Lab Report Writing Guidelines
Lab reports are an important part of many classes in both high school and college. If you're studying sciences like chemistry, physics, or biology, you will inevitably encounter such a task.
Well then, you've done your research, presented a problem, developed your hypothesis, and conducted the experiment. 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.
End-of-semester exams can be quite a challenge for students. That is a time when they have to deal with a lot of stress because of the various assignments they get, one of them being lab report writing. Depending on the subject area, the structure and writing requirements can be absolutely different, but the overall rules remain the same at all times.
In this article, we'll try to cover all these aspects and share the secrets of the best lab report structure. Are you ready to become a professional in organizing your report assignments? If you answered "yes" then continue reading, diving deeper into the details, but if you are hesitating, you can order a lab report from us and get rid of all the writing-related hassle in a blink of an eye!
How to Structure a Lab Report
A scientific lab report is a common task for students taking engineering or biology classes. When doing those, they are required not only to present raw data but also show their overall understanding of the topic. It doesn't mean you should find the statistics data regarding the chosen subject area and just rewrite it in your report. Your primary objective here is to show that you understand this subject area well enough or, in other words, explain why this or that happens, how the certain data influence your research, etc.
To achieve this, avoid writing haphazardly and make sure to organize all your ideas and concepts correctly.
So, how to structure a lab report?
There is a commonly accepted structure for lab reports. However, be sure to clarify this question before starting. The best way will be to ask your professor if the structure is not specified in your initial requirements.
- Title page;
- Short but informative abstract;
- The introductory section;
- Research methods (and materials used);
- A detailed explanation of the procedure;
- The results;
- Concluding part;
- List of references.
What words can I use in a lab report?
Save the purple prose for your creative writing class! Flowery, poetic language is strongly discouraged when composing lab reports. Instead, use clear, succinct sentences that both the layperson and the expert can understand. Yes, this type of writing can be a bit dry and tends to read like stereo instructions, since it often describes specific processes and procedures. But as long as it is simple and to the point, it'll get the job done.
When it comes to word choice, science writing relies on lingo or jargon that scientists readily understand. To the layperson, this specialized vocabulary can be confusing, but of course, they are not the target audience. In other words, you should always use proper scientific terminology when applicable but should opt for simple, everyday words whenever possible. However, that does not mean that the style should be conversational. As it is a scholarly form of writing, the tone of such a scientific paper should always be formal.
Sentences should be short and easy to read. You should avoid using overly long, heavily punctuated sentences since they can be confusing. However, you should also abstain from using too many short, abrupt sentences, since the writing will invariably lack rhythm, which will also make it harder to read. Instead, you should vary your sentence length up a bit to include short and medium-length sentences, and possibly even a few longer ones. Once again, it doesn't have to be Shakespeare, but it should flow.
Here is a short list of words to illustrate what we meant: controlled variables, hypothesis, quantitative observation, procedure, theory, assumption, correlation, deduce, evidence, validity, deviation, margin of error, sample, etc.
Title writing tips and example
Make sure your title is brief but expositive, excluding any non-core words.
The best strategy would be to make it as short as you can and convey the key point of your report. Creativity is not necessary if compared to other writing assignments. Usually, the title contains the name of the experiment and the reason behind it. If you feel stuck, try to think about all the words that are connected with the experiment and make an extensive list of those.
An example of a good lab report title: The Microscopic Examination of Blood Cells to Investigate Qualitatively Abnormal Differentiation of the Hematopoietic Lineages.
How to write the abstract
The key purpose of this part is to summarize the essential aspects of the whole paper. Alternatively stated, you should do the following:
- Define the key goal of your experiment;
- Identify all the major findings;
- State the importance of your research;
- Provide the conclusion.
When writing an abstract for a lab report, you should keep it short and to the point - just a few sentences (3-6) matching the above structure are enough. As a result, your target audience will immediately understand the primary objective of your experiment. In other terms, the abstract is a short plan of your work, allowing your readers to be aware of your accomplishments.
Your introductory part shouldn't be too long; its principal purpose is to present your research to the audience. However, it should be longer than your abstract and explain the topic of your study clearly. Your readers shouldn't spend much time trying to understand what you mean and what the overall goal of your experiments is. A few clear and concise sentences are enough to see what goals you wish to achieve.
Except for the goals of your experiment, an insightful introductory part should also offer some formulas or background theory necessary for the target audience. For instance, you cite specific rules or formulas in order to explain what you mean but the person reading your lab report has little or no knowledge of the area under discussion and, therefore, can't understand you correctly. And this is precisely why you should explain these rules in your introductory part.
If you need to use some formulas, requiring explanation, and you realize that your introductory part is too long, you can create subheadings.
Once the question of how to write an introduction for a lab report has been dealt with, you can proceed to write a conclusion.
Material and Methods (the Experiment)
It is sometimes referred to as the "Procedures." It is where you get into the nature of the experiment or investigation. All lab reports should have this section, and your Methods section of a lab report can often be written as a narrative, using the first-person point of view.
