The Essence of a Lab Report

lab report format

Lab reports are much like computer networks: systematic, sharp, and logical. They resemble of program messages and commands that altogether contribute to successful operation of the software - in the same way, laboratory findings in their interconnected cooperation form that driving force that moves science forward. Of course, not all of the operations in the lab are destined to make cutting-edge discoveries, especially on an undergrad level. But laboratory report writing trains students to view their lab work through that scientific lense, like full-time researchers do, which allows translating experientially obtained information into a language that is the most beneficial for clear understanding and further analysis of the subject matter. The means of expression in this language are laboratory reports. Upon successful review by fellow researchers, a good formal lab report, both alongside and as a part of theses and dissertations, is published in scientific periodicals that constitute a database which other students and scientists use in their studies.

Laboratory reports perform various functions wherever they are used, from schools to research centers. They define the qualities of a company’s product and dictate the course for further improvement; they are put into digital and hard copy archives to retrieve information from and refer to; they register the history of a student’s academic path within a discipline; and they set up the road to advancement in a certain field of knowledge. To serve these purposes effectively, lab reports have a simple yet solid structure, they use clearly defined terms and full but concise sentences. Now let’s find out - or revise - how to write a lab report properly.

The Structure of Laboratory Reports

Format requirements for laboratory reports may vary from field to field and even from one institution or another - leave alone particular standards of particular periodicals that would publish the work. You should ask your lab instructor to verify those requirements specifically. A lab report outline is basically the same as that of any other scientific paper, and it comprises the following components:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Keywords
  • Introduction
  • Materials
  • Methods
  • Procedures
  • Results/Data
  • Discussion/Analysis
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendices

Some of these may be optional (as will be mentioned below), and some may be incorporated in the structure of a lab report in ways that differ from the suggested order. Let’s look at this laboratory report template in more detail.

1. Title: gives the report its number and a name that clearly describes the lab process in a few words (up to ten). In a lab report format, it is highly recommended to avoid articles, prepositions, and other parts of speech that don’t sufficiently define the experiment. It may seem not aesthetic to build the title without those, but with lab reports and most of other scientific papers, literary aesthetics is not a consideration. The main reason why the words in the title should be full and essential is that when peer scholars are looking for resources - like a laboratory report, among others - they use keywords to make their query as efficient as possible, and auxiliary parts of speech simply don’t have any keyword value. Hence, instead of wasting the title, it is better to fill it with words that give the most satisfying description of the subject within the word limit. As a name of a scientific research paper, a lab report title is strictly informative and not intended to attract attention like a newspaper headline. The title page also usually includes the date when the reported work was done (or submitted), the names of all participants, and the name of the instructor.

2. Abstract: a paragraph at the top of your report that presents its summary, from the methodology and the purpose of the lab work to the results that have been obtained. Its volume is usually about 200 words put, in a single whole paragraph. Abstracts help to make a quick content overview for your teachers and peers, especially when they conduct a research and want to know if your report would be of use to them. An abstract follows the steps of the lab work in the same sequence that it was done: it mentions the purpose, methods, and findings of the work, as defined in the laboratory report introduction, and then describes the process under study as it was happening, all in a brief manner. It is understood that you need to have the full text of the report itself before you can base your abstract on it. In past tense, start the abstract with a sentence that gives a general description of the investigation that took place - simply speaking, tell what it all was about. Write a hypothesis that you were trying to prove or disprove in your scientific experiment, or explain a process that you wanted to observe and why - anything that was the purpose of the lab work. Point out the methods and/or equipment that you used, the elements or subjects that you tested. Indicate the outcomes you received. In present tense now, give an account of your collective conclusions, what they mean for your scientific hypothesis, and the effect they may have on further studies or other relevant aspects of the field. Regarding tenses, the main point is to be consistent with your choice of one and not to mix them up, confusing the reader.

The manner in which a laboratory report abstract is written somewhat differs from the one used in the main body of the report. It is less field-specific and a bit tilted in favor of a researcher not particularly familiar with that field of study. Usually, the abstract does not contain raw data with all the numbers, unless they are really important to mention due to a special appeal or function they may have for the very purpose of the report.

