If you want to work in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (also known as STEM fields), knowing how to write a lab report is crucial. Depending on the specific course, labs can make up a significant portion of the class itself and a significant portion of the grade as well. Writing a lab report is much more technical than writing an essay so the format and structure are quite important. This article will go over all the steps of writing a lab report including tips for each section.
What is a Lab Report?
A lab report is a document that explains all the important elements of an experiment. This includes the methodology, results, and conclusions, as well as the overall aim of the experiment. Not only does it show your understanding of the experiment but it should also give the reader a clear understanding of it as well.
Different courses and subjects have their own unique lab report format, but in general, there are some sections that exist in all of them. Creating a lab report outline is useful because an outline helps you see the overall structure of the report and is a great organizational tool for collecting information. This is a basic lab report structure.
- Title page
- Figures and graphs
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9 Steps to Writing a Lab Report
Though a lab report may be a unique type of academic assignment, it still benefits from a pre-writing phase. Make sure that you understand every element of the lab and create an outline. Under each section of the outline jot down the main points that you will elaborate on during the actual writing. It may be useful to look at a formal lab report example to get inspiration. Keep these things in mind about writing a lab report.
- The most important goal is to explain what the study is
- You must also explain why the study is important
- Give some background information about the subject
- Show your understanding of the study
- Go over the procedure step by step
- Clearly explain the results and why they are important
Step 1. Identify the primary goal
Lab reports in different subjects may have different primary goals.
Science lab reports may require you to focus on the methodology of an experiment so that anybody can pick up your lab report and repeat the experiment.
Some may be more interested in why the experiment is important and what the results mean.
Sometimes a lab report may require you to show extensive skills in mathematics, technical drawing, etc.
Look at the guidelines of the lab report assignment to figure out the primary goal. If that does not clearly state it, ask your teacher or professor. By correctly identifying the primary goal you will know what you should focus on when writing the lab report.
Step 2. Identify the audience
Identifying the audience for your lab report will help you understand the level of complexity that is expected.
If the lab report is for a technology lab for an engineering course then your lab report will probably be fairly complex with a lot of technical terms, data, appendices, etc.
On the other hand, if your audience is undergraduate students or high school students, then go easy on the jargon and focus more on explaining why the experiment or study was important and clearly lay out the steps of the experiment so that they can do it themselves.
The audience also helps determine what sections will be included in your lab report, the amount of technical information you should use, the language and writing style of the report, and several other subtle things.
Step 3. Make the title page
The title page (if required) is the first thing a reader will see and therefore your first opportunity to impress. This can be challenging because usually there are only four components of a title page.
The title is literally the first thing that somebody will read and also your biggest chance to impress the reader on the title page. A good title not only gives a description of the experiment, lab, or study, it also hints at why it is interesting or significant. A title needs to be clear and concise while being informative. Writing a good title isn't easy, so even though it may just be a few words, make sure you spend time on it.
Below the title should be your name, lab partners’ names, and the names of anybody else involved in the writing of the lab report.
Next is the name of the person who assigned the lab report. This could be your teacher or professor etc.
The last component is either the date the lab was performed or the date the lab report was handed in. Check with your professor to make sure you know which one it is.
There aren't a lot of opportunities to be creative on a title page, but you can play with the spacing and overall aesthetic of the page to make it more engaging. Finally, keep in mind that just like the entire report, the title page should be written in the third person and in the past tense.
Step 4. How to write a lab report abstract
An abstract is a concise summary of the lab report. Usually between 150 to 300 words, it includes the purpose of the report, key findings, significance, and conclusions. An abstract should be self-contained, which means that somebody who reads the abstract will get an idea of the experiment without having to refer to anything else.
A good abstract doesn't just describe the experiment, it engages a reader and makes them want to find out more. Fitting all of this into just 200 words might seem difficult, so stick to the main procedural steps and most important parts of the experiment.
Make sure not to use complicated jargon, since an abstract should be understandable for anyone. Finally but importantly, even though the abstract goes immediately after the title page in the actual lab report, you should write it after you have compiled the entire report. Since it is a summary of the whole paper, it is much easier to write after you have completed writing all the sections. You now know how to write an abstract for a lab report!
Step 5. Introduction
You've done it! Your attractive title page convinced people to read your concise and interesting abstract and now they are diving into your actual report. The introduction paragraph should clearly state the purpose of the report and give readers background information about the study or experiment.
