by stating what it is you have learned.� This is important because it helps you to understand the value of the lab and convinces the reader that the lab has been a success.� It’s important, then, to be specific, providing details of what you have learned about the theory or principle or procedure at the center of the lab.
Abstract:� What is the essence of the report?
The Abstract is a miniature version of the lab report, one concise paragraph of 80-200 words.� Its purpose is to present the nature and scope of the report.� In the scientific literature, abstracts must be stand-alone documents, whole and self-contained, because they are often published by themselves in research guides.
To create a miniature version of the report, abstracts usually consist of one-sentence summaries of each of the parts of the report (sometimes two sentences are necessary for especially complex parts).� And those sentences are arranged on the order that the parts come in the report:� Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusion.
Title:� What is the report about?
The main job of the title is to describe the content of the report.� In science, a title usually tells the reader what the subject of the experiment and the key research variables are, and it often gives an indication of what research methodology was used.� Titles are especially important to scientists because articles are typically indexed according to key words that come from the title.� So when scientists are searching for research articles, it is those key words that lead them the articles they need.� It’s necessary, then, that titles be fully informative about the content of the report.
References:� What sources were used?
This is a list of the references that were cited in the lab report, including the lab manual, any handouts accompanying the lab, the textbook, and sources from the scientific literature.� The format for references differs in different fields and even within the same field.� It’s important that you check with you teacher or lab manual to find out what is expected of you.
Appendices:� What additional material is included?
Appendices are places where you put information that does not deserve to be included in the report itself but may be helpful to some readers who want to know more about the details.� The kinds of information you might find in an appendix are:
Students should learn to write a formal lab report, but there’s room in science classes for them to show their learning in other ways as well.
Hands-on learning is part and parcel of high-quality science instruction—it’s the whole point of lab work. After a lab, students typically show their learning by reflecting on their results in a piece of formal writing such as a traditional lab report or the more contemporary claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) argumentation format. Formal write-ups offer students a chance to describe empirical information in a professional voice—an important skill.
Students should be given opportunities to practice this kind of authoritative writing, but are there also ways that they can share their scientific understanding without feeling bogged down by technical writing?
For many adolescent learners, lab reports are not always an efficient or comfortable way to communicate. Can teachers take advantage of students’ preferred communication methods to help support learning? Are there methods aside from formal written argument through which students can accurately communicate logical, evidence-based assertions?
In my experience, the answer to these questions is yes, and these are three ideas that I’ve tried.
Alternatives to Formal Science Writing
Storyboarding: Storyboarding consists of having students create a comic-book style representation of the work they do in a science lab. Storyboards can be assigned before or after the lab.
If the lab follows the structured inquiry format—in which students follow prescribed steps—the teacher can give the class the lab procedures a day or two before the lab is to be completed and ask them to draw the steps they will be conducting in the lab. That way, they will better anticipate their tasks during the lab. The storyboard can be used to highlight important points in the lab where safety should be considered—indicating when students should put on their goggles, for example, or which steps require the most attention.
The storyboard can also be used as a post-lab documentation of the student experience. I sometimes assign several must-haves when I do this, meaning there are elements students must include that complement a traditional lab report: I may require that storyboards include the steps taken in the lab, the equipment used to gather data, and a representation of the data in table or graph form.
Unfortunately, though, the lab storyboard does not lend itself well to the interpretation and analysis of data—it’s difficult for students to use this format to describe relationships between variables like time and temperature or to identify patterns in data. This is particularly true when the teacher wants students to expand on the implications of their findings.
Multimedia: The way adolescents seek out and obtain information about the world has shifted dramatically in recent years. YouTube and podcasts, for example, provide on-demand content covering almost any topic imaginable. Teachers can capitalize on these dynamic, free modes of communication as an alternative to traditional science writing.
Students can make videos of portions of their lab with their phones or other personal devices. These videos can be compiled and uploaded to YouTube for ease of sharing. Or they can use screencasting apps like Screencastify and Screencast-O-Matic, which allow them to add narration to their video in order to document their learning.
