How to write a perfect lab report
The main aim of a lab report is to convey the objective, methods, and results of a scientific experiment.
Being generally shorter than any research paper, a lab report helps to demonstrate your understanding of the concept with the help of hands-on lab experiments. Subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) often require students to make lab reports. The article will focus on how to write a lab report with proper structure.
The structure of a lab report
Though different scientific fields and courses require varied sections of a lab report, almost all of them will contain the basics; the objective, the findings, and the methods used to conclude. Each section of a lab report serves its own purpose.
- Title: It defines the topic of the experiment or study.
- Abstract: The section summarises the objective, methods, results as well as conclusions.
- Introduction: The section is used to establish context for the reader to understand the topic.
- Method: The section details the methodologies and materials used to conduct the experiment.
- Results: It provides reports on all the inferential and descriptive statistical data.
- Discussion: The section is used to interpret and evaluate the results while identifying any limitations.
- Conclusion: The section will help to sum up the findings of the experiment.
- References: Use this section to list all the sources you have used in a specific style like the APA.
- Appendices: The section will allow the listing of any lengthy materials, tables, or figures.
After you learn how to write a lab report, almost all of the lab reports that you come across will have similar sections with some omission or combination of the sections. For example, some lab reports replace the introduction section with research aims or remove the conclusion.
If you are unsure of which sections to include, it is a good idea to consult your lab instructor.
Title: This is what the reader will first read in your report. Your title will make the first impression, so ensure to practice catchy titles when you are learning how to write a lab report. With an effective title, you will be able to covey the main objective or the purpose of your experiment. There is no need for it to be thought-provoking or creative, but make sure it is informative.
Abstract: The objective of an abstract is to condense the entire report in just about 150 to 300 words to provide the reader with a concise version of the objective, methods, results, and conclusion.
In other words, the abstract will give the readers a preview of the full lab report. When you are learning the basics of how to write a lab report, it is often advised that you finish the abstract at last so that you will be able to summarise each of the sections.
So, when learning how to write a lab report abstract, make sure to keep the following points in mind:
- The wider context of the experiment
- The question you are trying to answer with the help of the experiment.
- How the experiment has been performed
- The results of the experiment.
- Your interpretation of the outcome.
- The significance or importance of your findings
Introduction: When you start learning how to write a lab report, one of the first things you will have to focus on is the introduction. The introduction to your lab report will set the scene for your study. One of the best ways to write an effective introduction is by using the funnel or inverted triangle structure. The structure consists of
- A general and broad research topic at the start
- Use your specific study focus to narrow down your topic.
- End the section with a clear question pertaining to your research.
It is good to start the section by providing background information on your topic and explaining its importance in the real world or theoretical context. Also, ensure to describe any previous research on your topic or try to fill a gap in the research field.
Now you will need to detail the theoretical basis for your experiment as well as describe relevant equations and laws that you will use to support your findings. Finally, outline your hypothesis by stating the main aim of your lab report.
An introduction does not need to be lengthy, but it is always a good idea to organize the introduction section into subheadings or paragraphs such as “Research aims” or “Research Context”.
Method: One of the key sections to keep a special note of when learning how to write a lab report is the Method section which details the steps and procedures of the experiment. Ensure to give out enough details so the readers can evaluate or follow the procedure you used. Use past tense to write this section and include a list, steps, or materials that have played a role in the experiment in the appendices while referring to them in this section.
You should be able to describe the design, the subjects, steps, and procedures that you used to collect the data and analyze them.
- Experimental design: Make sure to mention if your experiment is designed “within” or “between” subjects. Also, don’t forget to mention how the sample set you chose was relevant to the study.
- Subjects: Describe the demographic characteristics of the human subjects you used for the study. Subjects can also be animals or plants in terms of genetic background. It is important to keep a note of the sample size and describe how the subjects were recruited or selected for your study.
- Materials: Use this section to list out any materials required to gather the data and arrive at the result and don’t forget to name any specialized equipment that was essential to conduct the study.
- When learning how to write a lab report, it is important to describe the settings and conditions of the experiment in detail. Also, note any extraneous variables that had to be controlled by restricting them or by standardising them to a certain level for the sake of the experiment.
- Procedures: The section should include the exact steps that you have taken to collect the data in chronological order. Make sure to provide ample information in a concise manner for someone else to replicate your results. Appendices can be used to place detailed information if required.
- When conducting a lab experiment, it is quite common to follow a lab manual. After you have learned how to write a lab report, in some cases, the instructor might allow you to take references from the manual and ask you to state if you have deviated from the mentioned steps based on practical considerations. While in other cases, you may be instructed to rewrite the procedures mentioned in the manual into coherent paragraphs while noting down any deviations from the steps mentioned in the manual when applied in practice.
- In cases of dealing with extensive data analysis, it is important to state the methods of planned analysis as well. It can include the type of test you will be performing or software or computer programs used to derive the calculations.
Results: When learning how to write a lab report, there should be a proper emphasis on structuring and writing the results section of the lab report. The section is particularly important since this section is used to record the results of the statistical analysis procedures that were conducted. Ensure to clearly state how do the results support or refute your initial hypothesis.
The main results to include in the lab report are:
- Descriptive statistics.
- Statistical test results and their significance
- Estimates of confidence intervals or standard error
You can use tables or figures to report your results. You can use text when you have to highlight a few key data however when presenting large sets of numbers, use tables or use graphs to highlight the relationship between the variables.
It is a good idea to include sample calculations in the results section when dealing with complex experiments. Add a brief description of the sample calculation with the help of clear symbols. The appendices section should be used to present any raw data with references to highlight trends or outliers when you are learning how to write a lab report.
Discussion: The discussion section is a highlight of your understanding of the experiment, demonstrating your critical thinking skills. Proceed to this section with great care when learning how to write a lab report as this section will allow you to:
- Interpret your results.
- Draw a comparison between the expectation and the outcome.
- Identification of sources of error.
- Provide an explanation for unpredicted results.
- Provide suggestions to improve.
Properly interpreting the results will help you to answer the primary research question. Report if your results align with your hypothesis.
- Were you able to measure what you sought to measure?
- Was the procedure for analysis adept for this type of data?
Compare your results with that of other research and try to identify and explain the key differences in findings.
- Do your results align with those of the previous studies? Why or why not?
Highlighting the limitations and the strengths of a study is one of the characteristics of an effective discussion section when you are learning how to write a lab report.
- Is high internal reliability and validity present?
- How were these aspects of your study established?
It is a good idea to use examples when describing limitations. For example, when there is a significant contribution of the random error to your measurements, state the source of the error and suggest ways to mitigate it. Now that you are familiar with how to write a lab report discussion section, we can move on to the final section of the report.
It is the final section of the lab report. The section will be used to summarise the entire experiment. Some reports might choose to skip this section as it sometimes overlaps with the discussion section, but if you have recently learned how to write a lab report, it is best to consult your instructor first.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is a lab report different from a research paper?
A lab report is used to demonstrate your understanding of a scientific concept with the help of a hands-on experiment, while a research paper is used to develop an original concept independently. A research paper is quite lengthy when compared to a lab report.
Is it necessary to include a conclusion in a lab report?
When learning how to write a lab report, you will be taught to include a concluding section at the very end, but in some cases, if the discussion section overlaps with the conclusion, the conclusion section can be skipped, though it is a good idea to consult your lab instructor first.