How To Write a Lab Report
If you’re studying in the STEM field, particularly anything in the sciences, odds are you’ll need to know how to write a lab report sooner or later. They’re a significant part of pretty much all science courses and tend to make up a major part of your overall grade. Your lab report should clearly and concisely convey the key aspects of your experiment, including aim, methods, results, and conclusions.
You need to communicate your grasp of the scientific method by performing, and then evaluating, a laboratory experiment. Wondering how to write a lab report? Read on.
Use the Lab Manual Guidelines (If You Have Them)
Sometimes, your teacher or professor will give you lab manual or lab report guidelines. These will outline their preferred structure, and may even include a lab report template. This is more common in high school than at university level science, where it’s expected that you have a deeper working understanding of the scientific process.
Don’t be afraid to ask your lecturer, tutor, or teacher for science homework help if you need a scaffold or template to work from.
The Structure of Lab Reports
If you aren’t given a structure to work from, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the typical structure of a conventional lab report. Lab reports follow a strict sequential layout as follows:
We will elaborate on each of these parts of the lab report below. Adhere strictly to this layout because it makes it easy to understand your lab report. Each section makes it easier to understand the next one.
1. Report Title
The title of your lab report is critical. You need to indicate what the study is about, including any variables under investigation. A full title page is often necessary for a lab report. If you are doing a full title page, include the following:
- Title of the experiment (in bold, and possibly capitalized)
- Your name and the names of other lab partners, if any.
- Course number and name, semesters offering the course
- Instructor’s name
- Date the experiment was performed
All text should be centre aligned and double spaced. Use the same font size and type as the rest of the paper. Needless to say, the typeface should be easily legible and not distract from the content of your report.
2. Write the Abstract Last
Your abstract should provide a brief, concise, comprehensive summary of your report. Don’t use dot points. Use short, clear sentences. Always write the abstract last, as it’s easier to summarise information that you’ve already written down.
Begin your abstract with a short summary of the aim and rationale of your study. No more than two sentences.
Next, describe the “who, when, what, where, and how” of your study: the participants and setting.
Next, articulate your method by briefly describing the design, experimental treatment, and any surveys or other approaches you used.
After that, quickly summarise any major findings, perhaps with a brief mention of any statistics. Otherwise, a single sentence on the outcome of the study is plenty.
In the final sentence, communicate the significance of your findings, and your contribution to the overall knowledge within the field.
3. Introduction or Purpose
In the introduction, you’ll want to explain the rationale for your study. Where does your hypothesis come from? Why did you perform this experiment?
Start broad in scope and narrow it down. Think of this stage as a funnel. Dedicate a sentence or two to the broader topic, then engage with any relevant theory or literature.
Articulate your rationale and then, in the final sentence, communicate your hypothesis. Your hypothesis is simply the proposed explanation that you are testing with your experiment.
The method is the part where you detail the steps you took in order to gather your data. How did you test your hypothesis?
It’s important here to provide as much detail as necessary for any readers to evaluate your experimental procedure if need be. Peer review is a major part of the scientific community, and in writing a lab report you ought to prepare for it.
Any lengthy lists or diagrams need to go in your appendix but should be referenced here. In this section describe:
- Experimental design
- Procedures used for raw data collection
- Procedures used for data analysis
The method is very much the section where you, in occasionally excruciating detail, explain how you performed your experiment.
5. The Difference Between Results and Discussion
The next part of your lab report is the results, followed by a discussion. It’s easy for students to get confused with the purpose of these two discrete sections here, but they are separate for a reason.
In the results section, you need to clearly articulate the findings of your experiment. Any data and statistics are results.
The results section is not the place for you to ponder the meaning of the findings, or what their implications are on a broader scale. Save that for the discussion.
The discussion section is where you interpret the meaning of your research. You will need to contextualise it within a broader framework of the previous research and theories, and articulate why your findings matter.
Do they support or deny your hypothesis? Do they support or deny the findings of other experiments in the field? These are the questions you should set out to answer in the discussion section.
6. Write A Killer Conclusion
This is the final section of a typical lab report, but not the last part that you’ll write. Always write your conclusion before you write the abstract!
In the conclusion, summarise the findings of the experiment. Give a brief overview of any limitations, the strengths of the experiment, and how your study could affect any further research.
Do not go into vivid detail here. You should have provided enough detail in the previous sections that the conclusion simply provides a nice, concise wrapping up of the lab report.
7. Use Clear, Specific Language
The field of science contains a lot of languages that lay people find intimidating or confusing. Latin names for animals and plants abound. Greek words are loaned into English (or German, which was once the standard language for scientific papers) to articulate theoretical concepts.
Compound words and loanwords can easily turn into an alphabet soup of sentences to the uninitiated.
Scientific language is precise and articulate. You should use the correct terminology for your field – it’s OK to talk about astrophysics and phenomena if you’re an astrophysicist – but otherwise stick to short, sharp sentences. Avoid ‘waffle’ and filler’ words if you can.
Your lab report should be chock full of relevant information rather than long, flowery sentences. Stick to a concise, clear and well-articulated writing style, adopt a strong less-is-more approach, and your lab report will be better for it!
8. The Difference Between a Lab Report and a Research Paper
Simply put, they have different purposes. The lab report is designed to communicate your understanding of the scientific process through performing an experiment. It’s a detailed recount of your hands-on testing of the hypothesis. You simply need to write out how you performed the experiment and analyse your findings.
Research papers are a much longer, more arduous affair. They require you to advance an argument and hypothesis of your own volition, with more in-depth research and interpretation of available data (including other experiments).
For that reason, you’ll often find that a lab report is far shorter than typical research papers.
Hopefully you feel confident and assured that you know how to write a lab report! Lab reports don’t have to be overly long or complicated. In fact, if you can get your point across in a way that is easy to understand, your marks will probably be better than those of a student who can’t.
Simply sticking to the structure we outlined, following each step and making sure you don’t mix up things like your results and discussion, is how to write a lab report. A lab report can be easier than writing a full paper if you stick to the structure and tell the story of your experiment and why it matters.