Depending on your field, you may be required to write laboratory reports as part of your studies. Formal lab reports can be quite daunting for many students, so I will walk you through each section and provide some writing tips.
The title page should include a descriptive title of your experiment, followed by your name and the name of your lab partners if applicable. You may also be required to write down the course code/name, date of the experiment and name of your instructor. These formatting guidelines change depending on your instructor and institution. Always double-check!
Choose your title:
Your title should be concise and informative. It should give your reader an idea of what the report is about.
Your title should include key information, such as the aim of the experiment, variables and methodology used.
Avoid vague titles like "Chemistry I: Lab #1" or "Titration Lab". A better title would be: "Determination of hydrochloric acid (HCl) concentration by titration with sodium hydroxide (NaOH)".
The abstract should be written as a single paragraph (usually ~200-300 words) that summarizes your entire report. The abstract should be concise and should not include references, figures or tables.
After reading your abstract, the reader should be able to understand what you did, how you did it, what you found and why it is important.
Even though your abstract is the first section of your report, it is a good idea to write it last!
Write your abstract:
Start by introducing your topic and stating the purpose (or aim) of your experiment. Provide context (i.e., why did you conduct the experiment and why does it matter). This will be a summary of your introduction section.
Briefly describe any key or novel methods/techniques used in your research. This will be a summary of the materials and methods section.
Report your overall findings (i.e., what is the takeaway message of your investigation?). This will be a summary of the results section.
Explain the significance and impact of your results (i.e., why are your findings important?). This will be a summary of the discussion section.
Provide a brief conclusion and future directions.
The introduction presents your topic and provides relevant background information to help the reader understand the experiment(s) you have performed.
Write your introduction:
Start by providing general background information. Don't forget to cite your sources!
Explain any relevant concepts or theories. Start broadly (but not too broadly). As your introduction progresses, you should narrow down your topic.
Provide a literature review (i.e., a summary of relevant research and previous work on your chosen topic). Be sure to identify and clearly state knowledge gaps or limitations.
Identify the problem you are trying to solve and provide a rationale for your study (i.e. why are you doing this experiment?).
State your hypothesis (purpose of your research) and your objectives.
Materials and Methods
The materials and methods section summarizes all relevant experimental procedures used in your study.
Write your materials and method section:
Provide information about each protocol/method using a different subheading for each.
Do not write this section in point form. Use complete sentences.
Do not mention your results or provide explanations in this section.
Be detailed but do not provide unnecessary information. Here are some things to include:
-Equipment and software information (e.g., name, manufacturer, and lot number).
-Chemical/reagent information (e.g., name, concentration, and manufacturer).
-Scientific names of all organisms used.
-Relevant procedures, especially if they are novel. Reference old procedures. -Variables and treatments (e.g., volume, concentration, and temperature).
-Number of replicates.
-Calculations and statistical analysis procedures.
Write the methods section in past tense.
The results section summarizes, but does not interpret, your main findings. You can organize your results using tables, diagrams and/or figures.
Write your results:
Organize your results in logical order. Your results section, like the rest of your report, should flow coherently.
Do not provide detailed experimental information or procedures. This information should be provided in the materials and methods section.
Do not include any raw data. Your results should be analyzed and presented either in words or using figures/tables.
Do not present the same data set twice (i.e., do not describe data that is already summarized in a table or figure). Instead, you should summarize the main findings of your figure/table and/or make comparisons (between your treatments/samples only - comparisons with literature findings should be done in the discussion).
Do not interpret your results at this point. Only describe what was found.
Always follow the formatting guidelines provided by your institution or instructor. In some cases, you will be required to have one figure or table per page or even have a Figures and Tables section at the end of your report (as an appendix).
Table number and title should be placed above the table.
Titles should be descriptive.
Additional information should be added as a footnote (under the table). This can include sample details, sample size and statistical analysis information.
Figure number and legend should be placed below the figure.
Legends should be descriptive and provide relevant information such as sample composition, sample size, statistical analysis and experimental details.
Axes should be labeled and include units if applicable. Units should be written in brackets.
Include error bars when applicable and describe statistical analysis info in the legend.
The discussion section provides an interpretation of your results as well as a summary of limitations and future directions.
Write your discussion:
Analyze and interpret your main findings. Compare your results with those reported in the literature. Remember to cite your sources!
Do not restate experimental procedures or results in this section.
If your results are not in line with previous findings, try to explain why. Did you follow the exact same procedure? If you introduced new variables or modified previous procedures, could that account for the difference in results?
Address any unexpected results or findings.
Refer back to the knowledge gaps you identified in your introduction. Do your results provide new information that help address some of these knowledge gaps? Discuss them.
Discuss any limitations or sources of errors. What could be done differently? What could be improved?
Mention any future directions for your research. Where can you go from here? What future tests can get done?
The conclusion should provide a summary of your report, including the main findings and take-away messages.
Note: in some cases, the conclusion is presented at the end of the discussion and not as a separate section. Always follow the formatting guidelines provided by your institution or instructor.
Write your conclusion:
Do not introduce any new ideas.
Restate your research question or purpose of your study.
Summarize your main findings/results and provide a brief analysis.
Provide the impact of your research.