Scientific and Lab Report Writing

Lab experimentWhat is a scientific/lab report?

Lab reports or scientific reports are the primary vehicle through which scientific research methods are disseminated and communicated across science and engineering disciplines. Lab reports are structured and fomulaic in order to make it as easy as possible for a reader to understand the background, aims, methodology and findings of a particular experiement or technique.

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

Typically, a lab report is broken down into discrete sections, separated by sub-headings, and 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

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.

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The IMRaD structure for lab reports

Lab Report modelIntroduction

Establish the reason or context for doing the experiment(s). 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/or 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 (i.e. a sample was taken...). Reproducibility of methods is the foundation for evidence based science.

Results

Present your data using tables and/or graphical representations as appropriate.

and Discussion

Interpret the results and explain their significance. Reverse the funnel: put the specific results from your experimebt back into a wider context. I.e. what do they mean, what applications do they have, what recommendations can you make, what are the limitations and what gaps remain for further research?

Other sections that may feature in your lab report:

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

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

 

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Internal

  • Abstracts, 301