Learning how to construct a proper lab report will not only secure you with a stellar grade in your science class, but it also will teach you how to report coherently your scientific findings to the world once you are in the field. Lab reports are an essential part of the scientific process and are constructed always after a scientific experiment or study. Therefore, learning the proper lab report format is integral to your overall success.
Below, we have detailed all the components of your lab report and have explained the elements that must be included in your rough draft. If you adhere to our guidelines, you will have all the pertinent information you need to get yourself that A on your lab report.
How to Draft Your Lab Report
This goes without saying, but you need to have a thorough grasp of the material that you are studying before you can write your report. If there are elements you are unsure about and that need clarification, make certain you get that missing information before you write your report.
Your lab report needs to show that you have a complete understanding of the experiment or study you are covering, but it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of all the information you have covered in your experiment. To keep yourself organized, make a rough draft of your report with the following points in mind.
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Questions You Need to Answer before Starting Your Report
To make things easier for yourself, you need a clear outline that provides answers to specific questions the report will be answering. Jot down the answers to the following questions before writing your lab report to help you cohesively tie together all the information in your experiment:
- What do you hope to learn from the experiment?
- What is the hypothesis you are testing?
- What will be done in the experiment?
- Why is this method the best way to test your hypothesis?
- Why would the scientific community (or classroom) benefit from the knowledge presented in the experiment?
Answering these questions will put you in an excellent position to draft an impressive lab report and give you a thorough understanding of the material at hand.
Double Check Your Data with Your Lab Partners
Human error is likely to happen from time to time, and nothing is more important in your lab report than the accuracy of your data. To ensure you and your lab partners are on the same page and that you all have the correct data, get together after you have completed your experiment to double check your findings. It is much better for you to catch this mistake now than for your professor to catch it while grading your report and deduct points for the error.
Know How to Use APA Format
Before you begin your lab report, it is important that you know the basics. APA format is the most widely used format for lab reports and has specific guidelines that you need to follow. Make sure that your paper is formatted properly so that you get the highest grade possible. Nothing is worse than writing an amazing report only to have your professor deduct points for improper formatting.
The following should be consistent throughout your entire report to reflect proper APA formatting:
- Paper is double-spaced
- Margins are one inch all around
- Font is 12 point Times New Roman
- Manuscript page header with page number appears in the upper right-hand corner of every page
Write with Your Audience in Mind
Finally, before you write your lab report, make sure you know the audience to whom you are addressing. Write the report as if you are explaining it to a clueless student to ensure that you are thorough and accurate in your reporting. Addressing your report solely to your professor may cause you to gloss over simpler concepts or ideas, and this may result in a lower grade.
Proper Lab Report Format
Now that you are ready to write your report, it is important to know the proper lab report format you will be required to follow. All lab reports follow the same basic formula and comprise five sections: the title page, introduction, methods and procedure, results and discussion. These elements need to be included in your final lab report to explain thoroughly the results and findings of your scientific experiment or study.
Not only will this lab report format help to get you a good grade in class, but it also will get you accustomed to the professional standard that will be expected of you once you are in the field. Below, you will find detailed descriptions of each section, as well as the main points you need to cover in each section.
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Section One: Title Page
First things first. Proper lab report format calls for a title page that describes in 10 words or less what your scientific experiment is proving. Titles should start with an action word and vividly describe the premise of the experiment. A successful title will describe succinctly the main idea behind your experiment or study and entice the reader to learn more about your research. The title page also should include your name and your lab partner’s name, your instructor’s name, and the date on which the report was submitted.
Section Two: Introduction
Proper lab report format always will include a thorough introduction of about 150-200 words that includes four basic elements: the purpose of the experiment, the tested hypothesis, a reasonable justification of your hypothesis and a stated connection between the experiment and relevant background research/information.
An easy way to structure your introduction would be to start by first stating your purpose. From there, it is easy to segway seamlessly from your purpose to the relevant background information (often taken from class learnings or lectures) supporting your purpose. This will lead you to the conclusion of your introduction. Here, you will state your hypothesis and reasonable justification of that hypothesis in the final sentences.
