Scientific writing and lab reports

Information on how to structure and format a lab report, also known as a scientific report.

Chemical and Biological Engineering postgraduate in lab wearing goggles
On

What is a lab report?

Purpose

Lab reports, or scientific reports, are the primary vehicle used to disseminate and communicate scientific research methods across science and engineering disciplines.

They are structured and formulaic, to make it as easy as possible for a reader to understand the background, aims, methodology and findings of a particular experiment or technique.

Lab reports usually follow very closely prescribed formats. It's essential that you pay very careful attention to the specific guidelines issued with your experimental brief.

Sections

Typically, a lab report is broken down into discrete sections, separated by subheadings. These will include the following:

  • an abstract, outlining in brief what was done and what was found
  • a point-by-point description of the experimental method followed (a bit like following a recipe)
  • a clear presentation of all of the results observed, some of which may be placed in an appendix to the main report
  • a discussion of those results
  • a brief conclusion and references

Language

Lab reports are written in a neutral and objective tone and are kept as short, concise and to the point as possible.

They are not the place to experiment with elaborate language, which might impact on the clarity of their information.


Structure

Introduction

Establish the reason or context for doing the experiment. It might help to think of your introduction as a funnel.

Start broad and focus down to the specifics of your research including the aims/objectives and hypothesis for testing.

Methods

Provides a descriptive protocol of your experiment so it could be replicated by another researcher.

Your methods section should be written avoiding the first person and using the passive voice where possible (ie a sample was taken...). Reproducibility of methods is the foundation for evidence-based science.

Results

Present your data using tables or graphical representations as appropriate.

Discussion

Interpret the results and explain their significance.

Reverse the funnel: put the specific results from your experiment back into a wider context, ie

  • what do they mean?
  • what applications do they have?
  • what recommendations can you make?
  • what are the limitations?
  • what gaps remain for further research?

Conclusion

Restate your main findings and key points from the discussion.

References

Strengthen your arguments with support from existing literature.

Abstract

Summary of the entire report: Interesting, easy to read, concise. This will usually be the last part of the report that you write.

Title, appendix and acknowledgements

Guidance for Writing Lab Reports by Faculty of Engineering (pdf. 1677 kb)

Lab Reports Writing Template (pdf. 662 kb)

Proofreading Your Work


Writing numbers and presenting data

Consider the best way to present your data clearly. If this is best done using a table or chart, then consider what format makes things clearest.

Make sure all important aspects of the data are included in your chart or table, including units where relevant. Don't include charts just for the sake of it – data display should help the reader understand the data.

Report the results of any statistical tests using the appropriate conventions for your subject.

Data display

Displaying Data in Tables

Displaying Data in Graphs

Hypothesis tests

Writing Numbers in Standard Form


Library resources

Library workshops

The Come Together, Write Now sessions are now open to all students. These virtual sessions for academic reading and writing will help you focus on your work, providing the time and space to come together as a reading and writing community and support each other.

You can view our upcoming sessions and book a place here.

Online guidance

Reading other publications can help you to become familiar with the structure, tone and language of scientific writing.

Take a look at the Library resources on scientific literature:

Evaluating the Scientific Literature

Finding Scientific Journal Papers

Types of Scientific Paper


Top tips

Do

Always read the guidance notes

Methods
• Use past tense
• Write in the third person
• Include detailed materials
• State the study design
• Cite/reference the lab protocol

Results
• Organise your data in a logical order
• Include tables and graphs
• Label clearly and include units
• Include figure legends and titles
• State statistical tests and p-values
• Refer to all tables and figures in the text

Don't

Leave it until the last minute

Methods
• Copy the lab protocol
• Forget to include statistics and calculation methods
• Write a set of instructions (cookbook!)
• Interpret your results

Results
• Include raw data
• Present same data in a graph and table
• Overcomplicate the results section
• Interpret your results
• Copy other people’s data or exclude unexpected results


Academic Skills Certificate

The 301 Academic Skills Certificate gives you an opportunity to gain recognition for developing your skills and reflecting on this experience.

Through this reflection, you will be able to identify changes and improvements to your academic skills that will lead to long-term benefits to your studies.

The 301 Academic Skills Certificate acknowledges your commitment to enhancing your academic and employability skills and personal development.

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