Need to write a lab report but don’t know where to start? Here’s your comprehensive guide on how to structure a lab report, write every section, and format it. We’ve also prepared a lab report example to demonstrate what a good lab report looks like!
But first things first. What is a lab report, exactly? A lab report is a paper that details your scientific experiment, from what you were trying to achieve with it to how it went and what it resulted in. It’s a common assignment for STEM students.
4 General Lab Report Writing Tips
Before we dive into the structure of this paper, let’s break down several general tips on how to do a lab report:
- Understand your experiment before you start it. You should know what you’re attempting to test with the experiment. If you don’t see its point, it’ll show in the paper.
- Take notes as you’re conducting the experiment. Write down everything you do in detail: the volume of the solution you use, how long you let bacteria grow in a Petri dish, etc. You’ll want your notes to be as specific as possible. Don’t rely on your memory!
- Get straight to the point. These papers aren’t essays: you don’t have to use metaphors or write lengthy introductions. Be concise.
- Write for the audience with the same or more advanced level of knowledge. Don’t shy away from using complex terminology if it’s appropriate. It’ll demonstrate how well you know the topic yourself!
How to Structure a Lab Report
All lab report outlines should contain the following sections:
- Title page. It should present your report’s title, experiment date, and your ID information.
- Abstract. This is a short overview of your experiment, findings, and their meaning.
- Introduction. This is where you describe the purpose of your experiment.
- Methods and materials. This section details the equipment and materials used during the experiment and contains a step-by-step breakdown of the experiment itself.
- Results. This is where you describe the outcomes of your experiment.
- Discussion. This section is for interpreting the results and recognizing the experiment’s limitations.
- Conclusion. This is where you sum up your findings and suggest further research.
- References. This is a list of sources you relied on in conducting the experiment and writing the paper.
- Appendices. That’s everything that was too bulky to include in the main body: tables with raw data, graphs, etc.
Now, let’s break down how to write every section on the list.
How to Create a Title Page for a Lab Report
Make sure you mention the following on your lab report title page:
- Your full name;
- Your student ID code (if you have one);
- Your lab partners’ names (if you had any);
- When you conducted the experiment;
- The report’s title.
Your title page should be formatted according to the style your instructor told you to use (more on that later).
The title is usually the most challenging part of crafting the title page. What makes a good title for a lab report? Here are a few markings of one:
- It’s concise (under ten words).
- It reflects the hypothesis and/or the results of your experiments.
- It’s informative and doesn’t embellish the truth.
Here are a few examples of good titles:
- Comparing Filtration Materials’ Efficiency in Producing Drinking Water;
- Growing Bacteria From Smartphone Screen Swabs in Petri Dishes;
- Effects of Music on Plant Growth.
How to Write an Abstract
What is an abstract in a lab report, you may wonder? In a nutshell, it’s a brief overview of the whole paper, usually up to 300 words long. Think of it as a preview or a snapshot of your report for the readers.
It’s best to write this section last after you finish writing the paper itself. Otherwise, how can you give an overview of something you haven’t put into words yet?
Once you’re ready to work on this part, follow these three tips for crafting the abstract lab report requires:
- Mention every important bit: the study’s context, aim, methods, results, and their meaning and significance.
- Don’t hesitate to paraphrase sentences from the main body to condense them.
- If you have to pick which parts of the report to highlight in the abstract, prioritize your findings and their significance.
How to Write a Lab Report Introduction
This is the part you can write before conducting the experiment itself. In fact, it’s highly recommended: it’ll help you wrap your head around the purpose of the experiment!
Under this lab report heading, you should mention any wider context for your experiment (for example, what other studies or scientific discoveries pushed you to design this experiment). Then, clearly state what your experiment will be focused on and what hypothesis it’s supposed to test.
When writing a lab report, remember to add citations whenever you rely on others’ works. In the introduction, it can mean citing other lab reports or research papers on the subject.
Use the past tense to describe the purpose of your experiment. The present tense is more suitable when you’re reviewing the existing research on the matter or mentioning established theories and facts.