Students can likewise record audio of their lab—the technology demands for creating a podcast are remarkably basic. Students can simply use the voice memo feature on their phones to record themselves in the lab and then create a podcast episode. The file can be uploaded directly to Google Drive or Classroom, and the teacher can decide whether these podcasts are shared with the class.
It’s worth noting that students are generally outpacing teachers in terms of their proficiency with technology. Teachers don’t necessarily have to do a lot of teaching of the tools—simply offering audio and video options is often enough to spark student creativity and yield impressive results.
Some of my students have created videos using staggeringly accurate scale representations of my classroom that they built in Minecraft. They then uploaded videos set in the virtual classroom to YouTube. How these Minecraft classrooms were assembled is beyond me, but it’s exciting to see technologically inclined learners express scientific ideas accurately and coherently.
Speakers and Scouts: An activity I call Speakers and Scouts—adapted from something I found in Science Scope—utilizes the power of peer-to-peer interaction for communicating science ideas. At the conclusion of a lab, I task students with working in teams of four students each to distill the big takeaways from the lab into simplified data tables or graphs.
Each member of the lab team is assigned one of two roles (or teachers can allow students to choose):
- The two speakers remain at the lab table. It’s their job to communicate to visiting peers (the scouts) the purpose of the lab, the procedures their team used, their results, and the importance of that data in either corroborating or contradicting their original hypothesis.
- The two scouts rotate around the room visiting each of the other teams, actively listening to the speakers, faithfully recording the testable question and results of their peers, and reporting back to their own speakers.
While Speakers and Scouts can be used to wrap up any lab, the strategy works best in tandem with an open inquiry, in which each team has developed a testable question and designed an investigation specific to that question. If each team has composed a unique testable question, carried out their own experiment, and collected data, there’s greater variety in the stories the scouts will hear from group to group. If all groups conducted the same lab but got slightly different data, the interviews become repetitive and boring for the scouts.
This approach builds a powerful sense of community in the science classroom. In sharing their thinking aloud with others, students become more aware of strategies that worked and ones that did not. Additionally, kids see how their team’s work and results stack up against their peers’. Rather than thinking about their grade, this exercise prompts students to think, “What a great idea—I should have done that!”
Scientists know that lab reports are a very important part of every experiment. The purpose of an experiment is to answer a question by testing a hypothesis. During an experiment you may collect a lot of information, or data. But that data is not very useful unless it is organized. The purpose of a lab report is to organize and communicate what you did in your experiment. A good lab report explains exactly what you have done. It can be used to repeat the experiment or to test other hypotheses in new experiments.
Lab Report Form
Title: ______(the name of the lab or experiment)
The purpose or problem states the reason(s) why you are doing the experiment. Write down exactly the problem that will be investigated or experimented. Purposes can be stated as a question.
In a few words tell what you already know or have found about the problem that will let you make an educated guess. This is your background information from the text, teacher, or other sources. It gives the reader an understanding of underlying principles and content information of the laboratory.
What do you expect to find? The hypothesis can be stated as an "If. then. " statement. The ‘If’ part of the statement is based on related facts that you know to be true. The ‘then’ part of the statement is an educated guess on the outcome of the experiment. The hypothesis does not have to guess the correct outcome, but the experiment must be set up to test the hypothesis.
This is a list of all equipment and chemicals used to do the experiment. Please include quantities (amounts).
The procedure tells exactly what you did. Make statements in the past tense. Be specific. The procedure you use affects the results. So, it is important to be accurate in explaining what you did. The procedure is written in paragraph form.
Observations and Data:
The observations tell exactly what happened when you did the lab. An observation is measurable information that comes to you through your senses. Results include experimental (raw) data in the form of well-labeled tables, graphs, drawings and other observations. Place your observations and data in this section without discussion or comment. This is where you include any calculations made during the experiment. Answer any questions here.
Conclusions explain your observations and describe how your data relates to the problem. It is written in paragraph/essay form and should include why you did this experiment (restate the purpose/problem). You should explain in your own words what you found out or discovered. Your conclusion should state whether or not the data confirms or rejects your hypothesis. Discuss any errors as well as any patterns you see. Part of the conclusion may be a new hypothesis based on your findings and suggestions for testing the new hypothesis in a different experiment. You may also make any predictions you would expect based on what you discovered.
