A lab report is a crucial element in any scientific inquiry. Whether you are doing biology, physics, or a chemistry course, lab reports are a prerequisite to finishing the course as they provide the description and analysis of a laboratory experiment performed to explore a scientific concept.
Lab reports are extremely formal, thus, the writer must know the specifics of it to make it meet the requirements.
Types of Lab Reports
There are two formal types of lab reports, i.e. internal and external lab reports.
Internal lab reports
These are types of reports that are primarily written for use within a company and also within structured organizations such as educational institutions and research centers, thus, the report writer’s focus is to target fellow employees who are probably familiar with the methodology and equipment used in formulating the lab report. Since the target of an internal report is within the same organization, the language is less formal and the report itself is result-oriented.
External lab reports
External lab reports are written to be used outside the organization that has written them. These kinds of reports are written targeting clients who have no idea about the methodology or equipment used in the process. Therefore, the formality of writing an external lab report is higher than an internal lab report. When writing an external lab report, the client might have requirements about the specificity of the format used, methodology, and equipment. It is worth noting that external lab reports are often confidential as the clients pay for all the data in the report.
Elements of a Lab Report
When writing a formal report, you need to pay close attention to the details of the lab report. In doing so, you must adhere to the specific rules governing the writing of the various elements of a lab report.
These elements are the core of any good lab report:
The core element of the title page is the report’s title. The title of the report must be brief and be able to indicate what is studied in the report. The idea behind the title is to present the main point of the investigation.
Remember! Since it is supposed to be brief, you should aim for a maximum of ten words. Also, ensure that it doesn’t appear in a question format.
Other items that could be included in the title page include the name of the participants in the lab report, the instructor’s name, and the date of performing the investigation and submission. However, these items are only included if they are asked for.
An abstract is basically the summary of the research report written in a concise and comprehensive manner. Abstracts are written in the continuous form (don’t write in note form) and aims to cover the summary of the research using about 150 words. An ideal abstract should be able to answer the following questions:
- What is the rationale for research?
- Who are the participants in the research?
- What methodologies have been used in the research?
- What are the major findings?
- What is the implication of the findings?
Pro tip: In as much as an abstract comes at the beginning of a lab report, you should write it after finishing the other parts as it will provide an overview of what you’ve already written.
The introduction section of a lab report is also called the ‘purpose’ of the report as it explains the overriding objectives of the lab report. Ideally, what you do in the introduction section is to explain why the research was conducted. In the introduction section, you need to start with a broad statement of the topic and narrow it down to the hypothesis. Remember, the introduction must also be as brief and concise as possible. The following five steps can help you come up with an outstanding introduction for your lab report:
- Introduce the topic briefly, defining important key terms
- Explain the theoretical framework used in the research
- Explain the relationship between previous studies and your theoretical framework and how they influenced your research
- Explain how your current study seeks to address the literature gaps. You may show how your research aims to provide solutions to the problems of previous studies
- Provide your aim and hypothesis, clearly stating what you are going to investigate and the expected results.
This section of the lab report requires you to list all the materials used in your research. You should list every important piece of equipment that was part of making the research successful. However, you are not required to provide extensive details of the materials used; just a simple list would help.
Explain the techniques used to analyze the information about your topic. In this section, you will need to give the reader the ability to evaluate the validity and reliability of the research. In doing so, you must vividly describe the steps followed to complete the investigation. It is important to provide sufficient details in the methodology that will allow anyone reading this section to duplicate the experiment and achieve the same experimental results. The best approach to writing the methodology is writing it as a direction for someone else to use it in the lab to perform the experiment. In providing sufficient details, you should also include diagrams to explain your experimental setup.
When writing the procedure, you must be able to show the steps followed to complete your experiment. In this section, precision is important to show the procedure vividly and in detail that a person could use your procedure to perform the same experiment and come out with the same results. This section may need to have a diagram explaining the setup of your experiment. Here are the useful things to note about this section:
- Use precision to describe the process you followed during the experiment. You should be able to explain exactly what you did.
- Be as detailed as possible to allow replication of findings.
- Avoid adding extraneous details such as record sheets and debrief
Useful tips to guide you when writing the procedure:
- Always assume the reader has no prior knowledge and relies on your procedure to replicate the experiment.
- Use the past tense to write in this section as it has already happened.
- Don’t go further to show justification of choosing your method, simply state the report as done.
- While giving the details, be concise, but only to allow replication of the experiment; don’t overburden the reader with unnecessary details.
