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How To Write A Lab Report | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

Published on May 20, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment. The main purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method by performing and evaluating a hands-on lab experiment. This type of assignment is usually shorter than a research paper .

Lab reports are commonly used in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This article focuses on how to structure and write a lab report.

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Table of contents

Structuring a lab report, introduction, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about lab reports.

The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but they usually contain the purpose, methods, and findings of a lab experiment .

Each section of a lab report has its own purpose.

  • Title: expresses the topic of your study
  • Abstract : summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
  • Introduction: establishes the context needed to understand the topic
  • Method: describes the materials and procedures used in the experiment
  • Results: reports all descriptive and inferential statistical analyses
  • Discussion: interprets and evaluates results and identifies limitations
  • Conclusion: sums up the main findings of your experiment
  • References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA )
  • Appendices : contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures

Although most lab reports contain these sections, some sections can be omitted or combined with others. For example, some lab reports contain a brief section on research aims instead of an introduction, and a separate conclusion is not always required.

If you’re not sure, it’s best to check your lab report requirements with your instructor.

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Your title provides the first impression of your lab report – effective titles communicate the topic and/or the findings of your study in specific terms.

Create a title that directly conveys the main focus or purpose of your study. It doesn’t need to be creative or thought-provoking, but it should be informative.

  • The effects of varying nitrogen levels on tomato plant height.
  • Testing the universality of the McGurk effect.
  • Comparing the viscosity of common liquids found in kitchens.

An abstract condenses a lab report into a brief overview of about 150–300 words. It should provide readers with a compact version of the research aims, the methods and materials used, the main results, and the final conclusion.

Think of it as a way of giving readers a preview of your full lab report. Write the abstract last, in the past tense, after you’ve drafted all the other sections of your report, so you’ll be able to succinctly summarize each section.

To write a lab report abstract, use these guiding questions:

  • What is the wider context of your study?
  • What research question were you trying to answer?
  • How did you perform the experiment?
  • What did your results show?
  • How did you interpret your results?
  • What is the importance of your findings?

Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for high quality plants. Tomatoes, one of the most consumed fruits worldwide, rely on nitrogen for healthy leaves and stems to grow fruit. This experiment tested whether nitrogen levels affected tomato plant height in a controlled setting. It was expected that higher levels of nitrogen fertilizer would yield taller tomato plants.

Levels of nitrogen fertilizer were varied between three groups of tomato plants. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer, while one experimental group received low levels of nitrogen fertilizer, and a second experimental group received high levels of nitrogen fertilizer. All plants were grown from seeds, and heights were measured 50 days into the experiment.

The effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were tested between groups using an ANOVA. The plants with the highest level of nitrogen fertilizer were the tallest, while the plants with low levels of nitrogen exceeded the control group plants in height. In line with expectations and previous findings, the effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were statistically significant. This study strengthens the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants.

Your lab report introduction should set the scene for your experiment. One way to write your introduction is with a funnel (an inverted triangle) structure:

  • Start with the broad, general research topic
  • Narrow your topic down your specific study focus
  • End with a clear research question

Begin by providing background information on your research topic and explaining why it’s important in a broad real-world or theoretical context. Describe relevant previous research on your topic and note how your study may confirm it or expand it, or fill a gap in the research field.

This lab experiment builds on previous research from Haque, Paul, and Sarker (2011), who demonstrated that tomato plant yield increased at higher levels of nitrogen. However, the present research focuses on plant height as a growth indicator and uses a lab-controlled setting instead.

Next, go into detail on the theoretical basis for your study and describe any directly relevant laws or equations that you’ll be using. State your main research aims and expectations by outlining your hypotheses .

Based on the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants, the primary hypothesis was that the plants with the high levels of nitrogen would grow the tallest. The secondary hypothesis was that plants with low levels of nitrogen would grow taller than plants with no nitrogen.

Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, but you may need to organize it into a few paragraphs or with subheadings such as “Research Context” or “Research Aims.”

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A lab report Method section details the steps you took to gather and analyze data. Give enough detail so that others can follow or evaluate your procedures. Write this section in the past tense. If you need to include any long lists of procedural steps or materials, place them in the Appendices section but refer to them in the text here.

You should describe your experimental design, your subjects, materials, and specific procedures used for data collection and analysis.

Experimental design

Briefly note whether your experiment is a within-subjects  or between-subjects design, and describe how your sample units were assigned to conditions if relevant.

A between-subjects design with three groups of tomato plants was used. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer. The first experimental group received a low level of nitrogen fertilizer, while the second experimental group received a high level of nitrogen fertilizer.

Describe human subjects in terms of demographic characteristics, and animal or plant subjects in terms of genetic background. Note the total number of subjects as well as the number of subjects per condition or per group. You should also state how you recruited subjects for your study.

List the equipment or materials you used to gather data and state the model names for any specialized equipment.

List of materials

35 Tomato seeds

15 plant pots (15 cm tall)

Light lamps (50,000 lux)

Nitrogen fertilizer

Measuring tape

Describe your experimental settings and conditions in detail. You can provide labelled diagrams or images of the exact set-up necessary for experimental equipment. State how extraneous variables were controlled through restriction or by fixing them at a certain level (e.g., keeping the lab at room temperature).

Light levels were fixed throughout the experiment, and the plants were exposed to 12 hours of light a day. Temperature was restricted to between 23 and 25℃. The pH and carbon levels of the soil were also held constant throughout the experiment as these variables could influence plant height. The plants were grown in rooms free of insects or other pests, and they were spaced out adequately.

Your experimental procedure should describe the exact steps you took to gather data in chronological order. You’ll need to provide enough information so that someone else can replicate your procedure, but you should also be concise. Place detailed information in the appendices where appropriate.

In a lab experiment, you’ll often closely follow a lab manual to gather data. Some instructors will allow you to simply reference the manual and state whether you changed any steps based on practical considerations. Other instructors may want you to rewrite the lab manual procedures as complete sentences in coherent paragraphs, while noting any changes to the steps that you applied in practice.

If you’re performing extensive data analysis, be sure to state your planned analysis methods as well. This includes the types of tests you’ll perform and any programs or software you’ll use for calculations (if relevant).

First, tomato seeds were sown in wooden flats containing soil about 2 cm below the surface. Each seed was kept 3-5 cm apart. The flats were covered to keep the soil moist until germination. The seedlings were removed and transplanted to pots 8 days later, with a maximum of 2 plants to a pot. Each pot was watered once a day to keep the soil moist.

The nitrogen fertilizer treatment was applied to the plant pots 12 days after transplantation. The control group received no treatment, while the first experimental group received a low concentration, and the second experimental group received a high concentration. There were 5 pots in each group, and each plant pot was labelled to indicate the group the plants belonged to.

50 days after the start of the experiment, plant height was measured for all plants. A measuring tape was used to record the length of the plant from ground level to the top of the tallest leaf.

In your results section, you should report the results of any statistical analysis procedures that you undertook. You should clearly state how the results of statistical tests support or refute your initial hypotheses.

The main results to report include:

  • any descriptive statistics
  • statistical test results
  • the significance of the test results
  • estimates of standard error or confidence intervals

The mean heights of the plants in the control group, low nitrogen group, and high nitrogen groups were 20.3, 25.1, and 29.6 cm respectively. A one-way ANOVA was applied to calculate the effect of nitrogen fertilizer level on plant height. The results demonstrated statistically significant ( p = .03) height differences between groups.

Next, post-hoc tests were performed to assess the primary and secondary hypotheses. In support of the primary hypothesis, the high nitrogen group plants were significantly taller than the low nitrogen group and the control group plants. Similarly, the results supported the secondary hypothesis: the low nitrogen plants were taller than the control group plants.

These results can be reported in the text or in tables and figures. Use text for highlighting a few key results, but present large sets of numbers in tables, or show relationships between variables with graphs.

You should also include sample calculations in the Results section for complex experiments. For each sample calculation, provide a brief description of what it does and use clear symbols. Present your raw data in the Appendices section and refer to it to highlight any outliers or trends.

The Discussion section will help demonstrate your understanding of the experimental process and your critical thinking skills.

In this section, you can:

  • Interpret your results
  • Compare your findings with your expectations
  • Identify any sources of experimental error
  • Explain any unexpected results
  • Suggest possible improvements for further studies

Interpreting your results involves clarifying how your results help you answer your main research question. Report whether your results support your hypotheses.

  • Did you measure what you sought out to measure?
  • Were your analysis procedures appropriate for this type of data?

Compare your findings with other research and explain any key differences in findings.

  • Are your results in line with those from previous studies or your classmates’ results? Why or why not?

An effective Discussion section will also highlight the strengths and limitations of a study.

  • Did you have high internal validity or reliability?
  • How did you establish these aspects of your study?

When describing limitations, use specific examples. For example, if random error contributed substantially to the measurements in your study, state the particular sources of error (e.g., imprecise apparatus) and explain ways to improve them.

The results support the hypothesis that nitrogen levels affect plant height, with increasing levels producing taller plants. These statistically significant results are taken together with previous research to support the importance of nitrogen as a nutrient for tomato plant growth.

However, unlike previous studies, this study focused on plant height as an indicator of plant growth in the present experiment. Importantly, plant height may not always reflect plant health or fruit yield, so measuring other indicators would have strengthened the study findings.

Another limitation of the study is the plant height measurement technique, as the measuring tape was not suitable for plants with extreme curvature. Future studies may focus on measuring plant height in different ways.

The main strengths of this study were the controls for extraneous variables, such as pH and carbon levels of the soil. All other factors that could affect plant height were tightly controlled to isolate the effects of nitrogen levels, resulting in high internal validity for this study.

Your conclusion should be the final section of your lab report. Here, you’ll summarize the findings of your experiment, with a brief overview of the strengths and limitations, and implications of your study for further research.

Some lab reports may omit a Conclusion section because it overlaps with the Discussion section, but you should check with your instructor before doing so.

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A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment . Lab reports are commonly assigned in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method with a hands-on lab experiment. Course instructors will often provide you with an experimental design and procedure. Your task is to write up how you actually performed the experiment and evaluate the outcome.

In contrast, a research paper requires you to independently develop an original argument. It involves more in-depth research and interpretation of sources and data.

A lab report is usually shorter than a research paper.

The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but it usually contains the following:

  • Abstract: summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
  • References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA)
  • Appendices: contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures

The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

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Writing Lab Reports

Writing lab reports follows a straightforward and structured procedure. It is important to recognize that each part of a lab report is important, so take the time to complete each carefully. A lab report is broken down into eight sections: title, abstract, introduction, methods and materials, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. 

  • Ex: "Determining the Free Chlorine Content of Pool Water"
  • Abstracts are a summary of the experiment as a whole and should familiarize the reader with the purpose of the research. 
  • Abstracts will always be written last, even though they are the first paragraph of a lab report. 
  • Not all lab reports will require an abstract. However, they are often included in upper-level lab reports and should be studied carefully. 
  • Why was the research done or experiment conducted?
  • What problem is being addressed?
  • What results were found?
  • What are the meaning of the results?
  • How is the problem better understood now than before, if at all?


  • The introduction of a lab report discusses the problem being studied and other theory that is relevant to understanding the findings. 
  • The hypothesis of the experiment and the motivation for the research are stated in this section. 
  • Write the introduction in your own words. Try not to copy from a lab manual or other guidelines. Instead, show comprehension of the experiment by briefly explaining the problem.

Methods and Materials

  • Ex: pipette, graduated cylinder, 1.13mg of Na, 0.67mg Ag
  • List the steps taken as they actually happened during the experiment, not as they were supposed to happen. 
  • If written correctly, another researcher should be able to duplicate the experiment and get the same or very similar results. 
  • The results show the data that was collected or found during the experiment. 
  • Explain in words the data that was collected.
  • Tables should be labeled numerically, as "Table 1", "Table 2", etc. Other figures should be labeled numerically as "Figure 1", "Figure 2", etc. 
  • Calculations to understand the data can also be presented in the results. 
  • The discussion section is one of the most important parts of the lab report. It analyzes the results of the experiment and is a discussion of the data. 
  • If any results are unexpected, explain why they are unexpected and how they did or did not effect the data obtained. 
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the design of the experiment and compare your results to other similar experiments.
  • If there are any experimental errors, analyze them.
  • Explain your results and discuss them using relevant terms and theories.
  • What do the results indicate?
  • What is the significance of the results?
  • Are there any gaps in knowledge?
  • Are there any new questions that have been raised?
  • The conclusion is a summation of the experiment. It should clearly and concisely state what was learned and its importance.
  • If there is future work that needs to be done, it can be explained in the conclusion.
  • If using any outside sources to support a claim or explain background information, those sources must be cited in the references section of the lab report. 
  • In the event that no outside sources are used, the references section may be left out. 

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  • Sample Laboratory Report #2
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  • Writing a Science Lab Report
  • << Previous: How To Interpret Data
  • Next: How To Write A Scientific Paper >>
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Writing Studio

Writing a lab report: introduction and discussion section guide.

In an effort to make our handouts more accessible, we have begun converting our PDF handouts to web pages. Download this page as a PDF:   Writing a Lab Report Return to Writing Studio Handouts

Part 1 (of 2): Introducing a Lab Report

The introduction of a lab report states the objective of the experiment and provides the reader with background information. State the topic of your report clearly and concisely (in one or two sentences). Provide background theory, previous research, or formulas the reader should know. Usually, an instructor does not want you to repeat whatever the lab manual says, but to show your understanding of the problem.

Questions an Effective Lab Report Introduction Should Answer

What is the problem.

Describe the problem investigated. Summarize relevant research to provide context, key terms, and concepts so that your reader can understand the experiment.

Why is it important?

Review relevant research to provide a rationale for the investigation. What conflict, unanswered question, untested population, or untried method in existing research does your experiment address? How will you challenge or extend the findings of other researchers?

What solution (or step toward a solution) do you propose?

Briefly describe your experiment : hypothesis , research question , general experimental design or method , and a justification of your method (if alternatives exist).

Tips on Composing Your Lab Report’s Introduction

  • Move from the general to the specific – from a problem in research literature to the specifics of your experiment.
  • Engage your reader – answer the questions: “What did I do?” “Why should my reader care?”
  • Clarify the links between problem and solution, between question asked and research design, and between prior research and the specifics of your experiment.
  • Be selective, not exhaustive, in choosing studies to cite and the amount of detail to include. In general, the more relevant an article is to your study, the more space it deserves and the later in the introduction it appears.
  • Ask your instructor whether or not you should summarize results and/or conclusions in the Introduction.
  • “The objective of the experiment was …”
  • “The purpose of this report is …”
  • “Bragg’s Law for diffraction is …”
  • “The scanning electron microscope produces micrographs …”

Part 2 (of 2): Writing the “Discussion” Section of a Lab Report

The discussion is the most important part of your lab report, because here you show that you have not merely completed the experiment, but that you also understand its wider implications. The discussion section is reserved for putting experimental results in the context of the larger theory. Ask yourself: “What is the significance or meaning of the results?”

