Most of the essays you will write in your college or university career will be fairly similar research papers or reaction papers, but there are a few different types of writing that you will come across and need to be able to master before you can succeed in your courses. One of these types of writing is the science lab report. This type of paper differs from a typical research paper because it is based primarily on an experiment that you yourself conducted rather than archival research from the library or other resources. As a result, many students struggle with this specialized type of writing. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can help you to produce a successful science lab report every time.
- Begin with an introduction. It may sound obvious, but every lab report should start with an introduction that explains the purpose of the experiment. Provide a description of the problem that you are investigating and give, in one sentence, the hypothesis that you tested. Generally, the introduction acts similarly to an abstract in a journal article, so you should also explain the results of the experiment and the conclusions that you drew from the results.
- Materials. List all of the material that you used in your experiment and what you did with them.
- Methods. Describe how you conducted your experiment. This may need diagrams or equations to fully develop, but the general idea is that you should describe not just what you did but why you did it. The end goal is to produce a description of your experiment so detailed that someone reading your paper could duplicate your approach step-by-step in order to confirm the results. The best way to do this is to imagine that you are telling a friend or colleague how to duplicate your experiment. That way, you won’t leave out any important steps.
- Data. Be sure to provide the raw data generated by your experiment. This generally takes the form of a table. In this section, you are only providing the data, without any interpretation or conclusions. Those come later.
- Results. In this section, you explain what the data mean. Describe the table in words and indicate what the numbers tell us about the problem and the hypothesis being tested. For this section, you will focus on explaining what the data indicate. In the next section, you will more broadly apply It to the hypothesis.
- Discussion. In the discussion section, you will analyze the results and discuss whether or not they support your hypothesis, as well as what one can conclude from this information. Depending on the type of experiment and the purpose of the research, the results and discussion sections can sometimes be combined.
- Conclusion. The conclusion sums up the report and restates the main findings, particularly whether the hypothesis is supported or not supported by the data, and what that means for our understanding of the problem. It often ends with suggestions for future research.
That’s the basic outline of a science lab report, but there are a few more things you can do to ensure that you have a terrific report when you are done writing:
- Use third-person language. In science, it’s generally expected that writers will avoid referring to themselves as “I” or “we,” and instead most disciplines prefer them to refer to themselves as “the researcher” or “the present author.” This can seem a little stilted, but it is a style quirk that the sciences tend to prefer.
- Review your discipline’s style guide. Many scientific disciplines have their own preferred writing and formatting style. For example, psychology uses APA style. To ensure that your paper looks professional, check which style you need to use and follow its formatting for all tables, figures, and data, not just its style of bibliographic citations. Many students forget that tables and captions have formatting requirements!
Science lab reports can be complicated to write because of the need to present and analyze original data. That’s one reason that formatting becomes very important when you are making your own tables and figures. But the good news is that these complexities are placed atop a rather simple lab report format. As long as you have mastered the most important parts of the science lab report and are sure that you have written each of them in order in your report, you should have no trouble delivering a compelling and well-written lab report every time.