This wording method for your introduction is common, but unnecessary. Feel free to experiment with different sentence structures that better suit your particular subject matter, if applicable.
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Section Three: Methods and Procedure
The goal of this particular section is to describe in succinct detail how you tested your hypothesis as well as to provide a reasonable justification and rationale for your chosen procedure. Remember that the goal of scientific research is for it to be reproducible; therefore, other researchers should be able to follow your procedure so they can verify your findings through the same or similar collections of data. For this reason, aclearly defined method and procedure are of the utmost importance to creating a successful lab report.
To begin this section, it is best to list all the materials you used in your method and procedure, as well as to define explicitly the control variable in the experiment. The best way to structure this section is to keep it simple and just follow the chronological narrative that occurred as you were conducting your experiment. Be detailed and always explain the rationale behind what you are doing to show an expert understanding of the material.
Make sure that you are being specific and detailed about how you got your results. Explain thoroughly what you are doing and why you are doing it. Also, be sure to explain what you plan to do with your findings. Quantify all measurements such as time, temperature, volume, mass, etcetera to maintain accuracy throughout this section. You may briefly mention how you quantified and recorded your results and data, but be careful not to jump too far ahead and describe the results in too much detail.
You may want to considering separating the material into subheadings corresponding to each individual component in this section if you had a particularly long or involved experiment to ensure clarity for the reader. However, this is not a standard lab report format and it should only be used if you have a long list of materials to document or if your procedure was convoluted.
It also is important to remember to use proper grammar in this section to avoid any confusion. A common mistake is to use the present tense for describing your experimental procedures because you are writing it in the present tense. However, you must use past tense to described the experiment that occurred in the past to avoid any uncertainty.
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Section Four: Results
The results section is the backbone of your lab report; all other sections of the report depend entirely upon the existence of this section. This is perhaps the most self-explanatory section included in your lab report and may even be your shortest. The goal of this section is to document and highlight all the data that is significant to your hypothesis. You do not need to list every piece of data you have collected because not all the data will be relevant.
All you need to focus on here is to report the data that either proves or disproves your hypothesis in the form of three distinct parts: text, tables and figures. All results sections will start with a brief text description that clearly states the facts of the data. However, be sure not to add so much text that it becomes analytical; you can save that for the next section. In your brief text descriptions, you will want to point out what your data shows in your tables and figures. You may also want to acknowledge and state trends that arise in your data.
Next, you will want to include your tables that show the trends in your data. As a general rule, you will only want to use tables if you have any variation in your data. If you have relatively unchanging variables, a table will not be the effective medium to display your data. You also will want to be sure to give your table a relevant name and have the reader see the data vertically rather than horizontally.
Finally, you will conclude your results section by showing your readers a figure that demonstrates what happened to your independent and dependent variables as you carried out your experiment. Depending upon the subject matter, you can include pie charts, bar graphs, flow charts, maps or photographs in this section. Do note, however, that proper lab report format for undergraduates and industry professionals will be a line graph.
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Section Five: Discussion
Finally, to conclude your lab report you will need to detail your findings and determine whether your hypothesis was supported by your experiment. There are five goals that need to be accomplished with this section, which include:
- Explaining whether the data proved your hypothesis
- Mentioning and interpreting any data that deviated from what you expected
- Detailing reasonable conclusions about the subject matter that you studied
- If applicable, relating your research to earlier work in the same field
- Discussing the practical and theoretical implications of your findings
Most discussion sections will begin with explaining how your data either supported or denied your hypothesis. From there, you will need to make explicit statements that explain how your experiment either supported or denied your hypothesis. Your lab report should be able to support a reasonable and justifiable claim based upon the results of your experiments, so be sure that you are very clear and concise in your wording here.
It is important to note that this section will have the most variability from a standard lab report format. It should be tailored to your specific subject matter and subsequent results as long as it meets the above requirements and goals.
Putting It All Together
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Writing out a lab report can be the most difficult part of any experiment, but now that you know the proper steps and format you will be able to earn that A+ you deserve. Due remember to always follow the proper lab report format that we outlined above and you will be passing all of your science classes with flying colors.
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