3. Keywords: they may be not mandatory in lab reports but quite important for scientific papers in general, especially when they are published and archived. Keyword lists are usually put after an abstract. Keywords ease the task of finding literature and documents they need for fellow scientists and maybe other readers, because these are terms and definitions that are in the main focus of your paper. They represent the purpose of your research and all the objects and qualities under investigation.

lab report template

4. Introduction: gives a context for your experiment by explaining relevant points in the known history of the subject matter and the role it plays in the research of the discipline in general - in other words, the theory behind the issue. Yet you should keep that scientific background information close to the present subject and not confuse the reader with unnecessary extra information that does not have a direct relation to the lab experiment you conduct. Give references to your sources. In lab report introductions (sometimes in conclusions), it’s important to show the potential value of the experiment and how it can contribute to the scientific knowledge in your field. State the purpose of this specific lab examination in the form that applies before proceeding with the main text. Lab handouts can serve as reference guides.

5. Materials (sometimes united with Methods): enumerate all equipment (and methods) necessary to perform the experiment and/or gather the data.

6. Methods and/or Procedures: basically, here you describe the way in which you used the materials practically and scientific laws by which the process takes place in theory, such as formulas and scientific principles with a certain degree of accuracy (this degree of accuracy should be indicated as well). In this section, you give a detailed, precise, and logically ordered account of what you were doing and what processes your action induced during the lab work. It is important to avoid an overload of information here. This doesn’t mean that you need to cut out any substantial steps and notes - there are other quite simple but effective ways to say more by saying less. Being concise in your language and keeping the chronological order of laboratory procedures straight, without any jumps back and forth, usually make the best approach to writing this kind of papers. Make sure you check the validity of the data you are receiving while still in the laboratory, in the process of work, and include those checks into your report to prove that you weren’t conducting the experiment mindlessly. This section of the report must register pretty much every fact that was observed during the work, including all the abnormalities, the mishaps in the process, and even the irrelevance of certain methods that was discovered in the lab, despite them being evaluated as proper during preparations. Many style guides indicate that a Procedures section is recognized as properly written if the reader, upon using the methods and following the steps explained in the text, can successfully recreate them in the laboratory environment and achieve the exact same results. Nevertheless, you are not supposed to “instruct” whoever reads your report how to do a scientific procedure, because an imperative mode is not appropriate for the main purpose of a lab report. Rather, it should be a narrative that gives a detached account of what happened during the working process.

7. Results or Data: expose the data and the scientific evidence you’ve obtained, along with other findings that were made through the experiment in the order they happened. All the numbers gained through calculations can be summed up in tables, charts, and graphs followed with a bit more detailed interpretation - this serves as an instruction that helps others read those tables and charts properly. Another way to arrange this part of the report is to put the data in appendices and direct the reader to the comprehensively titled and numbered tables or figures. These directions should be written out after all the appendices are ready so you can surely tell which one you need to refer to by number and after the preferred layout is known to you. If some or all of the tables or figures need to be compared or somehow referenced to each other, make sure to put them on the same appendix sheet or unite them in another way. As a standard, with the title “figure” we denote graphs, charts, photos, schemes, and the like, while tables go as “table”. All the symbols, variables, icons, and indicators of any kind have to be deciphered and explained as well. These graphical data statements are often just a supplementary component of a report - meaning, you may still need to write the data out in a conventional text format. Also, mention side results and surprising turns in the course of the experiment.

8. Discussion or Analysis: in a lab report template his section is often combined with the Results, as it incorporates the analysis of the outcomes the experiment had. It discusses the meaning of your observations, what use they offer in further work, what can be learnt from them - what doors in scientific investigation they may open. Here you also talk about the impact that the results may have on related issues, even new ways of viewing and understanding them, as well as interesting discoveries. In Analysis/Discussion, you are drawing links between the experiment with its results and the bigger picture of the subject matter at hand, showing how this puzzle fits into the whole construction. At the same time, the results you have may pose dilemmas or set up quests to investigate the subject deeper and from different aspects, opening up unresolved questions. If any difficulties or gaps are revealed during the lab work, try to find an explanation for them. For this reason, in this section you’re allowed to speculate and make some conjectures, but it goes without saying that these should not be too far out and have a maximum close connection to existing facts despite some unexplored factors that yet haven’t been proved. Draw parallels between your expectations about how the experiment could have gone and how it actually went, whether there was some fault in the equipment, or the hypothesis of the laboratory research was not supported by objective scientific reality - basically, it is the correlation of theory and practical results we’re talking about. Describe how satisfying the experiment was in regard to its initial purpose. You may also think about strategies to make the experiment more successful next time, or propose a format for further investigation, as well as kinds of scientific method (other than the lab work) that could verify the results you have received when the proof you have doesn’t seem enough. When testing out a model of some kind, indicate its weak and strong points, how accurate or how successfully it was built.