Tyler Fleegenshneeze August 11, 2001
Title: Making a Seismograph
Purpose: How does the magnitude of vibrations affect the amplitude of a seismograph?
Hypothesis: An increase in the magnitude of vibrations will result in an increase in amplitude of the seismograph.
Materials: clamp, metal bar, piece of string, rubber bands (2), table, pencil, two people
Procedure: I laced a piece of paper directly beneath the pen and the clamp stand. One person slowly moved the paper past the pen, as the other hit the end of the table. The first trial represented a medium magnitude movement. The second trial was the soft movement, and the third was the hardest, or the most forceful magnitude. While looking at each individual seismograph, the greatest magnitude was observed and identified. Measuring the distance from the top and bottom of the spike represented the amplitude. The data from each seismograph was recorded in the table on the following page.
a little jagged, the dots are the darkest of all the trials, the pen a little wild
the smoothest line, more dots and dots are closer together, the pen was not out of control
the most jagged, doesn’t really have a certain path, the least amount of dots, pen way out of control
Conclusion: This lab investigated how the magnitude of vibrations affects the amplitude of a seismograph. In order to study the problem we created three magnitudes of movement and measured the amplitude of each with a seismograph. My results showed the trial with the greatest amplitude was trial three because the table was being hit with the most force, making the table and the pen move more than the other three trials. The trial with the least amplitude was trial two because the table was hit with the least amount of pressure. While observing the experiment, I noticed that the more vibrations or higher magnitude resulted in a higher amplitude on the seismograph. The harder the table was being hit, the higher the amplitude rose. This proves my hypothesis was correct.
I believe the results are accurate because while the experiment was in progress, the frame moved at the same rate as the table. It was proven in trials one through three that the increased magnitude of table movement caused the greatest amplitude differences on the seismograph. It is clear, therefore, that the movement of the frame also corresponds to the amplitude of the seismograph. The bar and marker shared the same relationship with the table and the frame. The more the frame moved, the greater the amplitude on the seismograph.
In order to further investigate this problem, next time I would try the experiment on a different surface and would add additional movements of varying forces for further readings on the seismograph.
Lab Report Form
(Name)_____ (Date) _____
Observations and Data:
This lab (experiment) investigated __________. In order to study the problem we ___________. My results showed ____________, thus proving my hypothesis was ____________. I believe the results are (accurate/inaccurate) because ____________. In order to further investigate this problem, next time I would _____________.
- Do draw a picture of the experiment, if appropriate.
- Dont say that the purpose was accomplished and then say nothing substantially more. You must include data from the lab results to demonstrate that the purpose was accomplished.
- Dont give the procedure again.
- Dont list the data again. It was already listed in the data (chart, table, etc.). You are to discuss and draw conclusions from the data.
- Dont forget to break up your ideas with more than one paragraph, if necessary. (This is referred to as an essay!)
Cheryl also suggests that the basic format suggested by Dr. Wile: Title, Date, Observations/Data, and Conclusion/Summary is adequate for 7th, 8th and 9th graders and the full format for documentation that she suggests above is optional.
When student scientists engage in scientific experiments, they convey their results through the composition of a experiment report. This report consists of a number of standard elements. The purpose of a experiment report is to inform other scientists of the experimentation you undertook and explain how you conducted your experiment so that they can either replicate your trial or build upon your results by modifying your procedure and testing for another variable. It is vital that experiment reports follow a prescribed form and contain all of the elements necessary so that outsiders can understand the experiment that you created and conducted.
Explain the purpose. The first section of a experiment report is the purpose section. In this section, the report writer needs to briefly explain why they undertook the experiment. The explanation in the purpose section should be succinct. Include only the most important information.
Compose a hypothesis. Before scientists undertake an experiment, they create a hypothesis, or educated guess, as to what will happen given the factors involved. List the hypothesis that you created below the purpose section. Be sure to list your original hypothesis, regardless of whether it was proved or disproved by the results of your experiment.
