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Lab Report (General)


  1. Class: Unspecified
  2. Assignment description: Lab reports are a means of communicating experimental findings. They summarize experiments, present observations, show results, and draw conclusions. The specific structure of the lab report may vary between departments or instructors. Verify the structure that is required for your course.
  3. This template is published for use.
  1. Step 1: Understand your lab manual
    Percent time spent on this step: 10%


    The lab manual is your guide to a successful assignment. It tells you what your professor expects from you, what you’re being marked on, and everything you should need to know about the lab. Your professor has taken the time to write it; you should take the time to read it.

    Consider answering the following questions before you go into the lab.

    • How does this lab fit in with the concepts being taught in class?

    Consider making notes of all the key terms and concepts from the class and textbook.

    •   What are the objectives of the lab?

    Look for key verbs in the protocol. What actions are you expected to do?  Make sure that you do all the required activities. Make a checklist.

    • How do the concepts and the objectives relate?

    Since courses aren’t randomly designed, there will be a connection. If you can figure it out, you will tie your actions to the course content.        

  2. Step 2: Attend lab and complete the experiment
    Percent time spent on this step: 10%


    When attending the lab, make sure that you take good notes. There is nothing more frustrating than writing a report and then realizing that you are missing something.

    Consider noting the follow information while you are doing the lab report

    • What is the context of the experiment? Is there anything about this setting that might impact your results?
    • What is required to start the experiment? Any unexpected variances?
    • Which equipment is used? Could the equipment impact the results?
    • What are the physical properties of materials? Note when or how they change.
    • What by-products or elements of the lab stayed consistent?

    If you are unfamiliar with the format of lab reports, check out  Writing an Undergraduate Lab Report.

  3. Step 3: Draft the materials and method sections
    Percent time spent on this step: 10%


    In this section, outline all the equipment and materials used to complete the experiment, as well as a step-by-step summary of the method. Check with your instructors as they may allow you to reference the lab manual, opposed to rewriting the information in your report. Do not copy the method from the lab manual word for word; this is plagiarism. If you have added or removed any steps in the procedure, note these changes in your report.

    Consider the following while writing:

    • Ensure you have the right level of detail; include factors that might influence your results.
    • Remember to use quantifiable expressions of quantity.
    • Mention any changes from the procedure or steps that might not be obvious to someone else.

    Demonstrate your scientific voice. Write in the third person and in the present tense. Be clear and concise; you may want to review 10 Strategies for Readable Writing.
  4. Step 4: Describe your observations and determine results
    Percent time spent on this step: 15%


    The observation section presents what you saw, heard, or recorded without any interpretation.

    Consider the following while writing:

    • Include all observations seen, heard, or felt.
    • Present observations in figures when possible. Remember that figures should be consistent and clear. Make sure that you explain what the figure is about, and what the elements are. Don’t assume that they will speak for themselves.

    The results section is an interpretation of your observations and may include calculations and graphs. This section should not include a lengthy explanation of the results (do this in the discussion); simply show what you have done with your observations to arrive at conclusions.

    Consider the following while writing:

    • Interpret your results and support them using theories and concepts.
    • If possible make your results active, describe what a chemical or organism did.

    Include references to all external sources and cite them in your reference list.       

  5. Step 5: Search for literature and draft introduction
    Percent time spent on this step: 20%


    The introduction includes the purpose of the experiment, a description of how the information is obtained, and background information about the topic (including pertinent equations or reactions). Only include information that is needed to understand your report; don’t go overboard. This information should be obtained from peer-reviewed sources, such as journal articles.

    Consider the following elements while researching and writing:

    • Identify the experiment’s issue or question.
    • Explain why this issue or question is important.
    • Include a rationale for the how the experiment was done.
    • Ensure that you cite background information.
  6. Step 6: Using literature, develop discussion and conclusion sections of the report
    Percent time spent on this step: 30%


    In this section, briefly explain the procedure of the experiment. This should not be a step by step description.

    Consider the following expectations while writing:

    • Distinguish facts from conjecture.
    • Explain unexpected results.
    • Explain any deviations from literature values, and cite possible sources of error.
    • Don’t fabricate conclusions, or use results you think you should find.
    • Don’t cite sloppiness or carelessness as sources of error.
    • Position results in terms of previous and possible future studies.
  7. Step 7: Check and double check
    Percent time spent on this step: 5%


    A well-written lab report should include references to external sources (particularly in the introduction and discussion). Don’t forget, borrowing ideas from an external source without citing is considered plagiarism and is a serious academic offense. For more information, you may want to review Plagiarism: What is it and How to Avoid It.

    There are several citation styles using the Sciences. The three most common are APA, CSE and Vancouver.

    Read through your lab report, while looking for your most common errors. Start with the errors that require the most rewriting (run-on sentences) and work towards smaller typos (subject-verb agreement). Printing your lab report and reading it aloud to yourself will help you be a more effective editor.  As a starting point, you may want to review Planning for Revision.

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