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Writing a Lab Report

The Science of Writing a Lab Report

Oct 19, 2012 - Posted to  Writing in General
You've done your research, presented a problem, developed your hypothesis, and conducted your experiments. Now it's time to put it all together and document what you've learned and what it all means. So what's the proper format to present your findings? A lab report is the standard way to communicate your pre-lab, in-lab, and post-lab work.
While there is no one universal format for writing the lab report, there are some elements that they all share. When in doubt, check with your instructor to determine the specific guidelines and essential elements for the type of lab report you will need to produce.
Use the information below as a general guide for how to organize a lab report.


Your lab report needs a title, and that title should be concise and indicate the nature of your work. All lab reports will have a title; however, not all lab reports require a separate title page (again, check with your instructor for specific requirements). A title page is simple and includes three basic elements: a title, names, and a date (usually the date of submission). Note that along with your name, you should also include all the names of your experiment/investigation partners; also include your instructor's name.


Not all lab reports require an Abstract, but if you do include one, it should be located immediately after your title. Think of the Abstract section as a way to summarize your whole report; that is, it should be brief and accurate, and it should explain why you conducted the experiment/investigation, what the problem was and how it was solved, and your results and conclusions. Again, brevity is the key here. The points you highlight in your abstract will be further developed in the other sections of your lab report.


All lab reports contain an Introduction, sometimes referred to as the "Purpose". Here is where you would present your hypothesis, your tentative assumption of the situation at hand. Identify the objective of the experiment, why it's important, and what questions you hope to address. You may also include in this section any important background information about the subject. In this section, you should avoid being overly specific. The goal of the introduction is to give the reader a general idea of your purpose and what you hope to find. You'll get into specifics in the latter parts of your report.

Materials and Methods

Sometimes referred to as the "Procedures", this is where you get into the nature of the experiment/investigation. All lab reports should include this section, and your Methods section of a lab report will often be written as a narrative, using the first-person point of view.
You may include in this section a list of the materials you used. You should describe the processes and the kinds of analysis in as much detail as possible. You may do this in a step-by-step format, being specific enough so that others could replicate your work. If a diagram or some other kind of visual aid would benefit your reader, here is where you would include that. Keep in mind that the complexity of the experiment/investigation affects the detail of your Methods section; if your readers don't have access to the same kinds of information you do, you'll need to go into greater depth and detail in the Methods section.
Following the Methods/Procedure section, the data you recorded in your experiment/investigation would be presented. This may or may not constitute its own section of the lab report, and sometimes it is included with the Methods or the Results. Note that you're not analyzing/interpreting the data just yet, merely presenting it, often in a visual depiction such as a table.


These sections may be presented simultaneously or separately, but they are a necessary part of all lab reports. They are the "meat" of your report, the place where you interpret the data and discuss the results. Graphics and captions are usually an effective and concise way to accurately portray your results when you are unable to do so with words. Also discuss any errors that may have occurred during your work in this section. In this section you should discuss what the data means as well as the implications, but you will not yet analyze the results (that comes next, in the "Conclusions" section).


The Conclusion is another standard part of the lab report (sometimes combined with the Results section), and this is where you sum everything up. Revisit the hypothesis that you presented in your introduction, and analyze whether or not it was acceptable. If your hypothesis was rejected, you would analyze that in the Conclusion as well.
Your conclusion should be brief - possibly only one page or less - and it should pertain to the entire experiment/investigation.

Other Elements

If it is impractical to situate figures and graphs (especially if they are very complex or only marginally applicable) within the other sections of your lab report (such as the Results section), you may include a special section for those, usually the "Appendix" section. (When you reference such figures and graphs in your lab report, be sure you clearly label them, e.g., "Figure 1" and indicate where they can be located in your Appendix).
Another common section sometimes included in a lab report is "References", where you acknowledge other people's work that was referred to or drawn upon in your own work. Be sure to properly format all in-text citations as well as your bibliography. There are many different citation systems for the sciences, and selecting the appropriate format depends upon the discipline to which your experiment/investigation pertains.
While the aforementioned information should serve as a general guideline to approach your lab report, whenever possible, try to obtain an outline or example of a particular format as required by your instructor or manager. The structure of the lab report itself is usually more rigid than other kinds of writing (such as an essay), so it's important to ensure you're using the most applicable format (as well as good grammar). A well-written, properly formatted lab report is essential for demonstrating that you've learned what you were supposed to learn.
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