Describe the procedure in detail. In the procedure section, you must explain what you did during your science experiment. Include extensive detail, thereby allowing others to replicate your experiment in the future. Your procedure should be explained explicitly enough, in a step-by-step fashion, so that others can perform the exact same experiment that you performed, allowing them to test the validity of your results.
Record experiment data. Below your procedure, list all of the data that you record during the completion of the experiment.
Analyze the data. Include charts, graphs and any other pictorial representation of the numerical data that you collected. The inclusion of this analysis helps both you and outsiders who later read the report. By creating charts and diagrams, you can effectively develop an understanding of the meaning of your data. Also, these analysis tools make it easier for others to interpret the raw data you provided.
Compose a conclusion. Develop a conclusion as a result of the data that you collected. Explain in paragraph form whether you feel that your original hypothesis was proven or disproved by the data you collected during your experiment. Near the end of your conclusion, explain ways in which you would modify the experiment if you were to perform it again, or what you plan to do to extend the experiment in the future.
Access some templates below and also at other universities.
Colorado State has a great summary of types of writing in Engineering including a template for a lab report. Please see http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=84. Humboldt State has a template for technical memos that looks like a good place to start https://engineering.humboldt.edu/resources/technical-communication/memos Duke’s Writing Center has an interesting set of “lessons” that take you through word choices, etc. https://sites.duke.edu/scientificwriting/ A site developed with NSF for Writing for Civil Engineering has many resources http://www.cewriting.org/. There are also resources for teaching writing in the Sciences from the Univ. of Illinois at https://publish.illinois.edu/waes/writing-goals-and-materials/
Technical and Lab Reports
Reports follow the same principles as published articles:
- Abstract or Executive summary
- Introduction or Background
Examples: Ignite Report Template , Math Sample, Biology Lab Report, Ecology Report, Engineering Lab Report, Health Science Review Article
Abstract or Executive Summary
The abstract is a paragraph while the executive summary can be a page long. The abstract helps the reader decide if the topic is of interest; the executive summary helps the reader avoid reading the whole report. Abstract Template.
Both should include the context, the methods and the results.
See the OWL Purdue site on Abstract VS Executive Summary at this link.
Introduction or Background
This has two purposes: 1) to provide the context for the report and 2) to convince the readers that your approach to the problem is credible.
Context is often provided using a problem/solution and general-to-specific organization pattern. Start with the real world problem that is relevant, then move to the more specific aspects of the problem you were investigating.
Credibility is often established by using sources. Be careful though!
- Don’t just data dump, i.e. put in summaries of sources. You need to synthesize them.
- Don’t use weak sources. Your readers will be familiar with the seminal authors doing work in the field and will expect to see them.
- Critique your sources. Often the best support for your work is showing what the experts have missed
- Use past tense. Don’t use the instructions style of language that is used in lab assignments.
- E.g. “Pour in 100 ml of distilled water” should be written as “100 ml of distilled water was poured in” or “We poured in 100 ml of distilled water.”
- Note that it is NOT good format to start a sentence with a number.
- Note that there are various opinions about using passive voice (E.g. ‘was poured”). Passive used to be common in scientific writing. However, for the past few decades, some editors and disciplines consider passive bad form; others still prefer it. Check what the authors you are referencing use.
Results and Discussion
Sometimes Results are given in a section separate from the Discussion section and sometimes they are combined. The important problem is recognizing how the information is different.
Results relate to your tables and figures, but you need to be selective in what you write. Don’t explain EVERYTHING in the table. Your results are well written if a reader can 1) read your paragraph without needing to look at the figure and 2) be clear on the main aspect of the result, not all the details.
The discussion is where you make the case for the importance of your results. You may compare to the work of others with citations. You may note that there are multiple ways to interpret your results. You may indicate that further research that needs to be done.
Tables and Figures need to be labeled. The label is positioned above the table and below the figure.
There doesn’t appear to be a preferred form of the conclusion. One style is a simple list of the results. A more prose style would be to assert whether or not your hypothesis has been supported, followed by a summary of the results, and then an indication of next steps for further research.
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