You should describe the processes in as much detail as possible. For example, you can do it in a step-by-step format, being specific enough so that others could replicate your work. If a diagram or some other kind of visualization can benefit your reader, this section is where you should include that. Keep in mind that the complexity of the experiment affects the detail level of your Methods section. If your readers don't have access to the same information you do, you'll need to go into greater depth of detail in the Methods section.
Note that you're not analyzing or interpreting any data yet, but merely presenting it, often in a visual depiction such as a table or graph.
The Theory Section
The theory section is very crucial to any lab report as it provides the readers with the technical background to the experiment. It also helps readers to analyze the assumptions made and better understand the relativity between the experiment and the field of science field. In case of elementary experiments, where the correlation between your measurements and the theory are apparent, this section of a lab report can be very short or even omitted. On the contrary, if the experiment is quite complicated and the measurements are discursively related to the results, then the theory section needs to be written elaborately to facilitate better understanding. If there are any equations involved, they need to be mentioned in this section of your lab report. It is also important that you display each equation in a separate line and number them appropriately.
The methodology section
Before starting writing the methods, you must realize that this section intends to convince the readers that you have conducted the experiment with the utmost precision and expertise, which should exclude any doubts regarding its fairness. First, describe all the equipment used in the experiment. You should also mention all the measurements in an orderly manner. If you have to deviate from the procedures specified in the initial requirements at any stage of the experiment, you should mention it as well. Lastly, don't forget to thoroughly describe each step you took to avoid any experimental ambiguity.
Next up, you need to lay out the results of your experiment. But, don't just list the data. Instead of that, you should complete statistical analysis and pick only the most important data to include. This section should be a mix of text, numbers, tables, graphs or even images. It's important to keep in mind that the Results section shouldn't include any analysis of the data (that is the next section's purpose). Use only clear and precise language to provide your results without any bias.
After you present your data, you can start discussing its implications, taking any possible fudge factors. Restate your research question and tell whether you can answer it with the results of your experiment. Also mention whether your hypothesis was correct, and what conclusions you were able to draw. It's also important to address any problems you had in your research. Remember that there's nothing wrong with disproving your hypothesis or getting non-standard data as long as you're able to provide a clear explanation for why you think that happened. This section should also compare the results of your experiment with the already published literature. Lastly, you'd want to discuss the new questions that are brought up by your results, if any.
How to Write the Conclusion for a Lab Report
The Conclusion is yet another standard part of the lab report (sometimes it can be combined with the Results section), and this is where you sum everything up. Revisit the hypothesis you stated in your introduction and analyze whether or not it is acceptable if you combine the sections mentioned above. If your hypothesis isn't confirmed, you should mention that in the Conclusion. This paragraph should be brief - possibly only one page or less - and it should pertain to the entire experiment.
However, in some instances, your professor may ask you to write about the importance of your research for future scientific experiments or identify the pros and cons of a certain method.
References and Appendices
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, and usually, all those go into the "Appendices" section. When you reference such figures and graphs in your lab report, be sure you clearly label them, e.g., "Figure 1" and indicate that they can be located in your Appendices.
Another common section sometimes included in a lab report is "References." There, you acknowledge other people's work that was referred to or drawn upon in your paper. Be sure to format all in-text citations as well as your bibliography correctly. There are many different citation styles for the science fields, and selecting the appropriate format depends on the discipline to which your experiment pertains.
How is a lab report formatted?
Issues like citations, title pages, capitalization, and spacing are covered in writing style guides. There are lots of guides out there, and which one you use will likely depend on what kind of class you're taking. Most disciplines have a preferred style guide: the biological sciences usually use CSE (Council of Science Editors) or AMA (American Medical Association) formatting; chemistry uses the ACS (American Chemical Society); psychology uses APA (American Psychological Association), and physics uses AIP (American Institute of Physics). Check with your teacher if you're not sure which one to use.
Final Lab Report Writing Tips
The matter is, how to write a good lab report. Since we've analyzed all the methods, let's move on now to drawing a conclusion. Below, you can find some crucially important lab report tips, allowing you to meet this challenge and get the highest grade:
- Create a detailed outline and follow it. This way, you'll be able to organize your thoughts and keep focus.
- Make sure you know all the terms and formulas used in your research.
- Don't put off your task until a later date and. You'll have more time to conduct in-depth and insightful research, covering all aspects.
- Be very careful in choosing the sources. If you don't want to face plagiarism issues, it's always a good idea to indicate on which scientific works yours is based.
- Be sure to ask your teacher to explain unclear aspects of your task.
- Compare the results achieved with other studies when writing the body part.
- The focus of your report should be your analysis and interpretation of the results.
Now, you should be able to meet the lab report writing challenge and come up with a refined paper. With a clear and straightforward structure in mind, you will easily cope with this assignment and avoid all the difficulties related to this task.
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