Elements of an Effective Discussion Section

What do the results indicate clearly? Based on your results, explain what you know with certainty and draw conclusions.


What is the significance of your results? What ambiguities exist? What are logical explanations for problems in the data? What questions might you raise about the methods used or the validity of the experiment? What can be logically deduced from your analysis?

Tips on the Discussion Section

1. explain your results in terms of theoretical issues..

How well has the theory been illustrated? What are the theoretical implications and practical applications of your results?

For each major result:

  • Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships that your results show.
  • Explain how your results relate to expectations and to literature cited in your Introduction. Explain any agreements, contradictions, or exceptions.
  • Describe what additional research might resolve contradictions or explain exceptions.

2. Relate results to your experimental objective(s).

If you set out to identify an unknown metal by finding its lattice parameter and its atomic structure, be sure that you have identified the metal and its attributes.

3. Compare expected results with those obtained.

If there were differences, how can you account for them? Were the instruments able to measure precisely? Was the sample contaminated? Did calculated values take account of friction?

4. Analyze experimental error along with the strengths and limitations of the experiment’s design.

Were any errors avoidable? Were they the result of equipment?  If the flaws resulted from the experiment design, explain how the design might be improved. Consider, as well, the precision of the instruments that were used.

5. Compare your results to similar investigations.

In some cases, it is legitimate to compare outcomes with classmates, not in order to change your answer, but in order to look for and to account for or analyze any anomalies between the groups. Also, consider comparing your results to published scientific literature on the topic.

The “Introducing a Lab Report” guide was adapted from the University of Toronto Engineering Communications Centre and University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.

The “Writing the Discussion Section of a Lab Report” resource was adapted from the University of Toronto Engineering Communications Centre and University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.

Last revised: 07/2008 | Adapted for web delivery: 02/2021

In order to access certain content on this page, you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader or an equivalent PDF viewer software.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Scientific Reports

What this handout is about.

This handout provides a general guide to writing reports about scientific research you’ve performed. In addition to describing the conventional rules about the format and content of a lab report, we’ll also attempt to convey why these rules exist, so you’ll get a clearer, more dependable idea of how to approach this writing situation. Readers of this handout may also find our handout on writing in the sciences useful.

Background and pre-writing

Why do we write research reports.

You did an experiment or study for your science class, and now you have to write it up for your teacher to review. You feel that you understood the background sufficiently, designed and completed the study effectively, obtained useful data, and can use those data to draw conclusions about a scientific process or principle. But how exactly do you write all that? What is your teacher expecting to see?

To take some of the guesswork out of answering these questions, try to think beyond the classroom setting. In fact, you and your teacher are both part of a scientific community, and the people who participate in this community tend to share the same values. As long as you understand and respect these values, your writing will likely meet the expectations of your audience—including your teacher.

So why are you writing this research report? The practical answer is “Because the teacher assigned it,” but that’s classroom thinking. Generally speaking, people investigating some scientific hypothesis have a responsibility to the rest of the scientific world to report their findings, particularly if these findings add to or contradict previous ideas. The people reading such reports have two primary goals:

  • They want to gather the information presented.
  • They want to know that the findings are legitimate.

Your job as a writer, then, is to fulfill these two goals.

How do I do that?

Good question. Here is the basic format scientists have designed for research reports:

  • Introduction

Methods and Materials

This format, sometimes called “IMRAD,” may take slightly different shapes depending on the discipline or audience; some ask you to include an abstract or separate section for the hypothesis, or call the Discussion section “Conclusions,” or change the order of the sections (some professional and academic journals require the Methods section to appear last). Overall, however, the IMRAD format was devised to represent a textual version of the scientific method.

The scientific method, you’ll probably recall, involves developing a hypothesis, testing it, and deciding whether your findings support the hypothesis. In essence, the format for a research report in the sciences mirrors the scientific method but fleshes out the process a little. Below, you’ll find a table that shows how each written section fits into the scientific method and what additional information it offers the reader.

Thinking of your research report as based on the scientific method, but elaborated in the ways described above, may help you to meet your audience’s expectations successfully. We’re going to proceed by explicitly connecting each section of the lab report to the scientific method, then explaining why and how you need to elaborate that section.

Although this handout takes each section in the order in which it should be presented in the final report, you may for practical reasons decide to compose sections in another order. For example, many writers find that composing their Methods and Results before the other sections helps to clarify their idea of the experiment or study as a whole. You might consider using each assignment to practice different approaches to drafting the report, to find the order that works best for you.

What should I do before drafting the lab report?

The best way to prepare to write the lab report is to make sure that you fully understand everything you need to about the experiment. Obviously, if you don’t quite know what went on during the lab, you’re going to find it difficult to explain the lab satisfactorily to someone else. To make sure you know enough to write the report, complete the following steps:

  • What are we going to do in this lab? (That is, what’s the procedure?)
  • Why are we going to do it that way?
  • What are we hoping to learn from this experiment?
  • Why would we benefit from this knowledge?
  • Consult your lab supervisor as you perform the lab. If you don’t know how to answer one of the questions above, for example, your lab supervisor will probably be able to explain it to you (or, at least, help you figure it out).
  • Plan the steps of the experiment carefully with your lab partners. The less you rush, the more likely it is that you’ll perform the experiment correctly and record your findings accurately. Also, take some time to think about the best way to organize the data before you have to start putting numbers down. If you can design a table to account for the data, that will tend to work much better than jotting results down hurriedly on a scrap piece of paper.
  • Record the data carefully so you get them right. You won’t be able to trust your conclusions if you have the wrong data, and your readers will know you messed up if the other three people in your group have “97 degrees” and you have “87.”
  • Consult with your lab partners about everything you do. Lab groups often make one of two mistakes: two people do all the work while two have a nice chat, or everybody works together until the group finishes gathering the raw data, then scrams outta there. Collaborate with your partners, even when the experiment is “over.” What trends did you observe? Was the hypothesis supported? Did you all get the same results? What kind of figure should you use to represent your findings? The whole group can work together to answer these questions.
  • Consider your audience. You may believe that audience is a non-issue: it’s your lab TA, right? Well, yes—but again, think beyond the classroom. If you write with only your lab instructor in mind, you may omit material that is crucial to a complete understanding of your experiment, because you assume the instructor knows all that stuff already. As a result, you may receive a lower grade, since your TA won’t be sure that you understand all the principles at work. Try to write towards a student in the same course but a different lab section. That student will have a fair degree of scientific expertise but won’t know much about your experiment particularly. Alternatively, you could envision yourself five years from now, after the reading and lectures for this course have faded a bit. What would you remember, and what would you need explained more clearly (as a refresher)?

Once you’ve completed these steps as you perform the experiment, you’ll be in a good position to draft an effective lab report.


How do i write a strong introduction.

For the purposes of this handout, we’ll consider the Introduction to contain four basic elements: the purpose, the scientific literature relevant to the subject, the hypothesis, and the reasons you believed your hypothesis viable. Let’s start by going through each element of the Introduction to clarify what it covers and why it’s important. Then we can formulate a logical organizational strategy for the section.

The inclusion of the purpose (sometimes called the objective) of the experiment often confuses writers. The biggest misconception is that the purpose is the same as the hypothesis. Not quite. We’ll get to hypotheses in a minute, but basically they provide some indication of what you expect the experiment to show. The purpose is broader, and deals more with what you expect to gain through the experiment. In a professional setting, the hypothesis might have something to do with how cells react to a certain kind of genetic manipulation, but the purpose of the experiment is to learn more about potential cancer treatments. Undergraduate reports don’t often have this wide-ranging a goal, but you should still try to maintain the distinction between your hypothesis and your purpose. In a solubility experiment, for example, your hypothesis might talk about the relationship between temperature and the rate of solubility, but the purpose is probably to learn more about some specific scientific principle underlying the process of solubility.

For starters, most people say that you should write out your working hypothesis before you perform the experiment or study. Many beginning science students neglect to do so and find themselves struggling to remember precisely which variables were involved in the process or in what way the researchers felt that they were related. Write your hypothesis down as you develop it—you’ll be glad you did.

As for the form a hypothesis should take, it’s best not to be too fancy or complicated; an inventive style isn’t nearly so important as clarity here. There’s nothing wrong with beginning your hypothesis with the phrase, “It was hypothesized that . . .” Be as specific as you can about the relationship between the different objects of your study. In other words, explain that when term A changes, term B changes in this particular way. Readers of scientific writing are rarely content with the idea that a relationship between two terms exists—they want to know what that relationship entails.

Not a hypothesis:

“It was hypothesized that there is a significant relationship between the temperature of a solvent and the rate at which a solute dissolves.”


“It was hypothesized that as the temperature of a solvent increases, the rate at which a solute will dissolve in that solvent increases.”

Put more technically, most hypotheses contain both an independent and a dependent variable. The independent variable is what you manipulate to test the reaction; the dependent variable is what changes as a result of your manipulation. In the example above, the independent variable is the temperature of the solvent, and the dependent variable is the rate of solubility. Be sure that your hypothesis includes both variables.

Justify your hypothesis

You need to do more than tell your readers what your hypothesis is; you also need to assure them that this hypothesis was reasonable, given the circumstances. In other words, use the Introduction to explain that you didn’t just pluck your hypothesis out of thin air. (If you did pluck it out of thin air, your problems with your report will probably extend beyond using the appropriate format.) If you posit that a particular relationship exists between the independent and the dependent variable, what led you to believe your “guess” might be supported by evidence?

Scientists often refer to this type of justification as “motivating” the hypothesis, in the sense that something propelled them to make that prediction. Often, motivation includes what we already know—or rather, what scientists generally accept as true (see “Background/previous research” below). But you can also motivate your hypothesis by relying on logic or on your own observations. If you’re trying to decide which solutes will dissolve more rapidly in a solvent at increased temperatures, you might remember that some solids are meant to dissolve in hot water (e.g., bouillon cubes) and some are used for a function precisely because they withstand higher temperatures (they make saucepans out of something). Or you can think about whether you’ve noticed sugar dissolving more rapidly in your glass of iced tea or in your cup of coffee. Even such basic, outside-the-lab observations can help you justify your hypothesis as reasonable.

Background/previous research

This part of the Introduction demonstrates to the reader your awareness of how you’re building on other scientists’ work. If you think of the scientific community as engaging in a series of conversations about various topics, then you’ll recognize that the relevant background material will alert the reader to which conversation you want to enter.

Generally speaking, authors writing journal articles use the background for slightly different purposes than do students completing assignments. Because readers of academic journals tend to be professionals in the field, authors explain the background in order to permit readers to evaluate the study’s pertinence for their own work. You, on the other hand, write toward a much narrower audience—your peers in the course or your lab instructor—and so you must demonstrate that you understand the context for the (presumably assigned) experiment or study you’ve completed. For example, if your professor has been talking about polarity during lectures, and you’re doing a solubility experiment, you might try to connect the polarity of a solid to its relative solubility in certain solvents. In any event, both professional researchers and undergraduates need to connect the background material overtly to their own work.

Organization of this section

Most of the time, writers begin by stating the purpose or objectives of their own work, which establishes for the reader’s benefit the “nature and scope of the problem investigated” (Day 1994). Once you have expressed your purpose, you should then find it easier to move from the general purpose, to relevant material on the subject, to your hypothesis. In abbreviated form, an Introduction section might look like this:

“The purpose of the experiment was to test conventional ideas about solubility in the laboratory [purpose] . . . According to Whitecoat and Labrat (1999), at higher temperatures the molecules of solvents move more quickly . . . We know from the class lecture that molecules moving at higher rates of speed collide with one another more often and thus break down more easily [background material/motivation] . . . Thus, it was hypothesized that as the temperature of a solvent increases, the rate at which a solute will dissolve in that solvent increases [hypothesis].”

Again—these are guidelines, not commandments. Some writers and readers prefer different structures for the Introduction. The one above merely illustrates a common approach to organizing material.

How do I write a strong Materials and Methods section?

As with any piece of writing, your Methods section will succeed only if it fulfills its readers’ expectations, so you need to be clear in your own mind about the purpose of this section. Let’s review the purpose as we described it above: in this section, you want to describe in detail how you tested the hypothesis you developed and also to clarify the rationale for your procedure. In science, it’s not sufficient merely to design and carry out an experiment. Ultimately, others must be able to verify your findings, so your experiment must be reproducible, to the extent that other researchers can follow the same procedure and obtain the same (or similar) results.

Here’s a real-world example of the importance of reproducibility. In 1989, physicists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman announced that they had discovered “cold fusion,” a way of producing excess heat and power without the nuclear radiation that accompanies “hot fusion.” Such a discovery could have great ramifications for the industrial production of energy, so these findings created a great deal of interest. When other scientists tried to duplicate the experiment, however, they didn’t achieve the same results, and as a result many wrote off the conclusions as unjustified (or worse, a hoax). To this day, the viability of cold fusion is debated within the scientific community, even though an increasing number of researchers believe it possible. So when you write your Methods section, keep in mind that you need to describe your experiment well enough to allow others to replicate it exactly.

With these goals in mind, let’s consider how to write an effective Methods section in terms of content, structure, and style.

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing this section isn’t what you should talk about, but what you shouldn’t talk about. Writers often want to include the results of their experiment, because they measured and recorded the results during the course of the experiment. But such data should be reserved for the Results section. In the Methods section, you can write that you recorded the results, or how you recorded the results (e.g., in a table), but you shouldn’t write what the results were—not yet. Here, you’re merely stating exactly how you went about testing your hypothesis. As you draft your Methods section, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much detail? Be precise in providing details, but stay relevant. Ask yourself, “Would it make any difference if this piece were a different size or made from a different material?” If not, you probably don’t need to get too specific. If so, you should give as many details as necessary to prevent this experiment from going awry if someone else tries to carry it out. Probably the most crucial detail is measurement; you should always quantify anything you can, such as time elapsed, temperature, mass, volume, etc.
  • Rationale: Be sure that as you’re relating your actions during the experiment, you explain your rationale for the protocol you developed. If you capped a test tube immediately after adding a solute to a solvent, why did you do that? (That’s really two questions: why did you cap it, and why did you cap it immediately?) In a professional setting, writers provide their rationale as a way to explain their thinking to potential critics. On one hand, of course, that’s your motivation for talking about protocol, too. On the other hand, since in practical terms you’re also writing to your teacher (who’s seeking to evaluate how well you comprehend the principles of the experiment), explaining the rationale indicates that you understand the reasons for conducting the experiment in that way, and that you’re not just following orders. Critical thinking is crucial—robots don’t make good scientists.
  • Control: Most experiments will include a control, which is a means of comparing experimental results. (Sometimes you’ll need to have more than one control, depending on the number of hypotheses you want to test.) The control is exactly the same as the other items you’re testing, except that you don’t manipulate the independent variable-the condition you’re altering to check the effect on the dependent variable. For example, if you’re testing solubility rates at increased temperatures, your control would be a solution that you didn’t heat at all; that way, you’ll see how quickly the solute dissolves “naturally” (i.e., without manipulation), and you’ll have a point of reference against which to compare the solutions you did heat.