The results section of a lab report presents both descriptive and inferential statistics. In other words, the results section use figure to present the observed data of the research. At this stage, you should not interpret the data, this will come later in the discussion. In this section do NOT add raw data to your results. Use of APA style while presenting the results.
Here are the writing conventions of APA style that you should follow:
- All the numbers are reported to 2 decimal places e.g. “0.61”. There are some exceptions to this rule i.e. numbers that can never exceed 1.0 ( e.g. r-values, p-values): reporting to 3 decimal places without including 0 before the decimal place, e.g. .002
- Percentages and degrees of freedom are reported as whole numbers.
- You should italicize all statistical symbols, which are not Greek letters e.g. t, F, SD, d, p.
- Either sides of the equal sign should have spaces.
- You should put in brackets all the reports of 95% confidence intervals (Cis), lower and upper limits e.g. “95% CI [7337, 102.23]”
This section allows you to outline all the findings in your experiment and relate them to your initial hypothesis. It is important to use plain English that does not have statistical jargon. It is this section that allows you to discuss the results of your experiment, comparing them to background materials.
The discussion section should also:
- Acknowledge the limitations of the findings of the results. However, you should ensure that the limitations can explain the result obtained. If the experiment conducted has found reliable results, be very careful to list limitations as it will put into doubt the results obtained. It is advisable to leave this section out if you cannot think of a difficult variable explaining the results instead of the IV.
- Suggest ways of improving the study
- Discuss the implication of the experiment’s findings
- Suggest constructive ideas for future research based on your results. You could identify an area of limitation to be the basis of future research
Finally, you should have a concluding paragraph that explains the key points of the discussion in 3 or 4 sentences.
Figures and graphs
A good lab report should have figures and graphs presented in a different section. All the graphs included should have a descriptive title that defines them. Ensure that all the graphs include the units of measurements; do not assume that the person reading the report will obviously know. Always ensure that X-axis has the independent variable, while the Y-axis has the dependent variable (that which you are measuring). Always refer to the figures and graphs in the text of the report. Label the figures in their chronology i.e. the first figure is Figure 1.
This section contains all the sources cited in the lab report. You should arrange the sources in alphabetical order. Remember, you must use the APA style while referencing your sources. Take note of the referencing techniques used for the following:
If you have cited a book in your lab report, you should list the book in the reference section using this format:
Author’s name. (year of publication). Title of work. Location: Publisher.
You should use the following format in the reference section if you have cited a journal in your lab report:
Names of all the authors, separated by a comma,. (year of publication). Title of the article. Title of the Journal, volume number (issue number), page numbers.
The importance and formality of lab reports can be overwhelming. This is why you need to download free templates that can help you reduce the stress of following the correct format for your lab report. The salient benefits that you get for downloading free templates include:
- You get an accurate format for your lab report
- You save a lot of time
- Your lab report becomes outstanding
So, download now !
Quick Tips for Writing
Here are some of the quick tips that you can use to write a formal lab report:
- Be brief: you should not say a lot when writing a lab report. You need to be concise in your writing. Attempt to cover all the points in a few and straightforward words.
- Write in the third person: when you are describing the procedure in your report, you should not use the first-person pronouns “I,” “we,” and “my.” You need to distance yourself from the report by using the third-person perspective.
- Use correct verb tenses: the correct verb tense for a lab report is the past tense as the experiment has already been conducted. However, when referring to equipment, you will use the present tense. Be mindful of how you change the verb tenses.
- Mention real results: always write about the real results that occurred during your experiment. Avoid the temptation of lying about the results to validate your hypothesis. If something did not go well, you can suggest ways of improving it rather than lying about it.
- Don’t copy a lab manual: whilst a lab manual can be extremely helpful in guiding your purpose of the experiment, you should not copy it to describe your results. Your lab report should be full of your words.
Whilst there is no defined time that it takes to write a lab report, it might take a college student at least 8 hours to write a good lab report. Take note that this is the time for writing reports, not performing the experiment.
Since lab reports are formal, they should follow the formal writing guidelines. A lab report should use Times New Roman font size 12 and ensure it is double-spaced.
Yes, lab reports must have page numbers included on all pages of the document.
The formality and importance of lab reports should not be ignored. Whether you are writing a lab report for your college assignment or a corporate purpose, you must take note of all the elements that make a good lab report. If you are unsure, you should download the templates to guide your writing.