How to Describe Materials and Methods
The next step in writing a lab report is the materials and methods section. Start with the materials part: describe all the equipment and raw materials you used in your experiment. Make sure to mention the lab manual if you have one, as well as quantities for materials and their specific types.
Then, describe the procedure of your experiment step by step in the methods part. If you struggle with it, think of this part as the instructions for anyone who would want to replicate your experiment. Your task is to let them know exactly what you did and how.
The more detailed and specific you are in both parts of this section, the better. Spare no detail when describing timing, quantities, and your actions. Don’t rely on your memory when writing this section: take notes while you’re conducting the experiment.
What to Write in the Results Section
What happened once you finished the main part of your experiment? What were its outcomes? The results section is where you answer these two questions while writing a lab report.
Be careful, though: this isn’t the place to interpret the experiment’s results – that is the discussion section’s purpose. When it comes to the results section, your job is to describe what happened without trying to explain why it happened the way it happened.
So, remain objective and don’t draw any conclusions in this part of your lab report. Include any statistical or raw data you obtained from your experiment and descriptive data. However, if that data is extensive, place it in the appendices and mention a couple of highlights in the results.
It’s also a good idea to mention the error margin or confidence interval in this section.
How to Write the Lab Report Discussion
Now is the time for you to flex your critical and analytical thinking skills and interpret your experiment’s results. Here are several tips on how to write a discussion in a lab report:
- As when writing the results, be as detailed as possible in this section.
- Start with answering these questions: How did the results fare compared to your hypothesis? Did they confirm or debunk it?
- If your hypothesis was disproved, analyze why it could be the case.
- Put your findings into the context of the research field or discipline (you can add citations to others’ works here).
- If there were any unexpected findings, analyze them and what they could mean for the subject matter and research field.
- Take a sobering look at your experiment’s design and point out any weaknesses and limitations it may have. Suggest how to improve it.
How to Conclude the Lab Report
The lab report conclusion is where you sum up your experiment – and the paper itself. So, describe your findings, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your experiment, and mention what your experiment means for the broader research field.
You can also suggest further experiments on the matter or how to improve the experiment you conducted. However, that’s optional in most cases.
Make sure you don’t embellish your findings or present them as anything more significant than it actually is. Exaggerating your work’s importance goes against the scientific method.
There’s no need to draw out the conclusion part of the paper. It can be – and should be – short and concise. If it stretches beyond three paragraphs, that’s probably too much. In most cases, a single paragraph is enough to cover everything that should be in the conclusion.
What Formatting Should You Use?
The answer is, unfortunately, “it depends.” On what? On your instructor’s requirements, of course! If they tell you explicitly to use APA or another citation style, this is exactly what you should do.
Sometimes, though, your manual may omit this crucial detail in its guidelines on how to write a lab report conclusion. In such a case, we’d recommend you to head to your school’s or department’s website and see if there are general formatting guidelines.
And what if you don’t find any requirements there, either? You can reach out to your instructor to ask for clarification.
If it’s up to you to choose the style, we can advise you to choose the one that every common formal lab report example follows: the APA (American Psychology Association) style. Alternatively, you can also use Chicago or MLA guidelines.
Lab Report Sample From an Expert
Sometimes, it’s better to see great lab report examples once than to read a dozen comprehensive guides on writing one. That’s why we prepared this sample – to show you how it’s done!
Comparing Cultures From Smartphone Screen Swabs Pre- and Post-Sanitizing
In this experiment, Petri dishes were used to cultivate bacteria from swabs taken from a smartphone screen before and after cleaning it with a sanitizing wipe.
As a result of culture growing, the Petri dish with bacteria from the smartphone screen pre-cleaning should contain more bacteria than the one with the sample taken post-sanitizing. This was the hypothesis tested by this experiment.
- Lab manual (Johnson, 2020)
- ½-teaspoon agar (1 1/5 grams)
- ¼ cup (60 mm) of hot water
- 500-ml clean, microwave-safe container
- Two Petri dishes
- Clean cotton swabs
- Sanitizing wipes (70% alcohol)
- Fill the microwave-safe container with agar, add hot water, and stir well.
