Learning How to Write a Lab Report

How to Write
Jan 25, 2019 | 11 Minutes

Do you still doubt how to write a lab report? Very few students are aware that their science lab report counts up to 25% of the whole course credits. Most professors demand their students to complete this paper at some point in their course. Knowing little about this type of paper, many students ignore it or do not spend enough time to write it correctly. Besides, there is no set standard for a lab report, therefore professors may have their own expectations how the final paper should look like. There are numerous disparities one may find while preparing a lab report. But it is vital to understand one common goal that they have. Students are required to document their findings and explain their significance.

Some of the critical elements, which a lab report includes, are raw data and a hypothesis. When the student is aware of all these critical elements, he will easily adapt his/her lab report to professor’s requirements.

How to Write a Lab Report

Any lab report is meant to present data. It also has to discuss the analysis of the raw data. It cannot merely present the recorded information, observation, and expected results. The student should find and explain why the variances occurred and how they became possible. It is crucial to state how it affected the whole experiment. Ultimately, one should demonstrate an understanding of the concepts under examination.

Defining a Laboratory Report

It is clear that before starting to write any paper, it is necessary to know what it is. Thus, a lab report is a piece of writing highlighting the peculiarities of a particular experiment, providing explanations about what has been learned, and interpreting the obtained results.

Before highlighting the key structural components of a lab report, it is necessary to mention the so-called “IMRaD” format. This model includes four chief structural components: an introduction, methods, results, and discussion. This format usually applies to laboratory reports and social, natural, computer, and engineering science papers.

Why are research reports so valuable?

It all starts with an experiment for a science class. However, any student should be able to write all the data used or received during the experiment for the professor to review. Even if the student has a perfect understanding of the background information, succeeded with the experiment, and collected some useful data, he/she still needs to know how to arrange it all in a proper way in the report. What to start with? How is the professor going to grade it? What does a professor expect to see in a lab report?

It would be best if you thought outside the box. Science is not meant for guessing. It is meant for finding answers. Remember that both your professor and you belong to the same community. It means you will prepare a report for the audience you know. The science questions you would like to find answers to will likely appeal to your professor’s curiosity as well.

An average student will start working on the lab report because the professor assigned it. But if you wish to join the world’s scientific community, you need to understand the true value of the lab report. It is meant to share one’s findings with the rest of the community, especially if they bring up some beneficial information or have proofs that contradict previously developed ideas. The writer of the lab report should help those reading it. They want to understand if the finding is legitimate and the impact of the finding on the scientific world.

Drafting a Lab Report

You need to know everything about the experiment. You will not be able to report an experiment to somebody if you do not have a clear insight into what happened. There is a list of questions you need to ask before the experiment is held. You may find most of them in your lab manual. Otherwise, you can prepare the list with the help of your professor.

The answers to the questions give a proper understanding of the experiment. Do not hesitate to ask your lab supervisor for assistance. If you are not sure about something, a supervisor may explain or at least give a hint.

Usually, you are not alone in your experiment. You will be assigned lab partners; therefore, you need to consult with them and plan any steps together. Do not hurry during the experiment to perform it correctly. You need to document all the details and findings. Remember that you will need to use this information in the report later. Using tables for data collection may save a lot of time. It is more comfortable to work with tables than with numerous scrap papers.

Be accurate when recording data. You can double-check it with your lab partners. Make sure that all of them are involved in the experiment. Avoid typical lab group mistakes, like letting half of the group work while the other half merely talks. To succeed, you need to discuss the experiment’s parts with the rest of the group. Do not stop your lab group work as soon as the experiment ends. Check if all of you got the same results and what trends you observed.
Keep your audience in mind. The report is not meant for your instructor only, as he/she already knows all that data. Think of other people with scientific expertise who know nothing about your experiment. This way, you will include the most crucial material and provide a better discussion. Write it as if you are doing the work for a student from another lab section.

When you finish these preparation steps, you will be ready to write an exceptional lab report.

Lab Report Sections

There are common sections for all lab reports. But some may be included at the professor’s request. The typical parts are:

  1. Title Page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Conclusion
  9. Appendices

Lab Report Essentials

Title Page

By following a traditional lab report outline, it is not obligatory to include a title page in a lab report. However, if your professor has asked for one, you must include it. No matter what lab report format you need to follow, your title page should include the following information:

  • The full title of the experiment;

  • Your name;

  • The name of your instructor, as well as the names of your lab partners;

  • The date when the experiment was performed.

Title

The title of your lab report should be maximally clear and engaging, informing the reader about what you did. If you have such an opportunity, you must begin your title with the keyword instead of an article.

Are You Worried About How to Write an Introduction for a Lab Report?

If you are unsure how to write an introduction for a lab report, here are some tips to help you cope with the task much faster and more efficiently. A typical introduction section will start with the purpose of the report. Then the writer needs to introduce the literature relevant to the subject. The writer must include the hypothesis and explain why he believes it is viable. Make sure to clearly understand each element in the introduction section. The Purpose section may be confusing; therefore, we will look closely at it.

Purpose

Some of the writers confuse the purpose with the hypothesis. In the purpose, you are supposed to highlight what you are supposed to achieve through the experiment. It is much broader than the hypothesis. It takes some time for a student to learn how to distinguish between them.