Describe the control in the Methods section. Two things are especially important in writing about the control: identify the control as a control, and explain what you’re controlling for. Here is an example:

“As a control for the temperature change, we placed the same amount of solute in the same amount of solvent, and let the solution stand for five minutes without heating it.”

Structure and style

Organization is especially important in the Methods section of a lab report because readers must understand your experimental procedure completely. Many writers are surprised by the difficulty of conveying what they did during the experiment, since after all they’re only reporting an event, but it’s often tricky to present this information in a coherent way. There’s a fairly standard structure you can use to guide you, and following the conventions for style can help clarify your points.

  • Subsections: Occasionally, researchers use subsections to report their procedure when the following circumstances apply: 1) if they’ve used a great many materials; 2) if the procedure is unusually complicated; 3) if they’ve developed a procedure that won’t be familiar to many of their readers. Because these conditions rarely apply to the experiments you’ll perform in class, most undergraduate lab reports won’t require you to use subsections. In fact, many guides to writing lab reports suggest that you try to limit your Methods section to a single paragraph.
  • Narrative structure: Think of this section as telling a story about a group of people and the experiment they performed. Describe what you did in the order in which you did it. You may have heard the old joke centered on the line, “Disconnect the red wire, but only after disconnecting the green wire,” where the person reading the directions blows everything to kingdom come because the directions weren’t in order. We’re used to reading about events chronologically, and so your readers will generally understand what you did if you present that information in the same way. Also, since the Methods section does generally appear as a narrative (story), you want to avoid the “recipe” approach: “First, take a clean, dry 100 ml test tube from the rack. Next, add 50 ml of distilled water.” You should be reporting what did happen, not telling the reader how to perform the experiment: “50 ml of distilled water was poured into a clean, dry 100 ml test tube.” Hint: most of the time, the recipe approach comes from copying down the steps of the procedure from your lab manual, so you may want to draft the Methods section initially without consulting your manual. Later, of course, you can go back and fill in any part of the procedure you inadvertently overlooked.
  • Past tense: Remember that you’re describing what happened, so you should use past tense to refer to everything you did during the experiment. Writers are often tempted to use the imperative (“Add 5 g of the solid to the solution”) because that’s how their lab manuals are worded; less frequently, they use present tense (“5 g of the solid are added to the solution”). Instead, remember that you’re talking about an event which happened at a particular time in the past, and which has already ended by the time you start writing, so simple past tense will be appropriate in this section (“5 g of the solid were added to the solution” or “We added 5 g of the solid to the solution”).
  • Active: We heated the solution to 80°C. (The subject, “we,” performs the action, heating.)
  • Passive: The solution was heated to 80°C. (The subject, “solution,” doesn’t do the heating–it is acted upon, not acting.)

Increasingly, especially in the social sciences, using first person and active voice is acceptable in scientific reports. Most readers find that this style of writing conveys information more clearly and concisely. This rhetorical choice thus brings two scientific values into conflict: objectivity versus clarity. Since the scientific community hasn’t reached a consensus about which style it prefers, you may want to ask your lab instructor.

How do I write a strong Results section?

Here’s a paradox for you. The Results section is often both the shortest (yay!) and most important (uh-oh!) part of your report. Your Materials and Methods section shows how you obtained the results, and your Discussion section explores the significance of the results, so clearly the Results section forms the backbone of the lab report. This section provides the most critical information about your experiment: the data that allow you to discuss how your hypothesis was or wasn’t supported. But it doesn’t provide anything else, which explains why this section is generally shorter than the others.

Before you write this section, look at all the data you collected to figure out what relates significantly to your hypothesis. You’ll want to highlight this material in your Results section. Resist the urge to include every bit of data you collected, since perhaps not all are relevant. Also, don’t try to draw conclusions about the results—save them for the Discussion section. In this section, you’re reporting facts. Nothing your readers can dispute should appear in the Results section.

Most Results sections feature three distinct parts: text, tables, and figures. Let’s consider each part one at a time.

This should be a short paragraph, generally just a few lines, that describes the results you obtained from your experiment. In a relatively simple experiment, one that doesn’t produce a lot of data for you to repeat, the text can represent the entire Results section. Don’t feel that you need to include lots of extraneous detail to compensate for a short (but effective) text; your readers appreciate discrimination more than your ability to recite facts. In a more complex experiment, you may want to use tables and/or figures to help guide your readers toward the most important information you gathered. In that event, you’ll need to refer to each table or figure directly, where appropriate:

“Table 1 lists the rates of solubility for each substance”

“Solubility increased as the temperature of the solution increased (see Figure 1).”

If you do use tables or figures, make sure that you don’t present the same material in both the text and the tables/figures, since in essence you’ll just repeat yourself, probably annoying your readers with the redundancy of your statements.

Feel free to describe trends that emerge as you examine the data. Although identifying trends requires some judgment on your part and so may not feel like factual reporting, no one can deny that these trends do exist, and so they properly belong in the Results section. Example:

“Heating the solution increased the rate of solubility of polar solids by 45% but had no effect on the rate of solubility in solutions containing non-polar solids.”

This point isn’t debatable—you’re just pointing out what the data show.

As in the Materials and Methods section, you want to refer to your data in the past tense, because the events you recorded have already occurred and have finished occurring. In the example above, note the use of “increased” and “had,” rather than “increases” and “has.” (You don’t know from your experiment that heating always increases the solubility of polar solids, but it did that time.)

You shouldn’t put information in the table that also appears in the text. You also shouldn’t use a table to present irrelevant data, just to show you did collect these data during the experiment. Tables are good for some purposes and situations, but not others, so whether and how you’ll use tables depends upon what you need them to accomplish.

Tables are useful ways to show variation in data, but not to present a great deal of unchanging measurements. If you’re dealing with a scientific phenomenon that occurs only within a certain range of temperatures, for example, you don’t need to use a table to show that the phenomenon didn’t occur at any of the other temperatures. How useful is this table?

A table labeled Effect of Temperature on Rate of Solubility with temperature of solvent values in 10-degree increments from -20 degrees Celsius to 80 degrees Celsius that does not show a corresponding rate of solubility value until 50 degrees Celsius.

As you can probably see, no solubility was observed until the trial temperature reached 50°C, a fact that the text part of the Results section could easily convey. The table could then be limited to what happened at 50°C and higher, thus better illustrating the differences in solubility rates when solubility did occur.

As a rule, try not to use a table to describe any experimental event you can cover in one sentence of text. Here’s an example of an unnecessary table from How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper , by Robert A. Day:

A table labeled Oxygen requirements of various species of Streptomyces showing the names of organisms and two columns that indicate growth under aerobic conditions and growth under anaerobic conditions with a plus or minus symbol for each organism in the growth columns to indicate value.

As Day notes, all the information in this table can be summarized in one sentence: “S. griseus, S. coelicolor, S. everycolor, and S. rainbowenski grew under aerobic conditions, whereas S. nocolor and S. greenicus required anaerobic conditions.” Most readers won’t find the table clearer than that one sentence.

When you do have reason to tabulate material, pay attention to the clarity and readability of the format you use. Here are a few tips:

  • Number your table. Then, when you refer to the table in the text, use that number to tell your readers which table they can review to clarify the material.
  • Give your table a title. This title should be descriptive enough to communicate the contents of the table, but not so long that it becomes difficult to follow. The titles in the sample tables above are acceptable.
  • Arrange your table so that readers read vertically, not horizontally. For the most part, this rule means that you should construct your table so that like elements read down, not across. Think about what you want your readers to compare, and put that information in the column (up and down) rather than in the row (across). Usually, the point of comparison will be the numerical data you collect, so especially make sure you have columns of numbers, not rows.Here’s an example of how drastically this decision affects the readability of your table (from A Short Guide to Writing about Chemistry , by Herbert Beall and John Trimbur). Look at this table, which presents the relevant data in horizontal rows:

A table labeled Boyle's Law Experiment: Measuring Volume as a Function of Pressure that presents the trial number, length of air sample in millimeters, and height difference in inches of mercury, each of which is presented in rows horizontally.

It’s a little tough to see the trends that the author presumably wants to present in this table. Compare this table, in which the data appear vertically:

A table labeled Boyle's Law Experiment: Measuring Volume as a Function of Pressure that presents the trial number, length of air sample in millimeters, and height difference in inches of mercury, each of which is presented in columns vertically.

The second table shows how putting like elements in a vertical column makes for easier reading. In this case, the like elements are the measurements of length and height, over five trials–not, as in the first table, the length and height measurements for each trial.

  • Make sure to include units of measurement in the tables. Readers might be able to guess that you measured something in millimeters, but don’t make them try.
  • Don’t use vertical lines as part of the format for your table. This convention exists because journals prefer not to have to reproduce these lines because the tables then become more expensive to print. Even though it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be sending your Biology 11 lab report to Science for publication, your readers still have this expectation. Consequently, if you use the table-drawing option in your word-processing software, choose the option that doesn’t rely on a “grid” format (which includes vertical lines).

How do I include figures in my report?

Although tables can be useful ways of showing trends in the results you obtained, figures (i.e., illustrations) can do an even better job of emphasizing such trends. Lab report writers often use graphic representations of the data they collected to provide their readers with a literal picture of how the experiment went.

When should you use a figure?

Remember the circumstances under which you don’t need a table: when you don’t have a great deal of data or when the data you have don’t vary a lot. Under the same conditions, you would probably forgo the figure as well, since the figure would be unlikely to provide your readers with an additional perspective. Scientists really don’t like their time wasted, so they tend not to respond favorably to redundancy.

If you’re trying to decide between using a table and creating a figure to present your material, consider the following a rule of thumb. The strength of a table lies in its ability to supply large amounts of exact data, whereas the strength of a figure is its dramatic illustration of important trends within the experiment. If you feel that your readers won’t get the full impact of the results you obtained just by looking at the numbers, then a figure might be appropriate.

Of course, an undergraduate class may expect you to create a figure for your lab experiment, if only to make sure that you can do so effectively. If this is the case, then don’t worry about whether to use figures or not—concentrate instead on how best to accomplish your task.

Figures can include maps, photographs, pen-and-ink drawings, flow charts, bar graphs, and section graphs (“pie charts”). But the most common figure by far, especially for undergraduates, is the line graph, so we’ll focus on that type in this handout.

At the undergraduate level, you can often draw and label your graphs by hand, provided that the result is clear, legible, and drawn to scale. Computer technology has, however, made creating line graphs a lot easier. Most word-processing software has a number of functions for transferring data into graph form; many scientists have found Microsoft Excel, for example, a helpful tool in graphing results. If you plan on pursuing a career in the sciences, it may be well worth your while to learn to use a similar program.

Computers can’t, however, decide for you how your graph really works; you have to know how to design your graph to meet your readers’ expectations. Here are some of these expectations:

  • Keep it as simple as possible. You may be tempted to signal the complexity of the information you gathered by trying to design a graph that accounts for that complexity. But remember the purpose of your graph: to dramatize your results in a manner that’s easy to see and grasp. Try not to make the reader stare at the graph for a half hour to find the important line among the mass of other lines. For maximum effectiveness, limit yourself to three to five lines per graph; if you have more data to demonstrate, use a set of graphs to account for it, rather than trying to cram it all into a single figure.
  • Plot the independent variable on the horizontal (x) axis and the dependent variable on the vertical (y) axis. Remember that the independent variable is the condition that you manipulated during the experiment and the dependent variable is the condition that you measured to see if it changed along with the independent variable. Placing the variables along their respective axes is mostly just a convention, but since your readers are accustomed to viewing graphs in this way, you’re better off not challenging the convention in your report.
  • Label each axis carefully, and be especially careful to include units of measure. You need to make sure that your readers understand perfectly well what your graph indicates.
  • Number and title your graphs. As with tables, the title of the graph should be informative but concise, and you should refer to your graph by number in the text (e.g., “Figure 1 shows the increase in the solubility rate as a function of temperature”).
  • Many editors of professional scientific journals prefer that writers distinguish the lines in their graphs by attaching a symbol to them, usually a geometric shape (triangle, square, etc.), and using that symbol throughout the curve of the line. Generally, readers have a hard time distinguishing dotted lines from dot-dash lines from straight lines, so you should consider staying away from this system. Editors don’t usually like different-colored lines within a graph because colors are difficult and expensive to reproduce; colors may, however, be great for your purposes, as long as you’re not planning to submit your paper to Nature. Use your discretion—try to employ whichever technique dramatizes the results most effectively.
  • Try to gather data at regular intervals, so the plot points on your graph aren’t too far apart. You can’t be sure of the arc you should draw between the plot points if the points are located at the far corners of the graph; over a fifteen-minute interval, perhaps the change occurred in the first or last thirty seconds of that period (in which case your straight-line connection between the points is misleading).
  • If you’re worried that you didn’t collect data at sufficiently regular intervals during your experiment, go ahead and connect the points with a straight line, but you may want to examine this problem as part of your Discussion section.
  • Make your graph large enough so that everything is legible and clearly demarcated, but not so large that it either overwhelms the rest of the Results section or provides a far greater range than you need to illustrate your point. If, for example, the seedlings of your plant grew only 15 mm during the trial, you don’t need to construct a graph that accounts for 100 mm of growth. The lines in your graph should more or less fill the space created by the axes; if you see that your data is confined to the lower left portion of the graph, you should probably re-adjust your scale.
  • If you create a set of graphs, make them the same size and format, including all the verbal and visual codes (captions, symbols, scale, etc.). You want to be as consistent as possible in your illustrations, so that your readers can easily make the comparisons you’re trying to get them to see.

How do I write a strong Discussion section?

The discussion section is probably the least formalized part of the report, in that you can’t really apply the same structure to every type of experiment. In simple terms, here you tell your readers what to make of the Results you obtained. If you have done the Results part well, your readers should already recognize the trends in the data and have a fairly clear idea of whether your hypothesis was supported. Because the Results can seem so self-explanatory, many students find it difficult to know what material to add in this last section.

