What is a lab report?
One of the most critical, yet ignored aspects in scientific fields is proper scientific writing. Here, the student’s ability to accurately communicate research findings is important for their academic performance in the biological and physical sciences. Science is a generally communal field, where researchers develop ideas and look for ways to communicate and convince others in the scientific community of the validity of those ideas. As such, learning how to communicate your research findings and scientific ideas effectively is a critical skill. As scientists and students are often judged based on the frequency and quality of their writing, students require a solid foundation on how to develop stellar lab reports. Students need ways to describe the science that they do so as to convince their audiences that the work is not only interesting, but is worth being taken seriously.
A laboratory report is essentially a paper providing a formal record of an experiment. The report is written to describe as well as analyze a lab experiment, which explores a scientific concept. When writing a lab report, it is important to ensure that the discussion of the procedures, objectives and results is conducted in a way that is specific enough to allow those interested to replicate the experiment.
An important reminder, here, is that lab reports make it difficult for students to rely on a single explanation for the findings. As such. It is important for students to seek as many possible relevant and potential interpretations as possible. Even in the event that your findings fail to support your hypothesis, the findings are still of value as you could prove that, within the contextual limitations of your research, your argument was not reliable. You could then go ahead to consider other alternative areas for research.
When writing a lab report, it is critical to be clear regarding the grammatical style and the voice in which the report is written. For example, conventional lab reports are often written using the passive voice, and using the third person pronoun, such as “The research was conducted by James and Andrews (2015)” and “It was postulated that…”. However, in the recent past, the use of the active voice has been increasingly allowed, as well as using the first person pronoun. Since the requirements tend to vary from one institution to another, it helps to seek clarification from the assignment instruction, and remain consistent in the voice and tone used throughout the report.
Before you can sit down to write your report, it helps to start with a plan on how you will approach the paper. First, you need to define the purpose of the paper, which includes making sure that you have read and understood the instructions. Part of the planning also includes gathering information that will be used to support arguments in your report. Make sure to note the details of the sources you consult in your research, including the currency or the source, any potential bias, and the authorship. This information will facilitate the citation process and the creation of a reference list.
An important consideration when looking to write a quality lab report is the structure. While most lab reports include the sections outlined below, there are disciplines and experiments that will require variations in the format. It helps to tailor your lab report according to the requirements and properties of the specific experiment. Nonetheless, the main parts of a lab report include:
A succinct abstract
The abstract is a brief informational summation of the experiment, often less than 200 words. When writing the abstract, it helps to use a declarative or informational prose instead of a descriptive one. In a journal article, the abstract is often published separately, and is more widely distributed compared to the actual article. The main goal of having an abstract in your paper is to offer your audience a glimpse of the content of the article, letting them decide whether the article is worth their time. Quality abstracts help readers make a quick decision on the relevant articles. In terms of structure, the abstract generally follows the structure of the article, with each section being represented in one or two sentences. In other words, the outline used in the article should provide you with a structure of the abstract. While the abstract is the first section your readers see when they view the report, it is advisable to leave its writing to until all the other sections of the paper have been written.
An attractive and explosive introduction
The next aspect of your lab report is an introduction, in which you identify the experiment undertaken. The introduction also explains the objectives of the experiment, its importance, and the background needed to understand it. It is in the introduction that the reader gets to know the question you intend to answer with the experiment. In the event that your report is meant to be published in a journal article, then the introduction should start with a short summary of past relevant research, followed by a statement of the problem addressed by the study. Please note that the introductory section does not require a detailed description of events. Rather, the goal is to offer a concise picture of your approach and purposes. You only need to offer enough information to allow your audience to see that your method is appropriate.
Methods or Procedures
The next section in your report offers your audience with sufficient information to allow anyone interested to replicate your experiment. As such, the level of detail must be selected appropriately. In this section, your main task is to convince the reader that you conducted an experiment knowledgably and carefully, and that your results should be taken seriously. When describing the procedure used to conduct the experiment, consider the reader as someone not familiar with the experiment you are conducting, but who understands the challenges of working with the equipment you will be using. In addition, consider your reader as someone who is likely to be skeptical about your findings, and will be critical of your procedure.
The main challenge in writing a good procedures section is finding the right level of detail. While you need not tell your reader everything you did, you still need to say enough. In other words, the best procedure section is one in which the writer offers just enough information to allow the replication of the experiment.
Results and Discussion
Sometimes presented as two distinct sections, the results and conclusion segment conveys the findings in relation to goals of the experiment. This is also the section where you analyze the findings and discuss their implications for the field. A good results section also recognizes potential sources of error, and presents information using tables, figures and graphs. At some point in your discussion, it is advisable to draw inferences about whether your findings are consistent with the anticipated relationships between the variables.
The conclusion section sums up what has taken place in the rest of the paper. This is the section where you place your findings into the context of the entire experiment. For short lab reports, the discussion section can sometimes serve as a conclusion. In addition, in one or two paragraphs, the conclusion section reviews the purpose of the entire experiment, and summarizes the implications of the findings. In other words, this is where you remind the reader about the basic research question that was to be addressed by the experiment, as indicated in your introduction. You then elucidate, briefly, how the findings bear on the problem or question. Please resist the urge to introduce new information in the conclusions section. In any case, the goal here is to close the report with a summary that highlights the key findings. Use the conclusion to offer some sense of closure or finality.
The appendix is the place to include information or data that either too tangential or too extensive to be included in the main body of the report, but necessary for analytical or procedural evidence. In other words, the appendices section is where you put information that may assist your readers to learn more about the details of the experiment. These include raw data and calculations that may be useful in understanding the findings better.
Of course, these sections can vary from one report to another, depending on the instructions provided by your professor. Regardless of the format, sound academic writing demands that students observe the rules of good grammar and syntax. A well-structured lab report that is filled with amateurish grammar mistakes and tautologies sends the message that you do not take your work seriously. As such, it is important to always proofread and edit your lab report before submitting the final copy. It is recommended that you take a break from the writing before starting to read and edit the paper. You could also ask a fried or colleague to help with editing your paper, as they are likely to detect mistakes you may have missed.