Lab Reports and Scientific Writing

Writing lab reports is different from writing research papers in the humanities, but it is not difficult. There are some main differences to keep in mind when writing a paper in the sciences:

  • Science writing is meant to be factual and straightforward, and every claim needs to be fully supported. 
  • Graphs and figures are an important means of expressing information, and are almost as important as the text itself.
     

FORMAT OF A TYPICAL LAB REPORT

In a lab report, these are the required sections, in order: Title Page, Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion, followed by a References page.  

Title Page

  • Title should be on its own page 
  • Title should be informative
  • Page should include full name and affiliation (e.g., your name on one line, then Kent State University at Stark on the next)
  • Page should follow APA format, unless otherwise instructed

Abstract

  • Summary of your entire paper
  • Should not be longer than 250 words
  • Should contain a few sentences regarding the purpose of the experiment, methods, results, and discussion
  • Should be on a separate page of its own

Introduction

  • Contains 3 vital components:
    1. Background information – Provides information that demonstrates why you are conducting the experiment and what has been previously found. This is where your citations will occur.
    2. Statement of purpose – What is the purpose of the experiment? (Should be clear/concise and stand out.)
    3. Hypothesis – Prediction about the results of the experiment. Should have clear justification; why did you make this prediction? You never “prove” a hypothesis in science; you only falsify or support it.
  • Approximately 1.5 pages

Materials and Methods

  • Should be written in a precise way so that the reader could potentially replicate your experiment 
  • Written in a step-by-step fashion, but in paragraph form (do not list)
  • Approximately ¾ of a page 

Results

  • Report your results rather than interpreting them
  • Simply write your data in paragraph form
  • Often contains at least one table and one figure
    1. Table – Summarize your raw data. Title of the table should be above the table (ex. “Table 1. Title…”)
    2. Figure – Data should be plotted on a graph. The figure should have a figure caption, which goes below the figure (ex. “Figure 1. Title…”). X and y axis should be labeled

Discussion

  • Interpret your data. Discuss any patterns you see and provide explanation for those patterns. If you provide a possible explanation for a pattern, you then have to provide a citation that supports it. If you have an idea of how a pattern might be explained, you must remain speculative, and be clear that it requires further research and investigation. State if your hypothesis was supported or not, provide a statement regarding how/what future investigation will add to this field of research
  • Approximately 1 page

References 

  • APA format

WRITING STYLE

  • The writing needs to be concise and well supported. It should be technical and straightforward.
  • One experiment cannot “prove” anything. Therefore, you must use phrases like “the data suggest…” to discuss your findings.
  • Every claim needs to be heavily supported with valid references. These references should be cited in APA style (unless instructed otherwise).
  • It may sometimes sound redundant when trying to speak clearly and completely. This is normal, but avoid excessive repetition and wordiness.

TABLES & GRAPHS

Tables
Tables should be used to present findings. These can be created in many programs, including Microsoft Word and Excel. For your table, you will need a specific title and at least two (2) clearly labeled columns, as shown below:

Table example

Graphs
You may also want to utilize graphs within your report. For example, the above table contains data that were collected over time. Therefore, a line graph (which can be created in Microsoft Excel) is appropriate to show the relationship between the time and the growing number of bacteria. Again, you will need a detailed title and clearly labeled x and y axes. An example of such a graph is below:

Graph example