Basically, the Discussion contains several parts, in no particular order, but roughly moving from specific (i.e., related to your experiment only) to general (how your findings fit in the larger scientific community). In this section, you will, as a rule, need to:

Explain whether the data support your hypothesis

  • Acknowledge any anomalous data or deviations from what you expected

Derive conclusions, based on your findings, about the process you’re studying

  • Relate your findings to earlier work in the same area (if you can)

Explore the theoretical and/or practical implications of your findings

Let’s look at some dos and don’ts for each of these objectives.

This statement is usually a good way to begin the Discussion, since you can’t effectively speak about the larger scientific value of your study until you’ve figured out the particulars of this experiment. You might begin this part of the Discussion by explicitly stating the relationships or correlations your data indicate between the independent and dependent variables. Then you can show more clearly why you believe your hypothesis was or was not supported. For example, if you tested solubility at various temperatures, you could start this section by noting that the rates of solubility increased as the temperature increased. If your initial hypothesis surmised that temperature change would not affect solubility, you would then say something like,

“The hypothesis that temperature change would not affect solubility was not supported by the data.”

Note: Students tend to view labs as practical tests of undeniable scientific truths. As a result, you may want to say that the hypothesis was “proved” or “disproved” or that it was “correct” or “incorrect.” These terms, however, reflect a degree of certainty that you as a scientist aren’t supposed to have. Remember, you’re testing a theory with a procedure that lasts only a few hours and relies on only a few trials, which severely compromises your ability to be sure about the “truth” you see. Words like “supported,” “indicated,” and “suggested” are more acceptable ways to evaluate your hypothesis.

Also, recognize that saying whether the data supported your hypothesis or not involves making a claim to be defended. As such, you need to show the readers that this claim is warranted by the evidence. Make sure that you’re very explicit about the relationship between the evidence and the conclusions you draw from it. This process is difficult for many writers because we don’t often justify conclusions in our regular lives. For example, you might nudge your friend at a party and whisper, “That guy’s drunk,” and once your friend lays eyes on the person in question, she might readily agree. In a scientific paper, by contrast, you would need to defend your claim more thoroughly by pointing to data such as slurred words, unsteady gait, and the lampshade-as-hat. In addition to pointing out these details, you would also need to show how (according to previous studies) these signs are consistent with inebriation, especially if they occur in conjunction with one another. To put it another way, tell your readers exactly how you got from point A (was the hypothesis supported?) to point B (yes/no).

Acknowledge any anomalous data, or deviations from what you expected

You need to take these exceptions and divergences into account, so that you qualify your conclusions sufficiently. For obvious reasons, your readers will doubt your authority if you (deliberately or inadvertently) overlook a key piece of data that doesn’t square with your perspective on what occurred. In a more philosophical sense, once you’ve ignored evidence that contradicts your claims, you’ve departed from the scientific method. The urge to “tidy up” the experiment is often strong, but if you give in to it you’re no longer performing good science.

Sometimes after you’ve performed a study or experiment, you realize that some part of the methods you used to test your hypothesis was flawed. In that case, it’s OK to suggest that if you had the chance to conduct your test again, you might change the design in this or that specific way in order to avoid such and such a problem. The key to making this approach work, though, is to be very precise about the weakness in your experiment, why and how you think that weakness might have affected your data, and how you would alter your protocol to eliminate—or limit the effects of—that weakness. Often, inexperienced researchers and writers feel the need to account for “wrong” data (remember, there’s no such animal), and so they speculate wildly about what might have screwed things up. These speculations include such factors as the unusually hot temperature in the room, or the possibility that their lab partners read the meters wrong, or the potentially defective equipment. These explanations are what scientists call “cop-outs,” or “lame”; don’t indicate that the experiment had a weakness unless you’re fairly certain that a) it really occurred and b) you can explain reasonably well how that weakness affected your results.

If, for example, your hypothesis dealt with the changes in solubility at different temperatures, then try to figure out what you can rationally say about the process of solubility more generally. If you’re doing an undergraduate lab, chances are that the lab will connect in some way to the material you’ve been covering either in lecture or in your reading, so you might choose to return to these resources as a way to help you think clearly about the process as a whole.

This part of the Discussion section is another place where you need to make sure that you’re not overreaching. Again, nothing you’ve found in one study would remotely allow you to claim that you now “know” something, or that something isn’t “true,” or that your experiment “confirmed” some principle or other. Hesitate before you go out on a limb—it’s dangerous! Use less absolutely conclusive language, including such words as “suggest,” “indicate,” “correspond,” “possibly,” “challenge,” etc.

Relate your findings to previous work in the field (if possible)

We’ve been talking about how to show that you belong in a particular community (such as biologists or anthropologists) by writing within conventions that they recognize and accept. Another is to try to identify a conversation going on among members of that community, and use your work to contribute to that conversation. In a larger philosophical sense, scientists can’t fully understand the value of their research unless they have some sense of the context that provoked and nourished it. That is, you have to recognize what’s new about your project (potentially, anyway) and how it benefits the wider body of scientific knowledge. On a more pragmatic level, especially for undergraduates, connecting your lab work to previous research will demonstrate to the TA that you see the big picture. You have an opportunity, in the Discussion section, to distinguish yourself from the students in your class who aren’t thinking beyond the barest facts of the study. Capitalize on this opportunity by putting your own work in context.

If you’re just beginning to work in the natural sciences (as a first-year biology or chemistry student, say), most likely the work you’ll be doing has already been performed and re-performed to a satisfactory degree. Hence, you could probably point to a similar experiment or study and compare/contrast your results and conclusions. More advanced work may deal with an issue that is somewhat less “resolved,” and so previous research may take the form of an ongoing debate, and you can use your own work to weigh in on that debate. If, for example, researchers are hotly disputing the value of herbal remedies for the common cold, and the results of your study suggest that Echinacea diminishes the symptoms but not the actual presence of the cold, then you might want to take some time in the Discussion section to recapitulate the specifics of the dispute as it relates to Echinacea as an herbal remedy. (Consider that you have probably already written in the Introduction about this debate as background research.)

This information is often the best way to end your Discussion (and, for all intents and purposes, the report). In argumentative writing generally, you want to use your closing words to convey the main point of your writing. This main point can be primarily theoretical (“Now that you understand this information, you’re in a better position to understand this larger issue”) or primarily practical (“You can use this information to take such and such an action”). In either case, the concluding statements help the reader to comprehend the significance of your project and your decision to write about it.

Since a lab report is argumentative—after all, you’re investigating a claim, and judging the legitimacy of that claim by generating and collecting evidence—it’s often a good idea to end your report with the same technique for establishing your main point. If you want to go the theoretical route, you might talk about the consequences your study has for the field or phenomenon you’re investigating. To return to the examples regarding solubility, you could end by reflecting on what your work on solubility as a function of temperature tells us (potentially) about solubility in general. (Some folks consider this type of exploration “pure” as opposed to “applied” science, although these labels can be problematic.) If you want to go the practical route, you could end by speculating about the medical, institutional, or commercial implications of your findings—in other words, answer the question, “What can this study help people to do?” In either case, you’re going to make your readers’ experience more satisfying, by helping them see why they spent their time learning what you had to teach them.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

American Psychological Association. 2010. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association . 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Beall, Herbert, and John Trimbur. 2001. A Short Guide to Writing About Chemistry , 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Blum, Deborah, and Mary Knudson. 1997. A Field Guide for Science Writers: The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers . New York: Oxford University Press.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The Craft of Research , 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Briscoe, Mary Helen. 1996. Preparing Scientific Illustrations: A Guide to Better Posters, Presentations, and Publications , 2nd ed. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Council of Science Editors. 2014. Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers , 8th ed. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Davis, Martha. 2012. Scientific Papers and Presentations , 3rd ed. London: Academic Press.

Day, Robert A. 1994. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper , 4th ed. Phoenix: Oryx Press.

Porush, David. 1995. A Short Guide to Writing About Science . New York: Longman.

Williams, Joseph, and Joseph Bizup. 2017. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace , 12th ed. Boston: Pearson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Chemistry Lab Resources (for CHM 1XX and 2XX Labs)

  • Organizing Your Lab Notebook
  • Parts of a Lab Report
  • Writing Your Lab Report/Worksheet
  • Graphs/Tables
  • Common Calculations
  • Citing Sources
  • Finding Chemical Properties
  • Lab techniques, instrumentation, and protocols
  • Chemical Safety

General tips

Whether you are filling out lab worksheets or writing up entire lab reports, there are a few tips that will help you to create more detailed and professional documents and to assist in grading:

  • Always label your units
  • Show all of your calculations (don’t leave out steps)
  • Use complete sentences
  • Write neatly
  • Strike out mistakes with a single line
  • Be aware of significant figures, noting the sensitivity of the device you are using for your measurements

Why do we write lab reports in passive voice?

It’s part of the scientific point of view.  We observe and record as objectively as possible, avoiding personal bias by removing ourselves.  Using the passive voice also clarifies procedures and descriptions so they can be easily reproduced and compared.

NOTE: DO NOT write reports as directions, such as those given in your lab manual. For example, do not write, "Heat the solution until it boils." Instead, write "The solution was heated to boiling."

Write in the third person - Scientific experiments demonstrate facts that do not depend on the observer, therefore, reports should avoid using the first and second person (I,me,my,we,our, OR us.)

Using the correct verb tense - Lab reports and research papers should be mainly written in the present tense. You should limit the use of the past tense to (1) describe specific experimental methods and observations, and (2) citing results published in the past.

Tables and Figures - Should be used when they are a more efficient ways to convey information than verbal description. They must be independent units, accompanied by explanatory captions that allow them to be understood by someone who has not read the text.

Writing in the passive voice

Examples of passive voice in lab reports.

200mL of distilled water was poured into a 500 mL beaker.

I poured 200mL of distilled water in a beaker. (active voice)

Pour 200mL water in a beaker. (direction/command)

The covered crucible was mounted on a ring stand.

We put the crucible on a ring stand. (active voice)

Set the crucible on a ring stand. (direction/command)

The temperature was initially measured at 75°C.

I measured the temperature at 75°C. (active voice)

Measure and write down the temperature. (direction/command)

It's understood that all actions were done by the experimenter.

Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Avoiding Plagiarism From Purdue's OWL

Passive voice information derived from original work at Delta College Teaching/Learning Center


Writing a Lab Report

Purdue students explain strategies for dividing the workload for writing a lab report.

Sample Lab Reports

  • Determination of the Alcohol Content of Whiskey [Courtesy of Univ. of Oregon]
  • Synthesis and Characterization of Luminol [Courtesy of Truman State Univ.]
  • Production of Biodiesel [Courtesy of Univ. of Vermont]
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How to Write a Science Lab Report

Last Updated: January 30, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Meredith Juncker, PhD . Meredith Juncker is a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. Her studies are focused on proteins and neurodegenerative diseases. There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 356,318 times.

Depending on the expectations of your program, the preferences of your teacher or adviser, and the level of education you are currently at, there are many variations of science lab reports you might use. Generally speaking, your science lab report should have a title, abstract, introduction, a list of materials used in your experiment, a description of methods used, your results, discussion about your results, and a list of literature cited. [1] X Research source [2] X Research source This may seem like an overwhelming amount of work, but by adhering to a few guidelines and putting in the necessary effort, you'll soon have a report your instructor will love.

Sample Lab Report and Writing Help

writing up a lab report

Formulating a Plan for Your Report

Step 1 Get a head start on your lab report as soon as possible.

  • You may have performed supplemental experiments/simulations or repeated your initial experience after receiving your first round of feedback.
  • (a) Self-review and revision
  • (b) Peer review and constructive feedback
  • (c) Advisor/instructor review and feedback

Step 2 Write your report with the primary goal of readability.

  • It can help remind yourself of this goal at the beginning of every section before starting writing.
  • When you finish a section of your report, read it through carefully, and at the end of it, ask yourself: was that easy to read and understand? Did I succeed in my goal?

Step 3 Determine your present audience and potential future ones.

  • If you believe your paper might be of use to researchers in another discipline, like social science, you may want to include definitions or explanations for the more technical jargon used in your paper.

Step 4 Outline the general structure of your lab report.

  • Since different instructors have different preferences, you should check your lab report handout or course syllabus to verify expectations for the order and content of your report. [4] X Research source
  • Most lab reports are organized, first to last: background information, problem, hypothesis, materials, procedure, data, and your interpretation of what happened as a conclusion.

Step 5 Break sections of your report into subsections, if necessary.

  • The organization of the body of your lab report will be specific to your problem/experiment.
  • You may also have a separate section for the statement of your design methodology, experimental methodology, or proving subsidiary/intermediary theorems in your report.

Writing a Top-down Outline

Step 1 Familiarize yourself with the top-down approach.

  • The section-level outline
  • The subsection-level outline
  • The paragraph-level outline

Step 2 Write your initial outline in a top-down style.

  • Bullet points are invaluable when you reach the paragraph level of your report. These will allow you to note important terms, phrases, and data that will need to be integrated with the text of your report.
  • Take special note, at the paragraph level, of important symbols, protocols, algorithms, and jargon.

Step 3 Remember figures, tables, and graphs at the paragraph-level.

  • You might also consider using simple figures as a way of cutting down unnecessary wordiness.

Step 4 Use organizational tools, like highlighters and sticky notes.

Writing Your Introduction and Abstract

Step 1 Craft your title and abstract carefully.

  • The title of your report should reflect what you have done and bring out any eye-catching factor of your work.
  • The abstract should be concise, generally about 2 paragraphs or about 200 words in length. [9] X Research source

Step 2 Refine your abstract down to crucial information.

  • (a) Main motivation
  • (b) Main design point
  • (c) Essential differences from previous work
  • (d) Methodology
  • (e) Noteworthy results, if any

Step 3 Devise your introduction.

  • What is the setting of the problem? This is, in other words, the background. In some cases, this may be implicit, and in some cases, this question may be merged with your paper's motivation.
  • What is the problem you are trying to solve? This is also known as the problem statement of your report.
  • Why is your problem important? This is the motivation behind your report. In some cases, it may be implicit in the background, or even the problem statement.
  • Is the problem still unsolved? The constitutes the statement of past/related work, and should be conveyed succinctly. [10] X Research source

Step 4 Model your intro off your top-down outline.

  • Each section of the body of your report can be thought of as an in-depth look at the points mentioned in the introduction.

Step 5 Include substantiation and critical details in your intro.