Materials and Methods

This section is used to explain how the writer tested his hypothesis. One should clarify the rationale as well. It is not enough to design and perform an experiment. The readers may want to have an opportunity to validate your findings. The experiment should be reproducible. If another researcher follows the procedure you describe, he should acquire similar or the same results. Thus, this lab report section must follow a definite style and structure.

Data

The numerical data obtained after experimenting should be presented in a table. In this section, you are required to impart facts without any explanations.

Structure and Style

A proper structure is important for a lab report, as the reader needs to understand the experimental procedure. Many people find it challenging to convey what they did during the experiment. It is vital to present all the data coherently.

Sometimes, you may be required to use subsections. But if your procedure is not complicated, you will probably not need them.

You must present all the information chronologically to help your reader understand what happened during your experiment. Do not describe the experiment as if you are advising how to carry it out. You need to report what your lab group did. Avoid such a “recipe” approach. And do not forget to use the past tense, as the experiment you carried out has occurred already.

Results

This is one of the most important sections of the whole lab report. But it is the shortest one as well. It creates the backbone of the whole lab report. In this section, the writer discusses whether the hypothesis was supported or not.

When working on this section, you need to review the data again. Avoid making any conclusions in this section. This section is meant for reporting facts only. Any disputable information should appear in the discussion section.

Discussion section

This section is typical for any experiment. Most readers will know whether you supported the hypothesis if you have done well with the Results section. Many students have trouble with the discussion section as they find the Results too self-explanatory. Thus, they think nothing is left to add to the Discussion section.

This section comprises a couple of parts in no particular order. It should move from specific points to general ones. Do not forget to make clear if the data supports the hypothesis, mention any deviations from the expected result, derive conclusions and show relations to previous works in the area if any are known. It would be best if you also explored the significance of the findings.

Keep It in Your Mind

There are two types of editing you should apply. At first, you need to edit the content of the report. The next time, go over its format.

Do not plagiarize your paper, whether a lab report or an essay. In this case, you may lose credits or, even worse, get an expulsion. Proper citation of any external data will help you avoid this problem.

It is fine to use the present tense when writing a lab report. But remember that if you describe any specific observations, you will be required to use past tense.

Review the requirements sheet to ensure your professor demands the paper format.

Graphs and Figures

These items should be marked with descriptive headings. The axes on a graph have to be labeled as well. Do not forget to refer to graphs and figures throughout your report.

References

If you have used some primary and secondary sources in your work, you must mention them in your reference list. Otherwise, you will be accused of plagiarism.

Conclusion

Usually, this section consists of one paragraph summarizing the key points of the experiment and stating what the approval or rejection of the hypothesis means.

Learn How to Write a Conclusion for a Lab Report

If you want to know how to write a conclusion for a lab report, follow some of these simple tips. Always try to make the report as informative and short as possible. You do not need to write more than a few pages for a one-week lab. Always check your lab manual or a sheet with the instructions to better understand what should be addressed. All the data, including errors during the experiment, should be included. You may discuss the possible reasons that caused these errors. You may also discuss what can be done to improve the accuracy in the future.

Appendices

Typically, your appendix should include information such as raw data, graphs, pictures, calculations, and other materials not included in the report. Remember that each kind of data should be included in a separate appendix. In your report, you will need to refer to your appendix.

Do not underestimate a lab report’s impact on your laboratory course and final grade. An outstanding report is not created in one day without proper skills. One should keep in mind all of the steps mentioned above and follow the requirements set by the professor to succeed at writing an excellent lab report.

Abstract – the Section Outlining the Entire Research

It has to be provided at the beginning of your report. However, it would be best to produce it after the previously described sections are ready. The main function of an abstract is to briefly describe the entire laboratory report. It has to include a couple of sentences presenting the purpose of your report, its importance, the methods used, findings, and the way they can be applied in real life.

Tips for Writing a Lab Report

Common Problems in IMRaD Drafts

If you want to succeed in lab report writing and deliver an effective and high-quality paper, you should know some tips and guidelines to help you master the assignment. It is essential to know the underlying stages of conducting experiments. Focus on the following:

  1. What are you going to do in the experiment?

  2. What is the reason for conducting it?

  3. What do you expect to achieve/ what result do you expect to derive?

  4. How will it be significant? Or how will others benefit from it?

After you answer all the questions mentioned above, you will better understand the essence of your experiment and why it is worth carrying out. If you find yourself at a dead-end responding to some questions, remember that it would be better to consult with your professor or ask for expert assistance.

How to Plan the Experiment?

  1. Outline and discuss all stages of experimenting.

  2. Identify the most appropriate and effective way of collecting and arranging data. Think of ways of presenting the findings visually.

  3. Think of ways of recording data in the process of obtaining it.

  4. Be careful with the steps of your experiment. It would be best to discuss all possible differences or contradictions with similar findings.

  5. After the experiment, try to synthesize the data and specify whether the hypothesis was proved.

  6. Provide all the necessary explanations to your target audience. Make sure that no confusing things are left. At the same time, do not focus on unimportant details.

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