Some of the cons of uniting Results and Discussion is to ensure coherence of the text: if a good understanding of certain results relies on comprehensive analysis of the preceding results, it is not logical to put them into separate blocks of Results and Discussion. Also, if it’s hard to digest the data without proper interpretation, it decreases the readability of your report, so it is best to prevent that from happening. In some cases, nothing can guide you through this better than your own best judgement, or simply a consultation with your instructor.

9. Conclusion: your scientific conclusion - or conclusions - may be incorporated into the Discussion section, but more often, it is a small separate paragraph that states the main outcome of the experiment and how it proves or disproves the hypothesis, if there was one. Lab report conclusions should be solid, unambiguous. Besides the short statement about the main result, this paragraph can also draw a bottom line to the evaluations and prospects established in the Discussion, making the Conclusion section more extensive to make the reader pay attention to more information that you find to be important.

10. References: an organized list of resources you’ve taken information from to put into the text. Making this list prevents you from being accused of plagiarism. However, unlike a typical bibliography that includes all the literature that was consulted, lab report references oftentimes concern only the resources directly cited in your report, because the main focus of lab reports is more on the empirical experiment rather than theoretical knowledge. The reference list is arranged in alphabetical order of the authors’ last names. In the end, though, the format of the reference list, just like the whole scientific report format, depends on the specific guidelines you have.

11. Appendices: as mentioned above, in this optional section, which you will probably use in most cases anyway, you condense your raw data into tables and figures that allow one to quickly overview the data.

    chemistry lab report

    The Style of Writing Scientific Papers

    When it comes to writing scientific papers, the neutral rules of general good writing are now shifted to particular requirements that respond to the needs of scientific verbal communication. The most essential of these requirements, which concern lab reports as well as other literary documentation of science, are listed below - as an addition to those priorly mentioned throughout the article.

    Specific science terms (like names in nomenclature, for example) that are in Latin have to be written in italics. Beside other things, this also refers to mathematical constants and cases when a term needs a special emphasis, usually when mentioned in the text for the first time. Speaking about language roots, the vocabulary used in science - whether it be biology, physics, or chemistry - has quite many terms that come from Latin and Greek, and they have some tricky linguistic features. Among these features, the easiest one to trip over is the grammatical number of the words, singular and plural. These often get confused (like singular criterium or datum are confused with plural criteria or data) or simply misspelled, mostly by students. It is wise to consult a specific dictionary and other relevant literature when you’re in doubt about what form to use, or even just to double-check the spelling. Don’t put a period after abbreviations and shortenings.

    All the quantitative measurements are standardly registered as numerals in the metric system. Independent numbers up to ten that are not related to measurements can be written in letters. But for consistency purposes, in a row of subjects of the same kind, the numbers below ten are put as numerals if others numbers are above ten: e.g. five species in three areas, but 15 species in 3 areas. In case a number should start the sentence, spell it in letters.

    Break big paragraphs into smaller and even pieces to make the report easier to read. A sentence that opens a paragraph and one that ends it serve as an indicator that tells the reader what the paragraph is focused on in particular. Do not include the participants (meaning, yourself and your lab colleagues) into the text - the report should be a “personless” narrative, generally in passive voice (e.g. the measurements were taken instead of we took the measurements). The text must be written in simple full sentences, and so that you don’t hinder one’s comprehension of the report, the use of shortenings and contractions in it should be moderate. Aside from rare exceptions, science jargon is not appropriate in any kind of scientific paper. Be careful with pronouns, especially in long sentences: don’t put them too far from the noun they substitute, for otherwise you can confuse the reader up to the point of causing substantial disinformation (e.g. The radars failed to register the signals coming from the transmitters because they were malfunctioning - it is not necessarily clear whether the malfunction was in the radars or in the transmitters. One way of fixing this can be the following: The radars failed to register the signals coming from the transmitters because the latter were malfunctioning). Punctuation, if properly used, often can help to make necessary distinctions as well.

    After the report is written and formatted and the abstract is composed, proofread and edit the text, if necessary.