  • Why is your problem difficult to solve?
  • How have you solved the problem?
  • What are the conditions under which your solution is applicable?
  • What are the main results?
  • What is the summary of your contributions? This, in some cases, maybe implicit in the body of your introduction. Sometimes it helps to state contributions explicitly.
  • How is the rest of your report organized?

Step 6 Provide a background section, if necessary.

Writing the Body of Your Lab Report

Step 1 Write your section on materials and methods.

  • Describe the equipment or theory in a short paragraph.
  • Consider including a diagram of the apparatus for equipment.
  • Theoretical elements should be included in both natural and derived forms. [15] X Research source
  • Include what strategies and methodologies you are using for the experiment.

Step 2 Consider a section interpreting related work.

  • A large quantity of work closely related to your work would likely be best closer to the beginning of your report. This will allow you to point out differences best.
  • Relevant work that is substantially different from your own is probably best toward the end of your report. However, this placement risks leaving your readers wondering about differences until the end of your report.

Step 3 Differentiate your report from past and/or related work, if necessary.

  • Functionality
  • Performance
  • 1. Functionality
  • 3. Implementation
  • 4. Anticipated results or successes

Step 4 Use a table or graph to clearly indicate differences.

  • Make sure to cite the work of others so you can avoid plagiarism and give yourself more credibility.
  • If you decide to use a chart, it is a general convention that you include your own work in either the first or last column.

Step 5 State your results in your data section.

  • All figures and tables should be titled descriptively, numbered sequentially, and include a descriptive legend for symbols, abbreviations, etc.
  • The columns and rows of all tables and the axes of graphs should be labeled. [17] X Research source

Step 6 Summarize your main points for data-heavy results sections.

  • What aspects of your system or algorithm are you trying to evaluate? Why?
  • What are the cases of comparison? If you have proposed an algorithm or a design, what do you compare it with?
  • What are the performance metrics? Why?
  • What are the parameters understudy?
  • What is the experimental setup?

Concluding Your Lab Report

Step 1 Interpret your data and results in the discussion section.

  • Predictions are expected in this section, though these should be clearly identified as such.
  • Future experiments that might clarify your results should be suggested. [18] X Research source

Step 2 Address any other weaknesses in your discussion section.

  • Precisely and in as few words as possible state the main findings of your lab.
  • Answer the question: How has the reader become smarter, or how does your research and work fit into the bigger picture?

Step 5 List all sources used in your lab report.

Getting the Most Out of Peer Review

Step 1 Respect the process.

  • Many academic papers are reviewed 3 times by 3 sets of reviewers before they are published. Take constructive criticism for your lab report if you plan to pursue a career in academics.

Step 2 Seek review from peers involved in different projects.

  • You might also make use of your campus writing center, if available. Here you can have a fresh set of eyes assess the quality of your report.

Step 3 Write a critique checklist.

  • Title/abstract logical, understandable, and eye-catching?
  • All relevant questions answered in the introduction?
  • Overall structure of sections and subsections meaningful?
  • Is there a logical flow of information?
  • Differences between related/past work apparent?
  • Technical sections intelligible?
  • Figures/tables explained properly?
  • Use of terminology clear?
  • Symbols defined appropriately?
  • Results explained properly?
  • Technical holes/flaws?
  • Potential problems or alternatives?

Step 4 Accept feedback from your peers politely.

  • Try to keep your comments as impersonal as possible. Locate specific elements that can be isolated, targeted, and improved.
  • While taking feedback from a peer, take the comments on their technical merit and avoid being defensive.

Expert Q&A

Bess Ruff, MA

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  • If you're looking for how to write a lab report for elementary, junior, or high school, try Write a Good Lab Conclusion in Science . Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

writing up a lab report

  • Under no circumstances should you plagiarize the work of another. Doing so can result in immediate expulsion from most universities, and could tarnish your reputation as an academic. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

You Might Also Like

Write a Chemistry Lab Report

  • ↑ https://guides.libraries.indiana.edu/c.php?g=992698&p=7182653
  • ↑ http://libguides.lmu.edu/c.php?g=324079&p=2174135
  • ↑ https://www.apu.edu/live_data/files/288/lab_reports.pdf
  • ↑ http://services.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/471276/Writing_Science_Laboratory_Reports_Update_051112.pdf
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/02/
  • ↑ http://biology.kenyon.edu/Bio_InfoLit/how/page2.html
  • ↑ https://www.trentu.ca/academicskills/how-guides/how-succeed-math-and-science/writing-lab-reports/writing-lab-reports-figures-and-tables
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.gmu.edu/writing-resources/different-genres/writing-an-abstract
  • ↑ https://www.vanderbilt.edu/writing/resources/handouts/introducing-a-lab-report/
  • ↑ http://writing.engr.psu.edu/workbooks/laboratory.html
  • ↑ http://www.mhhe.com/biosci/genbio/maderinquiry/writing.html
  • ↑ http://www.columbia.edu/cu/biology/faculty/mowshowitz/howto_guide/lab_report.html
  • ↑ https://lsa.umich.edu/sweetland/undergraduates/writing-guides/how-do-i-present-findings-from-my-experiment-in-a-report-.html
  • ↑ http://www.chem.ucla.edu/~gchemlab/labnotebook_web.htm
  • ↑ https://guides.lib.purdue.edu/c.php?g=352816&p=2377942

About This Article

Meredith Juncker, PhD

To write a lab report, start by coming up with a title that points to what you’ve done and an abstract that summarizes your work in 2 paragraphs. Follow this up with an introduction, which should introduce the problem you’re trying to solve, and explain why it’s important. Next, write a section on your materials and methods that informs the reader how you did your work. Additionally, present your results in a separate section, and highlight key points so they’re not overlooked. Finally, conclude with a section discussing the significance of your results and any problems with the study. For tips on how to write a top-down outline for your report and make the most of peer reviews, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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The Lab Report

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This document describes a general format for lab reports that you can adapt as needed. Lab reports are the most frequent kind of document written in engineering and can count for as much as 25% of a course yet little time or attention is devoted to how to write them well. Worse yet, each professor wants something a little different. Regardless of variations, however, the goal of lab reports remains the same: document your findings and communicate their significance. With that in mind, we can describe the report’s format and basic components. Knowing the pieces and purpose, you can adapt to the particular needs of a course or professor.

A good lab report does more than present data; it demonstrates the writer’s comprehension of the concepts behind the data. Merely recording the expected and observed results is not sufficient; you should also identify how and why differences occurred, explain how they affected your experiment, and show your understanding of the principles the experiment was designed to examine. Bear in mind that a format, however helpful, cannot replace clear thinking and organized writing. You still need to organize your ideas carefully and express them coherently.

Typical Components

  • Introduction
  • Methods and Materials (or Equipment)
  • Experimental Procedure
  • Further Reading

1. The Title Page needs to contain the name of the experiment, the names of lab partners, and the date. Titles should be straightforward, informative, and less than ten words (i.e. Not “Lab #4” but “Lab #4: Sample Analysis using the Debye-Sherrer Method”). 2. The Abstract summarizes four essential aspects of the report: the purpose of the experiment (sometimes expressed as the purpose of the report), key findings, significance and major conclusions. The abstract often also includes a brief reference to theory or methodology. The information should clearly enable readers to decide whether they need to read your whole report. The abstract should be one paragraph of 100-200 words (the sample below is 191 words).

Quick Abstract Reference

  • Key result(s)
  • Most significant point of discussion
  • Major conclusion

May Include:

  • Brief method
  • Brief theory


ONE page 200 words MAX.

Sample Abstract

This experiment examined the effect of line orientation and arrowhead angle on a subject’s ability to perceive line length, thereby testing the Müller-Lyer illusion. The Müller-Lyer illusion is the classic visual illustration of the effect of the surrounding on the perceived length of a line. The test was to determine the point of subjective equality by having subjects adjust line segments to equal the length of a standard line. Twenty-three subjects were tested in a repeated measures design with four different arrowhead angles and four line orientations. Each condition was tested in six randomized trials. The lines to be adjusted were tipped with outward pointing arrows of varying degrees of pointedness, whereas the standard lines had inward pointing arrows of the same degree. Results showed that line lengths were overestimated in all cases. The size of error increased with decreasing arrowhead angles. For line orientation, overestimation was greatest when the lines were horizontal. This last is contrary to our expectations. Further, the two factors functioned independently in their effects on subjects’ point of subjective equality. These results have important implications for human factors design applications such as graphical display interfaces.

3. The introduction is more narrowly focussed than the abstract. It states the objective of the experiment and provides the reader with background to the experiment. State the topic of your report clearly and concisely, in one or two sentences:

Quick Intro Reference

  • Purpose of the experiment
  • Important background and/or theory

May include:

  • Description of specialized equipment
  • Justification of experiment’s importance
Example: The purpose of this experiment was to identify the specific element in a metal powder sample by determining its crystal structure and atomic radius. These were determined using the Debye-Sherrer (powder camera) method of X-ray diffraction.

A good introduction also provides whatever background theory, previous research, or formulas the reader needs to know. Usually, an instructor does not want you to repeat the lab manual, but to show your own comprehension of the problem. For example, the introduction that followed the example above might describe the Debye-Sherrer method, and explain that from the diffraction angles the crystal structure can be found by applying Bragg’s law. If the amount of introductory material seems to be a lot, consider adding subheadings such as: Theoretical Principles or Background.

Note on Verb Tense

Introductions often create difficulties for students who struggle with keeping verb tenses straight. These two points should help you navigate the introduction:

“The objective of the experiment was…”
“The purpose of this report is…” “Bragg’s Law for diffraction is …” “The scanning electron microscope produces micrographs …”

4. Methods and Materials (or Equipment) can usually be a simple list, but make sure it is accurate and complete. In some cases, you can simply direct the reader to a lab manual or standard procedure: “Equipment was set up as in CHE 276 manual.” 5. Experimental Procedure describes the process in chronological order. Using clear paragraph structure, explain all steps in the order they actually happened, not as they were supposed to happen. If your professor says you can simply state that you followed the procedure in the manual, be sure you still document occasions when you did not follow that exactly (e.g. “At step 4 we performed four repetitions instead of three, and ignored the data from the second repetition”). If you’ve done it right, another researcher should be able to duplicate your experiment. 6. Results are usually dominated by calculations, tables and figures; however, you still need to state all significant results explicitly in verbal form, for example:

Quick Results Reference

  • Number and Title tables and graphs
  • Use a sentence or two to draw attention to key points in tables or graphs
  • Provide sample calculation only
  • State key result in sentence form
Using the calculated lattice parameter gives, then, R = 0.1244nm.

Graphics need to be clear, easily read, and well labeled (e.g. Figure 1: Input Frequency and Capacitor Value). An important strategy for making your results effective is to draw the reader’s attention to them with a sentence or two, so the reader has a focus when reading the graph.

In most cases, providing a sample calculation is sufficient in the report. Leave the remainder in an appendix. Likewise, your raw data can be placed in an appendix. Refer to appendices as necessary, pointing out trends and identifying special features. 7. Discussion is the most important part of your report, because here, you show that you understand the experiment beyond the simple level of completing it. Explain. Analyse. Interpret. Some people like to think of this as the “subjective” part of the report. By that, they mean this is what is not readily observable. This part of the lab focuses on a question of understanding “What is the significance or meaning of the results?” To answer this question, use both aspects of discussion:

More particularly, focus your discussion with strategies like these:

Compare expected results with those obtained.

If there were differences, how can you account for them? Saying “human error” implies you’re incompetent. Be specific; for example, the instruments could not measure precisely, the sample was not pure or was contaminated, or calculated values did not take account of friction.

Analyze experimental error.

Was it avoidable? Was it a result of equipment? If an experiment was within the tolerances, you can still account for the difference from the ideal. If the flaws result from the experimental design explain how the design might be improved.

Explain your results in terms of theoretical issues.

Often undergraduate labs are intended to illustrate important physical laws, such as Kirchhoff’s voltage law, or the Müller-Lyer illusion. Usually you will have discussed these in the introduction. In this section move from the results to the theory. How well has the theory been illustrated?

Relate results to your experimental objective(s).

If you set out to identify an unknown metal by finding its lattice parameter and its atomic structure, you’d better know the metal and its attributes.

Compare your results to similar investigations.

In some cases, it is legitimate to compare outcomes with classmates, not to change your answer, but to look for any anomalies between the groups and discuss those.

Analyze the strengths and limitations of your experimental design.

This is particularly useful if you designed the thing you’re testing (e.g. a circuit). 8. Conclusion can be very short in most undergraduate laboratories. Simply state what you know now for sure, as a result of the lab:

Quick Conclusion Reference

  • State what’s known
  • State significance
  • Suggest further research
Example: The Debye-Sherrer method identified the sample material as nickel due to the measured crystal structure (fcc) and atomic radius (approximately 0.124nm).

Notice that, after the material is identified in the example above, the writer provides a justification. We know it is nickel because of its structure and size. This makes a sound and sufficient conclusion. Generally, this is enough; however, the conclusion might also be a place to discuss weaknesses of experimental design, what future work needs to be done to extend your conclusions, or what the implications of your conclusion are. 9. References include your lab manual and any outside reading you have done. Check this site’s documentation page to help you organize references in a way appropriate to your field. 10. Appendices typically include such elements as raw data, calculations, graphs pictures or tables that have not been included in the report itself. Each kind of item should be contained in a separate appendix. Make sure you refer to each appendix at least once in your report. For example, the results section might begin by noting: “Micrographs printed from the Scanning Electron Microscope are contained in Appendix A.”

To learn more about writing science papers, visit our handout on writing in the sciences .

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Lab Report Format – How to Write a Laboratory Report

A typical lab report format includes a title, introduction, procedure, results, discussion, and conclusions.

A science laboratory experiment isn’t truly complete until you’ve written the lab report. You may have taken excellent notes in your laboratory notebook, but it isn’t the same as a lab report. The lab report format is designed to present experimental results so they can be shared with others. A well-written report explains what you did, why you did it, and what you learned. It should also generate reader interest, potentially leading to peer-reviewed publication and funding.

Sections of a Lab Report

There is no one lab report format. The format and sections might be specified by your instructor or employer. What really matters is covering all of the important information.

Label the sections (except the title). Use bold face type for the title and headings. The order is:

You may or may not be expected to provide a title page. If it is required, the title page includes the title of the experiment, the names of the researchers, the name of the institution, and the date.

The title describes the experiment. Don’t start it with an article (e.g., the, an, a) because it messes up databases and isn’t necessary. For example, a good title might be, “Effect of Increasing Glucose Concentration on Danio rerio Egg Hatching Rates.” Use title case and italicize the scientific names of any species.