Start by giving information about the broader topic, then move on to background information about the specific study, and end with the hypothesis. How to write a hypothesis for a lab report you ask? Just state what your expected outcome from the lab is!
Keep these things in mind when writing your introduction section.
- The first line of the introduction should Engage The Reader and make them want to find out more
- Don't just state what you did, also explain the significance of the study
- Don't spend more than a few lines giving background information, just enough to make a reader understand your hypothesis
- You can briefly explain the larger implications of the study
- Make sure that you clearly state your hypothesis
- Your introduction paragraph needs to be informative and concise as well as interesting and engaging
Step 6. Write the body of the report
There are certain sections that are usually required in the body of a lab report, but depending on the type of report, there can be variations. In general, the body paragraphs of a lab report can be split up into the following sections.
First, list all the materials that were used in the experiment or study. If it was a lab, then you can include drawings of apparatus as well as the chemicals used, etc. If it was a questionnaire or survey then give a few examples of the sample questions. You don't have to explain why you chose specific materials. Think of this as a list of required materials if somebody else wanted to do the study.
This is the “how to write a procedure for a lab report” section. Basically, all you have to do is describe your experimental methodology. Clearly go over every step of the process of the experiment. An easy way of writing it is to think of it as writing instructions for someone else to do the experiment. In a lab report, it isn't necessary to explain why you chose the procedure you did or why it is important, all you have to do is make sure that you include every step and that it is clear and easily understood. If you think it will help to explain the procedure more clearly, you can include visual aids light flow charts, diagrams, etc.
Next, you need to present the data you collected during your experiment. Do not analyze your data in this section, just make sure that it is presented in a way that highlights the key numbers. You can use tables or charts to organize the data, or if there isn't much quantitative data, present numbers in the text.
In this section, you run calculations and manipulate the data to come up with your results. Make sure that you state which calculations you did, but this is not where you show your work. Make sure that you write out any of the main findings from your analysis. This is also where you include things like means, standard deviations, intervals of confidence, and any other appropriate statistics.
Finally, in this section, you analyze the data to see whether it backs up the hypothesis or not.
- Compare your findings to the background information and previous studies.
- Explain why your findings either back up previous studies or don't.
- State any limitations in the study and make recommendations for how to overcome them.
- Talk about the validity and reliability of the experimental design.
- If you made any mistakes conducting the lab or study, explain why the mistakes happened and how they may have impacted the final results.
- Talk about the implications of your findings and why they are important.
- Suggest possible fixes to the study or avenues for further research.
Step 7. How to write a conclusion for a lab report
The conclusion of a lab report should not be too long. In your conclusion:
- Repeat the hypothesis
- Briefly explain the experiments
- State whether the hypothesis was accepted or rejected
- Present your key findings and explain their significance
- Connect the findings to the overall topic
- Briefly mention the strengths and limitations of the experiments
- Suggest fixes or further research options.
Step 8. Provide references
Depending on the kind of lab you may have to use either MLA or APA style of citation. Make sure that you go over the guidelines or ask your professor so that you know which one to use. Everything you cited in the text must be included in the references/bibliography/works cited section. You can include charts, figures, raw data, graphs, etc. in an appendix if relevant.
Step 9. Revise and proofread
You can't just hand in a paper as soon as you're done writing the conclusion! Revising and proofreading might seem like a chore, but after all that hard work you don't want to get a lower grade than you deserve just because of a few silly mistakes. Make sure you go over the first draft of your lab report and check for the following.
- Make sure you have all the required sections
- Make sure that each section is clear and concise
- Make sure that you have included every step in your experimental procedure
- Make sure that you have given enough background information
- Make sure that the paper has a good flow
- Check your formatting
- Run a spell check and grammar check
- Read your paper out loud
- Ask a friend, colleague, or classmate to go over your paper
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A lab report can be quite challenging to write. It tests your theoretical knowledge about a subject, asks you to clearly communicate the procedures of an experiment, and requires you to analyze and interpret data, all of this in a clear and concise way. A lab report can be thought of as a mini-research paper, but instead of researching an entire topic, it is just about one experiment, study, or lab.
Whether your question was how to write a science lab report, how to write a college lab report, or how to write a lab report biology, if you follow the lab report guidelines in this article you will be well on your way to getting a good grade. If you need any clarifications, the experts at Studyfy have years of experience in academics and helping students.