Reporting on Science

Lab Reports

Title

A description of the main idea or question of the lab. This can also highlight a key finding or question.

Abstract

A brief summary of the main question, methods and findings. This is usually the last thing written but the first thing presented in order to grab the attention of the reader.

A rough breakdown of an abstract would contain about:

  • 3 sentences worth of introduction with the key question
  • 2 sentences of major methodology
  • 3-6 sentences of the major results and conclusions drawn from them

Lengths will vary, but using this framework, you will not deviate too far from having a reader lose interest.

Introduction

Introduce the background that is relevant for forming the hypotheses being tested. What were the previous observations or prior knowledge used to come to these ideas? State the actual hypotheses to be tested and how it will further the understanding of the issue.

Materials and Methods

This section is a little like a cooking recipe. The main steps taken should be summarized as a standard prose in a manner that anyone could follow and repeat. This is written in the past tense and 3rd person. Do not write in the first person as *you* have nothing to do with the experiments. Explain “What was done with which reagents?”

Results

This section is descriptive of what was observed. Figures and tables serve as a summary of the results to illustrate the data. They also serve as guides to outline the text of the section. Slowly describe each figure or table. Expand these points into sentences and paragraphs. Present the data as fully as possible, including stuff that at the moment does not quite make sense. This is written in the past tense and 3rd person. Conclusions are not provided in this section as they are made from analyzing the information and synthesizing the results.

Discussions

Discussions are the conclusions made through analyzing the results. At this time, you will be able to re-emphasize the original hypotheses made in the introduction. Indicate whether or not the hypotheses were demonstrated sufficiently. If this is not the case, offer alternatives and interpretations. Can you improve or modify your hypotheses? Explain how multiple lines of evidence corroborate each other and help to further the understanding of the problem.

References

Prior knowledge requires demonstration of strength or validity. The references should be from primary sources and should illustrate the point of the statement. The section is presented in numerous formats as a bibliography, but citations are inserted near the text where knowledge or statements are displayed. Use a reference Manager to insert citations and format the bibliography. An excellent free reference manager with a plug-in to common word processors is Zotero.

Additional resources

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