Sometimes the introduction is broken into separate sections. Otherwise, it’s written as a narrative that includes the following information:

  • State the purpose of the experiment.
  • State the hypothesis.
  • Review earlier work on the subject. Refer to previous studies. Cover the background so a reader understands what is known about a subject and what you hope to learn that is new.
  • Describe your approach to answering a question or solving a problem. Include a theory or equation, if appropriate.

This section describes experimental design. Identify the parameter you changed ( independent variable ) and the one you measured ( dependent variable ). Describe the equipment and set-up you used, materials, and methods. If a reader can’t picture the apparatus from your description, include a photograph or diagram. Sometimes this section is broken into “Materials” and “Methods.”

Your lab notebook contains all of the data you collected in the experiment. You aren’t expected to reproduce all of this in a lab report. Instead, provide labelled tables and graphs. The first figure is Figure 1, the second is Figure 2, etc. The first graph is Graph 1. Refer to figures and graphs by their figure number. For some experiments, you may need to include labelled photographs. Cite the results of any calculations you performed, such as slope and standard deviation. Discuss sources of error here, including instrument, standard, and random errors.

Discussion or Conclusions

While the “Results” section includes graphs and tables, the “Discussion” or “Conclusions” section focuses on what the results mean. This is where you state whether or not the objective of the experiment was met and what the outcome means.  Propose reasons for discrepancies between expected and actual outcomes. Finally, describe the next logical step in your research and ways you might improve on the experiment.

References or Bibliography

Did you build upon work conducted by someone else? Cite the work. Did you consult a paper relating to the experiment? Credit the author. If you’re unsure whether to cite a reference or not, a good rule of thumb is to include a reference for any fact not known to your audience. For some reports, it’s only necessary to list publications directly relating to your procedure and conclusions.

The Tone of a Lab Report

Lab reports should be informative, not entertaining. This isn’t the place for humor, sarcasm, or flowery prose. A lab report should be:

  • Concise : Cover all the key points without getting crazy with the details.
  • Objective : In the “Conclusions” section, you can propose possible explanations for your results. Otherwise, keep your opinions out of the report. Instead, present facts and an analysis based on logic and math.
  • Critical : After presenting what you did, the report focuses on what the data means. Be on the lookout for sources of error and identify them. Use your understanding of error to determine how reliable your results are and gauge confidence in your conclusions.

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Whether your research takes place in a university lab or on some remote work site, you will often have to write up the results of your work in a Lab Report. Most basically, this report will describe the original hypothesis your work attempts to test, the methodology you used to test it, your observations and results of your testing, your analysis and discussion of what this data means, and your conclusions.

In an academic context, especially in early courses, you are often asked to replicate the results of others rather than conduct your own original research. This is usually meant to instill an understanding of the scientific method into students, and teach students the proper use of instruments, techniques, processes, data analysis, and documentation. Once you demonstrate your ability to understand and apply the scientific method in these contexts, you will be able to go on to design your own research studies and develop new knowledge. Your reports then become the way you pass on this new knowledge to the field and to society at large.

Students often assume that science is just “facts” and objective information, and are sometimes surprised to learn that science writing makes and defends claims just like writing in other academic sub-genres. For scientists and engineers to make valuable contributions to the sum of human knowledge, they must be able to convince readers that their findings are valid (can be replicated) and valuable (will have an impact). Thus, the way that you write these reports can impact the credibility and authority of your work; people will judge your work partly on how you present it. Yes, even lab reports have a persuasive edge and must make careful use of rhetorical strategies. Careless writing, poor organization, ineffective document design, and lack of attention to convention may cast doubt on your authority and expertise, and thus on the value of your work.

Science and Rhetoric

Some aspects of your report that might require you to think rhetorically are exemplified in how you approach the following questions:

  • Why is this research important? How does it solve a problem or contribute in some way to expanding human knowledge?
  • What have other researchers already discovered about this? How are you contributing to this conversation?
  • What gaps are there in our knowledge about this topic?
  • Why have you chosen this methodology to test your hypothesis? What limitations might it have?
  • How and why do you derive these inferences from the data you have collected?
  • What further research should be done? Why?

Writing a Lab Report

Your report will be based on the work you have done in the lab. Therefore, you must have a plan for keeping careful notes on what you have done, how you have done it, and what you observed. Researchers often keep a notebook with them in the lab, sometimes with pre-designed tables or charts for recording the data they know they will be observing (you might be given a lab manual to use while completing a particular experiment to record your observations and data in a pre-organized format). Try to plan ahead so that you can capture as much information as possible during your research; don’t try to rely only on memory to record these important details.

How you choose the content and format for your report will depend on your audience and purpose. Students must make sure to read lab manuals and instructions carefully to determine what is required; if writing for publication, make sure to follow the submission guidelines of the publication you are sending it to. Lab reports typically contain the elements outlined below.

Title :  craft a descriptive and informative title that will enable readers to decide if this interests them, and will allow key words to be abstracted in indexing services. Ask your instructor about specific formatting requirements regarding title pages, etc.

Abstract :  write a summary of your report that mirrors your report structure (Hypothesis, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion) in condensed form—roughly one sentence per section. Ideally, sum up your important findings.

Introduction :  establish the context and significance of your work, its relevance in the field, and the hypothesis or question your study addresses. Give a brief overview of your methodology for testing your hypothesis and why it is appropriate. If necessary for your readers, provide a specialized theoretical framework, background or technical knowledge to help them understand your focus and how it contributes to the field. Your instructor may describe a target audience for you; pay attention to that and write for that audience.  More detailed reports may require a Literature Review section.

Materials and Methods :  this section has two key purposes. First, it must allow any reader to perfectly replicate your method; therefore, you must provide a clear and thorough description of what you used and how you conducted your experiment. Second, you must persuade your reader that your chosen methodology and the materials are appropriate and valid for testing your hypothesis, and will lead to credible and valid results. This section will generally include 1) a list of all materials needed (which may include sub-lists, diagrams, and other graphics), and 2) a detailed description of your procedure, presented chronologically.

Traditionally, the Sciences have required writers to describe what they did using the Passive Voice, as passive mode emphasizes the materials and actions taken and de-emphasizes the role of the scientist in the process. This is slowly changing, as the use of Active Voice is more concise and recognizes the reality that even scientific observers  have unavoidable biases; however, you should consult your instructor about which is preferred in your context.

Results :  this section presents the raw date that you generated in your experiment, and provides the evidence you will need to form conclusions about your hypothesis. Present only the data that is relevant to your results (but if you omit data, you may have to explain why it is not relevant). You can organize this section based on chronology (following your methodology) or on the importance of data in proving (or negating) the hypothesis (most important to least important). Present data visually whenever possible (in tables, graphs, flowcharts, etc .), and help readers understand the context of your data with written analysis and explanation. Make sure you present the data honestly and ethically; do not distort or obscure data to make it better fit your hypothesis. If data is inconclusive or contradictory, be honest about that. In the Results section, you should avoid interpreting or explaining your data, as this belongs in your Discussion section.

Discussion :  this section includes your analysis and interpretation of the data you presented in the Results section in terms of how well it supports your original hypothesis. Start with the most important findings. It is perfectly fine to acknowledge that the data you have generated is problematic or fails to support the hypothesis. This points the way for further research. If your findings are inconsistent, try to suggest possible reasons for this.

Conclusion :  in 1-2 short paragraphs, review the overall purpose of your study and the hypothesis you tested; then summarize your key findings and the important implications. This is your opportunity to persuade the audience of the significance of your work.

Acknowledgements :  formally express appreciation for any assistance you have received while preparing the report (financial/funding support, help from colleagues or your institution, etc .).

References :  list all references you have cited in your report (such as those you may have included in a “literature review” in your introduction, or sources that help justify your methodology). Check with your instructor or publication guidelines for which citation style to use.

Appendices :  any information that does not fit within the body sections, but still adds valuable information to your report, can be placed in an appendix. Where your Results section may present summarized data, the full data tables may appear in an appendix. You may also include logs, calculations, or notes on analytical methods. Be sure to refer to your appendices in the body of your report to signal where readers can find additional information.

How you write up the results of a scientific experiment will generally follow the formulaic pattern described above, but may vary depending on audience and purpose. As a student, you are often writing to demonstrate to your instructor that you have mastered the knowledge and skills required in a particular course. But remember that science writing generally focuses on the observable results, not on your “learning experience.” Your report should include what anyone doing this experiment might observe and conclude; these do not typically include personal reflections. In the professional academic world, your report may have to pass through a rigorous peer review process before being published in a scholarly journal. As a professional, your work may result in the development of products and services that will be used by the public, so documenting your process and findings has financial, safety, and legal implications. It is therefore critical that your writing is accurate and ethical.

Lab reports are often written using past tense, 3rd person, and passive verb constructions when describing what was done and what was observed. Why do you suppose that is?

Strict adherence to this style has in recent years been relaxed somewhat, and you might find more science writing that use first person and active rather than passive verb constructions. Can you think of reasons why this is changing?

Additional Resources

For a fun example of Process Report that is similar in many ways to a lab report, see the attached  Drafting Behind Big Rigs – Mythbusters Report (.pdf)

When evaluating scientific literature that you read, you might find the the following TED-Ed video by David H. Schwartz helpful: Not all Scientific Studies are Created Equal .

Technical Writing Essentials Copyright © by Suzan Last and UNH College of Professional Studies Online is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Strategies for writing
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Many schools have a clear view of how they would like you to write-up and present your practical work so ensuring that you follow their guidance is important.

It is usual to write your report under a set sequence of sub-headings such as, for example:


Explain why you did the experiment, identify what were your goals and describe the factors that you considered.

Materials and methods

Describe exactly what protocols you followed, along with what materials and equipment you used. (If you are provided with a written protocol you may only be expected to explain where your actual practice differed from the given protocol). The intention is that someone else ought to be able to replicate your experiment from what you've written here.

Observations and results

Accurately record your experimental findings. These may be presented graphically or in tables, drawings or descriptions.

Present your critical interpretation of the results you obtained. This may involve statistical tests of your data. It may also require a critique of the approach taken and the limitations of methods you used.


Explain what the results mean and relate this to the goals you described in the introduction. It may also be appropriate to give your recommendations or say what you would do differently if you were to repeat the experiment and what you have learnt from carrying it out.

Writing up or reporting your practical work is an important part of the learning process, and even if you worked collaboratively, you may be expected to write your own report individually. If you are asked to write an individual report, about experiments that you did in a group, it is better that you do not work together when you are actually writing your reports. This sometimes causes confusion and can lead to students being accused of copying from each other and plagiarism.

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Complete Guide to Writing a Lab Report (With Example)

Students tend to approach writing lab reports with confusion and dread. Whether in high school science classes or undergraduate laboratories, experiments are always fun and games until the times comes to submit a lab report. What if we didn’t need to spend hours agonizing over this piece of scientific writing? Our lives would be so much easier if we were told what information to include, what to do with all their data and how to use references. Well, here’s a guide to all the core components in a well-written lab report, complete with an example.

Things to Include in a Laboratory Report

The laboratory report is simply a way to show that you understand the link between theory and practice while communicating through clear and concise writing. As with all forms of writing, it’s not the report’s length that matters, but the quality of the information conveyed within. This article outlines the important bits that go into writing a lab report (title, abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, conclusion, reference). At the end is an example report of reducing sugar analysis with Benedict’s reagent.

The report’s title should be short but descriptive, indicating the qualitative or quantitative nature of the practical along with the primary goal or area of focus.

Following this should be the abstract, 2-3 sentences summarizing the practical. The abstract shows the reader the main results of the practical and helps them decide quickly whether the rest of the report is relevant to their use. Remember that the whole report should be written in a passive voice .


The introduction provides context to the experiment in a couple of paragraphs and relevant diagrams. While a short preamble outlining the history of the techniques or materials used in the practical is appropriate, the bulk of the introduction should outline the experiment’s goals, creating a logical flow to the next section.

Some reports require you to write down the materials used, which can be combined with this section. The example below does not include a list of materials used. If unclear, it is best to check with your teacher or demonstrator before writing your lab report from scratch.

Step-by-step methods are usually provided in high school and undergraduate laboratory practicals, so it’s just a matter of paraphrasing them. This is usually the section that teachers and demonstrators care the least about. Any unexpected changes to the experimental setup or techniques can also be documented here.

The results section should include the raw data that has been collected in the experiment as well as calculations that are performed. It is usually appropriate to include diagrams; depending on the experiment, these can range from scatter plots to chromatograms.

The discussion is the most critical part of the lab report as it is a chance for you to show that you have a deep understanding of the practical and the theory behind it. Teachers and lecturers tend to give this section the most weightage when marking the report. It would help if you used the discussion section to address several points:

  • Explain the results gathered. Is there a particular trend? Do the results support the theory behind the experiment?
  • Highlight any unexpected results or outlying data points. What are possible sources of error?
  • Address the weaknesses of the experiment. Refer to the materials and methods used to identify improvements that would yield better results (more accurate equipment, better experimental technique, etc.)  

Finally, a short paragraph to conclude the laboratory report. It should summarize the findings and provide an objective review of the experiment.

If any external sources were used in writing the lab report, they should go here. Referencing is critical in scientific writing; it’s like giving a shout out (known as a citation) to the original provider of the information. It is good practice to have at least one source referenced, either from researching the context behind the experiment, best practices for the method used or similar industry standards.

Google Scholar is a good resource for quickly gathering references of a specific style . Searching for the article in the search bar and clicking on the ‘cite’ button opens a pop-up that allows you to copy and paste from several common referencing styles.

referencing styles from google scholar

Example: Writing a Lab Report

Title : Semi-Quantitative Analysis of Food Products using Benedict’s Reagent

Abstract : Food products (milk, chicken, bread, orange juice) were solubilized and tested for reducing sugars using Benedict’s reagent. Milk contained the highest level of reducing sugars at ~2%, while chicken contained almost no reducing sugars.

Introduction : Sugar detection has been of interest for over 100 years, with the first test for glucose using copper sulfate developed by German chemist Karl Trommer in 1841. It was used to test the urine of diabetics, where sugar was present in high amounts. However, it wasn’t until 1907 when the method was perfected by Stanley Benedict, using sodium citrate and sodium carbonate to stabilize the copper sulfate in solution. Benedict’s reagent is a bright blue because of the copper sulfate, turning green and then red as the concentration of reducing sugars increases.

Benedict’s reagent was used in this experiment to compare the amount of reducing sugars between four food items: milk, chicken solution, bread and orange juice. Following this, standardized glucose solutions (0.0%, 0.5%, 1.0%, 1.5%, 2.0%) were tested with Benedict’s reagent to determine the color produced at those sugar levels, allowing us to perform a semi-quantitative analysis of the food items.