- Bring the mixture to the boiling temperature. Ensure the mixture is clear, with no visible particles floating in it.
- Let the mixture cool for five minutes.
- Open two Petri dishes and fill the bottom of each with the mixture.
- Cover the bottom and leave the mixture to harden for an hour.
- Collect bacteria from the smartphone screen using a clean cotton swab.
- Open the Petri dish and transfer the sample from the cotton swab to the agar. Label the dish with the name of the tested item and the time and date.
- Use a sanitizing wipe to clean the screen and collect another bacteria sample using a cotton swab. Repeat the previous step for the second Petri dish.
- Put the two dishes into a warm, dark place to grow where the temperature reaches around 35 degrees Celsius.
After a week of growing, the Petri dish with a sample from the smartphone screen pre-sanitizing showed times more cultures grown. There were two types of fungi, one type of mold, and three types of bacteria. The second Petri dish with a sample post-sanitizing showed one type of bacteria in colonies of smaller size.
Sanitizing a smartphone screen with a 70% alcohol wipe eliminated most bacteria, mold, and fungi from the smartphone screen.
Although the experiment demonstrated the efficiency of sanitizing smartphone screens with a 70% alcohol sanitizing wipe, further experimentation may be necessary to test other sanitization methods.
- Johnson, K (2020). Culture from Household Items: Lab Manual. Cambridge University Press.
- Lewis J.A., Fleming J.T. (1995). “Basic culture methods”. Methods in cell biology. Vol. 48: p. 3-29.
What is the primary purpose of writing a lab report?
The primary purpose of any lab report is to document your experiment for possible reproduction, as well as present its outcomes and their significance. In the academic setting, lab report assignments are also a means of showing you have a good grasp of the scientific method and the subject matter.
Understanding the purpose of this assignment type is the foundation of how to make a lab report that will earn you an A. Keep in mind that it isn’t a research paper: it doesn’t have to be as long and as original as the latter.
Where should I put data tables in a lab report?
All raw data tables belong in the appendices section at the very end of the paper. You can then refer to them in the main body when you’re writing a lab report, just like you would cite external sources. Make sure you follow the formatting guidelines your instructor gave you!
However, if you don’t cite the data in your table anywhere in the paper, you can freely remove it from appendices altogether. Double-check your appendices to verify every one of them was cited at least once.
How long should a lab report be?
The length of this paper depends on a variety of factors, from the experiment’s complexity to the available body of research on the matter. However, the most important thing is your instructor’s requirement for length. They may set it at five, ten, or twenty pages, for example.
That said, if you don’t have a clearly defined length limit and you’re wondering how to write lab report, we advise you to keep it up to ten pages long. However, remember to be as concise as you can – if you can fit your experiment into fewer pages without skipping crucial details, do it!
How do I write the results section in a lab report?
The results section is where you should describe the outcomes of your experiment when writing a lab report – without interpreting them just yet. (Interpretations belong in the discussion section below the results.)
To write the results section:
- Provide a qualitative description of the outcomes;
- Present statistical data if you derived any;
- Mention the error margin and confidence interval (if applicable).
If your outcomes are best demonstrated in tables or graphs, add those to the appendices and cite them in the results section. Extensive statistical data doesn’t have to be cited in perfect detail; you can describe only the highlights.
Can I get some help with my lab report?
Of course! If you loved our lab report format example, you’ll be delighted to find out it was written by a WriteMy expert. And you can get their help with your paper.
If you decide to enlist professional help to take care of your lab report, the process itself is quite simple. You’ll have to describe your requirements in the order form, select your experts, and make a deposit. Once your order is ready, you can request free revisions to polish it off.
Writing a lab report can be intimidating the first couple of times, but you’ll learn to love it soon enough. Unlike more creative types of assignments like essays, you don’t have to be a great penman to write a good lab report. All you need to do is be detailed, precise, and concise in your writing – and you’re golden!
That said, it can also be a boring kind of assignment for some since all you have to do is essentially document your experiment. Luckily, if that hits close to home, you can always seek professional help with a lab report. WriteMy, for example, always has experts on standby, ready to tackle your lab report for you.
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