Method : Benedict’s reagent was prepared by mixing 1.73 g of copper (II) sulfate pentahydrate, 17.30 g of sodium citrate pentahydrate and 10.00 g of sodium carbonate anhydrous. The mixture was dissolved with stirring and made up to 100 ml using distilled water before filtration using filter paper and a funnel to remove any impurities.

4 ml of milk, chicken solution and orange juice (commercially available) were measured in test tubes, along with 4 ml of bread solution. The bread solution was prepared using 4 g of dried bread ground with mortar and pestle before diluting with distilled water up to 4 ml. Then, 4 ml of Benedict’s reagent was added to each test tube and placed in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, then each test tube was observed.

Next, glucose solutions were prepared by dissolving 0.5 g, 1.0 g, 1.5 g and 2.0 g of glucose in 100 ml of distilled water to produce 0.5%, 1.0%, 1.5% and 2.0% solutions, respectively. 4 ml of each solution was added to 4 ml of Benedict’s reagent in a test tube and placed in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, then each test tube was observed.

Results : Food Solutions (4 ml) with Benedict’s Reagent (4 ml)

Glucose Solutions (4 ml) with Benedict’s Reagent (4 ml)

Semi-Quantitative Analysis from Data

Discussion : From the analysis of food solutions along with the glucose solutions of known concentrations, the semi-quantitative analysis of sugar levels in different food products was performed. Milk had the highest sugar content of 2%, with orange juice at 1.5%, bread at 0.5% and chicken with 0% sugar. These values were approximated; the standard solutions were not the exact color of the food solutions, but the closest color match was chosen.

One point of contention was using the orange juice solution, which conferred color to the starting solution, rendering it green before the reaction started. This could have led to the final color (and hence, sugar quantity) being inaccurate. Also, since comparing colors using eyesight alone is inaccurate, the experiment could be improved with a colorimeter that can accurately determine the exact wavelength of light absorbed by the solution.

Another downside of Benedict’s reagent is its inability to react with non-reducing sugars. Reducing sugars encompass all sugar types that can be oxidized from aldehydes or ketones into carboxylic acids. This means that all monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, etc.) are reducing sugars, while only select polysaccharides are. Disaccharides like sucrose and trehalose cannot be oxidized, hence are non-reducing and will not react with Benedict’s reagent. Furthermore, Benedict’s reagent cannot distinguish between different types of reducing sugars.

Conclusion : Using Benedict’s reagent, different food products were analyzed semi-quantitatively for their levels of reducing sugars. Milk contained around 2% sugar, while the chicken solution had no sugar. Overall, the experiment was a success, although the accuracy of the results could have been improved with the use of quantitative equipment and methods.

Reference :

  • Raza, S. I., Raza, S. A., Kazmi, M., Khan, S., & Hussain, I. (2021). 100 Years of Glucose Monitoring in Diabetes Management.  Journal of Diabetes Mellitus ,  11 (5), 221-233.
  • Benedict, Stanley R (1909). A Reagent for the Detection of Reducing Sugars.  Journal of Biological Chemistry ,  5 , 485-487.

Using this guide and example, writing a lab report should be a hassle-free, perhaps even enjoyable process!

About the Author

sean author

Sean is a consultant for clients in the pharmaceutical industry and is an associate lecturer at La Trobe University, where unfortunate undergrads are subject to his ramblings on chemistry and pharmacology.

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  • Dr. John J. Dolhun
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As taught in, learning resource types, laboratory chemistry, lecture 3: writing up the lab report.

Description: Dr. Sarah Hewett discusses how to write a lab report, which is an important component of this course. In addition, knowing how to communicate the science that you do is a crucial skill beyond this course, in research or in any other context.

Instructor: Dr. Sarah Hewett

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MIT Open Learning

Lab Report Format: Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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In psychology, a lab report outlines a study’s objectives, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions, ensuring clarity and adherence to APA (or relevant) formatting guidelines.

A typical lab report would include the following sections: title, abstract, introduction, method, results, and discussion.

The title page, abstract, references, and appendices are started on separate pages (subsections from the main body of the report are not). Use double-line spacing of text, font size 12, and include page numbers.

The report should have a thread of arguments linking the prediction in the introduction to the content of the discussion.

This must indicate what the study is about. It must include the variables under investigation. It should not be written as a question.

Title pages should be formatted in APA style .

The abstract provides a concise and comprehensive summary of a research report. Your style should be brief but not use note form. Look at examples in journal articles . It should aim to explain very briefly (about 150 words) the following:

  • Start with a one/two sentence summary, providing the aim and rationale for the study.
  • Describe participants and setting: who, when, where, how many, and what groups?
  • Describe the method: what design, what experimental treatment, what questionnaires, surveys, or tests were used.
  • Describe the major findings, including a mention of the statistics used and the significance levels, or simply one sentence summing up the outcome.
  • The final sentence(s) outline the study’s “contribution to knowledge” within the literature. What does it all mean? Mention the implications of your findings if appropriate.

The abstract comes at the beginning of your report but is written at the end (as it summarises information from all the other sections of the report).


The purpose of the introduction is to explain where your hypothesis comes from (i.e., it should provide a rationale for your research study).

Ideally, the introduction should have a funnel structure: Start broad and then become more specific. The aims should not appear out of thin air; the preceding review of psychological literature should lead logically into the aims and hypotheses.

The funnel structure of the introducion to a lab report

  • Start with general theory, briefly introducing the topic. Define the important key terms.
  • Explain the theoretical framework.
  • Summarise and synthesize previous studies – What was the purpose? Who were the participants? What did they do? What did they find? What do these results mean? How do the results relate to the theoretical framework?
  • Rationale: How does the current study address a gap in the literature? Perhaps it overcomes a limitation of previous research.
  • Aims and hypothesis. Write a paragraph explaining what you plan to investigate and make a clear and concise prediction regarding the results you expect to find.

There should be a logical progression of ideas that aids the flow of the report. This means the studies outlined should lead logically to your aims and hypotheses.

Do be concise and selective, and avoid the temptation to include anything in case it is relevant (i.e., don’t write a shopping list of studies).



  • How many participants were recruited?
  • Say how you obtained your sample (e.g., opportunity sample).
  • Give relevant demographic details (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age range, mean age, and standard deviation).
  • State the experimental design .
  • What were the independent and dependent variables ? Make sure the independent variable is labeled and name the different conditions/levels.
  • For example, if gender is the independent variable label, then male and female are the levels/conditions/groups.
  • How were the IV and DV operationalized?
  • Identify any controls used, e.g., counterbalancing and control of extraneous variables.
  • List all the materials and measures (e.g., what was the title of the questionnaire? Was it adapted from a study?).
  • You do not need to include wholesale replication of materials – instead, include a ‘sensible’ (illustrate) level of detail. For example, give examples of questionnaire items.
  • Include the reliability (e.g., alpha values) for the measure(s).
  • Describe the precise procedure you followed when conducting your research, i.e., exactly what you did.
  • Describe in sufficient detail to allow for replication of findings.
  • Be concise in your description and omit extraneous/trivial details, e.g., you don’t need to include details regarding instructions, debrief, record sheets, etc.
  • Assume the reader has no knowledge of what you did and ensure that he/she can replicate (i.e., copy) your study exactly by what you write in this section.
  • Write in the past tense.
  • Don’t justify or explain in the Method (e.g., why you chose a particular sampling method); just report what you did.
  • Only give enough detail for someone to replicate the experiment – be concise in your writing.
  • The results section of a paper usually presents descriptive statistics followed by inferential statistics.
  • Report the means, standard deviations, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for each IV level. If you have four to 20 numbers to present, a well-presented table is best, APA style.
  • Name the statistical test being used.
  • Report appropriate statistics (e.g., t-scores, p values ).
  • Report the magnitude (e.g., are the results significant or not?) as well as the direction of the results (e.g., which group performed better?).
  • It is optional to report the effect size (this does not appear on the SPSS output).
  • Avoid interpreting the results (save this for the discussion).
  • Make sure the results are presented clearly and concisely. A table can be used to display descriptive statistics if this makes the data easier to understand.
  • DO NOT include any raw data.
  • Follow APA style.

Use APA Style

  • Numbers reported to 2 d.p. (incl. 0 before the decimal if 1.00, e.g., “0.51”). The exceptions to this rule: Numbers which can never exceed 1.0 (e.g., p -values, r-values): report to 3 d.p. and do not include 0 before the decimal place, e.g., “.001”.
  • Percentages and degrees of freedom: report as whole numbers.
  • Statistical symbols that are not Greek letters should be italicized (e.g., M , SD , t , X 2 , F , p , d ).
  • Include spaces on either side of the equals sign.
  • When reporting 95%, CIs (confidence intervals), upper and lower limits are given inside square brackets, e.g., “95% CI [73.37, 102.23]”
  • Outline your findings in plain English (avoid statistical jargon) and relate your results to your hypothesis, e.g., is it supported or rejected?
  • Compare your results to background materials from the introduction section. Are your results similar or different? Discuss why/why not.
  • How confident can we be in the results? Acknowledge limitations, but only if they can explain the result obtained. If the study has found a reliable effect, be very careful suggesting limitations as you are doubting your results. Unless you can think of any c onfounding variable that can explain the results instead of the IV, it would be advisable to leave the section out.
  • Suggest constructive ways to improve your study if appropriate.
  • What are the implications of your findings? Say what your findings mean for how people behave in the real world.
  • Suggest an idea for further research triggered by your study, something in the same area but not simply an improved version of yours. Perhaps you could base this on a limitation of your study.
  • Concluding paragraph – Finish with a statement of your findings and the key points of the discussion (e.g., interpretation and implications) in no more than 3 or 4 sentences.

Reference Page

The reference section lists all the sources cited in the essay (alphabetically). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).

In simple terms, every time you refer to a psychologist’s name (and date), you need to reference the original source of information.

If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.

References need to be set out APA style :

Author, A. A. (year). Title of work . Location: Publisher.

Journal Articles

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number (issue number), page numbers

A simple way to write your reference section is to use Google scholar . Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the “cite” link.

google scholar search results

Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.

apa reference

Once again, remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.

Psychology Lab Report Example

Quantitative paper template.

Quantitative professional paper template: Adapted from “Fake News, Fast and Slow: Deliberation Reduces Belief in False (but Not True) News Headlines,” by B. Bago, D. G. Rand, and G. Pennycook, 2020,  Journal of Experimental Psychology: General ,  149 (8), pp. 1608–1613 ( https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000729 ). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.

Qualitative paper template

Qualitative professional paper template: Adapted from “‘My Smartphone Is an Extension of Myself’: A Holistic Qualitative Exploration of the Impact of Using a Smartphone,” by L. J. Harkin and D. Kuss, 2020,  Psychology of Popular Media ,  10 (1), pp. 28–38 ( https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000278 ). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.

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Lab Report Writing

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Lab Report - A Complete Writing Guide With Examples

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Published on: Jul 28, 2019

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Lab Report Writing

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Lab Report Format - Tips, Examples and Template

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Writing lab reports can be a challenging task for students. Many struggle with structuring their reports effectively and presenting their findings in a clear and concise manner.

This challenge often leads to lower grades and frustration among students, hindering their academic progress and confidence in scientific writing.

In this blog, we provide a comprehensive guide tailored specifically for students. 

We will walk you through the process of creating an outstanding lab report step by step to convey the experiment's purpose.

Let's embark on this journey of improving your lab report writing skills together.

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What is a Lab Report?

A lab report is a structured document that provides a detailed account of a scientific experiment or investigation.

It serves as a crucial tool for researchers and students alike, enabling them to communicate their findings, methods, and conclusions in a standardized and organized format.

Lab reports vary in format and requirements depending on the specific discipline and institution. They play a vital role in the scientific community by allowing others to evaluate and replicate research, contributing to the advancement of knowledge in various fields.

Lab Report Format

The lab report format is a critical element that ensures the clear and organized presentation of your scientific findings.

While specific requirements may vary between institutions and disciplines, here's a general lab report template to help you structure your lab report effectively:

Formatting Guidelines

Follow specific formatting instructions from your instructor or institution regarding font, margins, spacing, and citation style.

  • Use a clear and legible font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in 12-point size.
  • Double-space the entire report for readability.

How to Write a Lab Report?

Steps for writing a lab report

Writing a lab manual is a tricky job as it requires several important  parts. No matter which type of lab report you are writing and for which level, there is a basic writing structure that works for all.

When a student writes a report for the first time, it is essential to learn the basics. Without knowing the basics, the writing process can be challenging.  

The lab report writing consists of the following information:

  • The context of the study.
  • Contains pertinent background and information about the experiment. 
  • It is written in the passive past tense. Make sure you do not use present tense.
  • Contain the methods applied. 

If you are writing a lab report for your academics and instructor, make sure you are taking the right writing steps. The following are the steps in which a lab report is written.

Identify the Primary Goal

Before starting your lab report, make sure you understand the experiment.

  • What scientific question are you trying to answer?
  • What is the overall goal or purpose of your experiment?

Research and Background

To provide context for your experiment, research the relevant background information. This includes reviewing scientific literature, theories, and previous studies related to your topic.

Understanding what others have done in your field can help you position your experiment in the broader scientific context.

Write the Title and Abstract

The title and the abstract are the two most visible and striking parts of a lab report cover page.

The title should be concise but descriptive, giving readers an idea of what your experiment is about.

To make your title interesting, make sure that it reflects what you have done in the experiment and some interesting findings.

For your abstract, keep it concise. It should be based on just one paragraph of 200 words.

The abstract of a lab report contains the following information:

  • The primary motivation or purpose of the experiment
  • How does your experiment differ from the previous one?
  • The methodology used to obtain experimental results
  • Noteworthy findings, if any

Carefully Craft Introduction

The lab report introduction serves as a roadmap for readers, answering key questions and providing essential context.

  • What is the setting of the issue or problem?
  • What is the issue you are trying to solve?
  • Why is the problem important to discuss?
  • Is the problem solved, or is it still unsolved?

It outlines the problem's setting, the issue being addressed, and its significance.Additionally, it states whether the problem has been solved or remains unsolved.

In this section, you'll find information about:

  • Why was the problem so difficult to solve?
  • How did the writer solve the problem?
  • The circumstances in which the findings and results are applicable
  • Major key results
  • How have you organized your report?

Materials and Methods

In this section of your lab report, list all the materials, equipment, and chemicals used in your experiment. Include specific details such as quantities and measurements.

Provide a step-by-step account of how the experiment was conducted. This should be detailed enough for someone else to replicate your experiment.

Data Collection

During the experiment, record all data, observations, and measurements. Ensure accuracy and precision in your data collection.

In the results section, present your data in a clear and organized manner. Use tables, graphs, or charts to help readers visualize the data.

Label and caption each figure or table appropriately to explain what it represents.

In the discussion section, interpret what your results show. Explain the meaning of the data in the context of your research question and hypothesis.

Address any unexpected results and discuss potential experimental errors. Compare your findings with existing scientific knowledge and theories.

Conclude the Lab Report

Summarize the main findings of your experiment and their implications. Restate your hypothesis and indicate whether it was supported or rejected.

Explain the broader significance of the results of your research and how it contributes to the field.

Provide References

List all the sources you consulted during your research.

Cite them according to a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA) as per your institution's guidelines.

Lab Report Examples 

To give you a better understanding of the lab reports’ writing process and structure, we have gathered some helpful examples.

Go through these examples and write your lab report accordingly.

Guidelines to Write a Lab Report

Lab Report Sample Pdf

Sample Lab Report Biology

Lab Report Format Chemistry

Lab Report Writing Tips 

Writing a lab report can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can create a clear, concise, and informative document.

Here are some essential tips to help you craft an effective lab report:

  • Understand the Purpose: Before you start writing, grasp the purpose of your experiment. This way the reader can understand the research question, hypothesis, and the significance of your findings.
  • Follow the Structure: Adhere to the standard lab report structure. Each section has a specific purpose; make sure to address them all.
  • Be Clear and Concise: Use clear and straightforward language to convey your ideas. Avoid unnecessary jargon and jumbled sentences. 
  • Detail the Methods: Be specific about the materials, measurements, and techniques employed. This section should be precise enough for someone else to replicate your experiment.
  • Present Data Effectively: Use graphs, charts, tables and figures to present your data visually. Make sure to label all figures and tables appropriately, and include units for all measurements.
  • Interpret Results: In the discussion section, interpret your results and explain their significance. Compare your findings with existing literature and theories. Address any discrepancies or unexpected outcomes.

Lab reports can be challenging if you are writing them for the first time. If you want your report to be impressive, make sure it includes an overview of the complete experiment and an objective interpretation of the results.

Following this guide will let you plan your experiment and write its report in the most professional and accurate manner.

If you still find it difficult to write your lab report, get professional assistance from our report writing service . 

MyPerfectWords.com  is committed to providing the best reports for all fields and types of assignments. Our expert writers are trained to write accurate and precise lab reports to help you out. 

So hire our write my essay service now and get expert reports at affordable prices.

Frequently Asked Question

How many pages is a lab report.

A typical lab report should not have more than 10 pages. It needs to be single-spaced, and the font needs to be 12 points.

What is the main use of lab reports?

A laboratory report is a formal record of an experiment. It should discuss the objectives, procedures, and results. If you want to do the same experiment as someone else, they will know what to do because of your report.

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How to Write a Lab Report: Definition, Outline & Template Examples


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A lab report  is a document that provides a detailed description of a scientific experiment or study. The purpose of a lab report is to communicate the results of experimentation in a clear and objective manner. It typically includes sections such as introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and references.

In this blog post, you can find lots of helpful information on writing a lab report and its basics, including such questions:

  • What are lab reports?
  • Howto create an outline and structure reports?
  • How to write a lab report?
  • How to format your report?
  • Some extra tips and best practices to take into account.

Several exemplary laboratory report samples are also offered in this article. You are welcome to use them as an inspiration or reference material.  Need expert help? Contact our academic service in case you are looking for someone who can “ write my lab report .”

What Is a Lab Report?

Let’s start with the lab report definition and then dive deeper into details. A lab report is a document in which you present results of a laboratory experiment. Your audience may include your tutor or professor, your colleagues, a commission monitoring your progress, and so on. It’s usually shorter than a research paper and shows your ability to conduct and analyze scientific experiments.

Lab Report Definition

The purpose of a laboratory report is to fully share the results and the supporting data with whoever needs to see them. Thus, your laboratory report should be consistent, concise, and properly formatted. Both college and scientific lab reports must follow certain strict rules, particularly:

  • Use valid research data and relevant sources
  • Include enough information to support assumptions
  • Use formal wording appropriate for scientific discussions.

Let’s talk about these rules in more detail.

Lab Report Main Features

Wondering how to write a lab report ? First of all, such documents must be descriptive and formal. An average scientific lab report is expected to:

  • Display your own research results
  • Contain assumptions, proving or disproving some hypotheses
  • Present the evidence (lab data, statistics, and calculations) in a comprehensive manner
  • Be logical and concise.

Additionally, your school or institution may have its own very specific requirements, so make sure to check them before creating a report.

How Long Should a Lab Report Be?

First of all, lab reports need to be informative, so there is no need for making your writing too wordy. That being said, your paper’s volume will be defined by the specifics of your research. If its results are complicated and require much explaining, your paper isn’t going to be brief. Recommended lab report length varies between 5 and 10 pages, which should include all appendices such as tables or diagrams. You should also confirm such requirements with your tutor prior to planning your report.

Lab Report Structure

Plan ahead before writing your lab report. It is useful to keep its structure in mind from the very beginning. 

Lab Report Structure

Here is our detailed list of what to include in a lab report:

  • Title Page The first page must only include the experiment’s title along with its date, your name, your school’s name, and your professor’s name. All further descriptions and explanations should appear on the next pages.
  • Title Give a meaningful heading to your lab paper, so that it would help readers understand the basic purpose of your experiment and its background. However, don’t make it longer than 10 words.
  • Abstract This part is a formal summary of your lab experiment report. Provide all essential details here: what was the purpose of your research, why it was important, and what has been found and proven as a result of your controlled experiment . Keep it short, from 100 to 200 words.
  • Introduction Here you should provide more details about the purpose and the meaning of your research, as well as the problem definition. Related theories or previous findings can also be mentioned here. Particularly, you can refer to your previous lab reports on the same subject.
  • Methods An approach to solving selected problems is a critical part of a science lab report. You need to explain what methods you use and why they are optimal in this specific situation.
  • Procedure Provide a detailed explanation of all steps, measurements, and calculations you’ve performed while researching. Don’t forget about the chronology of these actions because this can be of crucial importance.
  • Results After you’ve described all the steps of your research process, present its results in an orderly fashion. It should be clear from your laboratory report how exactly they were obtained and what their meaning is.
  • Discussion In most cases any data derived from experiments can be interpreted differently and thus varying conclusions can be drawn. A scientific lab report must address such nuances and explain all assumptions its author has made.
  • Conclusion The lab report is expected either to confirm or to refute some hypotheses. Conclude your paper with clearly showing what has been proven or disproven based on your research results.
  • References As a scholarly work, your report must use valid sources for analysis and discussion of the results. You should provide proper references for these sources each time you are using certain data taken from them.
  • Graphs, Tables and Figures It is important to illustrate your findings when writing lab reports. The data you’ve obtained may be obvious for you, but not for your readers. Organize it into tables,  flow chart , or schemas and put these illustrative materials at the end of your lab report paper as appendices.

You should shape the structure of a lab report before writing its complete text by preparing a brief write-up, i.e. an outline. Below we’ll explain how it is done.

Lab Report Outline & Template

Preparing lab report outlines is useful for extra proofreading: you can review such a sketch and quickly find some gaps or inconsistencies before you’ve written the complete text. A good laboratory report outline must reflect the entire structure of your paper. After designing such a draft, you can use it as a lab report template for your next papers. It is highly advisable not to ignore this approach since it can boost your general academic performance in multiple other areas. Here is an example of a science lab report template:

Lab Report Outline Example

How to Write a Lab Report Step-By-Step?

Now, let’s discuss how to write a scientific lab report. You already know what elements it contains, so get ready for detailed laboratory report guidelines. We’ve collected helpful information for each step of this guide and broke it down into comprehensive sections. So, scroll down and learn how to write a good lab report without experiencing extra pains and making unnecessary mistakes.

How to Write a Lab Report in 9 Steps

1. Create a Strong Title

Before you write your lab report, think about a good title. It should help understand the direction and the intent of your research at the start, while not being too wordy. Make sure it is comprehensible for your tutor or peers, there is no need to explain certain specific terms because others are expected to know them. Here are several examples that could give you some ideas on how to name your own lab write up:

•  Effects of temperature decrease on Drosophila Melanogaster lifespan •  IV 2022 marketing data sample analysis using the Bayesian method •  Lab #5: measurement of fluctuation in 5 GHz radio signal strength •  Specific behavioral traits of arctic subspecies of mammals.

Also, check our downloadable samples for more great title suggestions or use our Title Generator to create one. 

2. Introduce Your Experiment

A good scientific lab report should contain some explanations of what is the meaning of your experiment and why you conduct it in the first place. Provide some context and show why it is relevant. While your professor would be well aware of it, others who might read your laboratory report, may not know its purpose. Mention similar experiments if necessary. As usual, keep it short but informative. One paragraph (100 – 150 words) would suffice. Don’t provide too many details because this might distract your readers. Here is an example of how a science lab report should be introduced:

Lower temperatures decrease the drosophila flies’ activity but also increase their lifespan. It is important to understand what temperature range is optimal, allowing them to feed and multiply and at the same time, increasing their lifespan to maximum. For this purpose, a strain of Drosophila Melanogaster has been observed for 3 months in an isolated lab under varying temperatures.

3. State the Hypothesis

When learning how to make a lab report, pay a special attention to the hypothesis part. This statement will be the cornerstone of your lab writing, as the entire paper will be built around it. Make it interesting, relevant, and unusual, don’t use well-researched topic or state obvious facts - exploring something really new is what makes your work worth time and effort. Here is an example of statement for your lab report sample:

The temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for Drosophila Melanogaster longevity and ability to multiply while being at a lower border of their normal zone of comfort.

4. Present the Methods and Materials

One of the key parts of a lab report is the section where you describe your assets and starting conditions. This allows any reviewers to understand the quality of your work and thus contributes to the credibility of your scientific lab write up. The following elements must be mentioned:

  • Research subjects E.g. raw data samples you analyze or people you interview.
  • Conditions Your experiment must be limited to certain space, time period or domain; and the factors influencing your independent and dependent variables need to be mentioned as well.
  • Methods You are expected to follow specific rules (e.g. from your lab manual) when analyzing your subjects and calculating your analysis results.
  • Materials Mention all tools and instruments employed to collect data and name each item model.

More lab report writing tips available below, so let’s keep on!

5. Explain Procedures

The core part of a lab report is describing the course of the experiment. This is where you explain how exactly the experiment has been conducted. Give all necessary information about each step you’ve taken, arranging all the steps in proper chronological order so that readers could clearly understand the meaning behind each action. The following procedure elements may be present in an experimental report:

  • Processing raw data
  • Observing processes
  • Taking measurements
  • Making calculations
  • Observing trends
  • Comparing calculation results to other researchers’ results or to some reference values, etc.

After you have finished describing your actions, it is time to summarize them, answer all remaining questions, and present your findings. Check out other tips on how to write lab reports in a few sections below and you’ll learn more about that. Need professional help? Buy lab reports at our writing service to get efficient solutions in a timely manner.

6. Share Your Results

After all the lab steps have been properly described, it is time to present the outcomes in your results section . Writing a good lab report means that it will be quite transparent for your reviewers how you’ve come to your results. So, make sure there is a clear connection between this part and the previous one. Don’t leave any gaps in your explanations, e.g. mention limitations if there are any. Tell if the captured statistical analysis data falls in line with the experiment's initial purpose. Describe sample calculations using clear symbols. Where necessary, include graphs and images. Your raw data may be extensive, so present it in the Appendix and provide a reference to it. Here’s an example of how to share the results when you create a lab report:

Average lifespan and average birth rate was measured for each group subjected to a different temperature range. Additionally, statistical methods have been applied to confirm the correctness of the results and to minimize potential errors. Lifespan and birth rate values corresponding to each temperature range can be found in the table below. Optimal combination of lifespan and birth rate corresponds to the range between 75 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit, as demonstrated by the figure (see Appendix A).

7. Discuss and Interpret Your Outcomes

When you write an experiment report, your main purpose is to confirm whether your thesis  (hypothesis) is true. That’s why you should give a clear explanation on how useful your results were for the problem investigation. Next, make sure to explain any dubious or controversial parts, if there are any. Science lab reports often contain contradictions to popular theories or unexpected findings. This may be caused by missing important factors, uncovering facts which have previously been overlooked, or just by fluctuations in experimental data. In any case, you need to study and address them in your lab report for the sake of clarity. If you need some data interpretation in a science lab report example, here’s an excerpt from a discussion section :

According to the research results, the optimal temperature for Drosophila Melanogaster appears to be at the low border of the comfortable range which is considered normal for this species. It contradicts existing theories about Drosophila Melanogaster. However, this discrepancy may be caused by the longevity factor not taken into account by previous researchers. Additional experiments with larger sample size and extended timeline are needed in order to further investigate the temperature effect on the longevity of Drosophila Melanogaster.

8. Wrap Up Your Lab Report

Final step of your laboratory report is to make a proper conclusion. Here you just summarize your results and state that your hypothesis has been confirmed (or disproven). Keep it short and don’t repeat any descriptions from the previous section. However, you may add some notes about the significance of your work. After finishing to write your lab report, don’t forget to read it again and check whether all its parts are logically connected with each other. Here is an example of a lab report last section:

As confirmed by the experiment conducted in an isolated laboratory on a limited population of Drosophila Melanogaster, the optimal temperature for both its longevity and activity is 75 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Certain contradictions with the existing theories can be explained by the longevity factor being overlooked during previous research. Hopefully, this experiment will pave the way for further exploration of the temperature effect on the lifespan of Drosophila Melanogaster.

9. Write Your Abstract

Another stage of lab report writing is composing its abstract. This part should be placed at the beginning of your paper in order to get your audience familiar with its contents. Make it brief, up to 200 words long, but make sure you’ve included the following information:

  • Problem statement description
  • Overview of materials, methods, and procedures

Abstracts of laboratory reports are delivered on separate pages. So, you can compose one after writing the entire text. This is another good chance to review your work while you are briefly describing its key parts. Check our detailed guide to get more information on how to write an abstract . Check below for more tips and hints on how to write a science lab report.

Lab Report Format

Learning how to format a lab report is crucial for its success. As all other scholarly papers, such reports must follow strict rules of presenting information. Make sure to find out which laboratory report format is required for your assignment. If there are no specific requirements, you may choose from the usual lab format styles, namely:

Depending on the scientific domain of your experiment, you might want to choose one or another lab write up format from that list. Particularly, the APA style paper is typically required in Humanities , while MLA style can be used for papers in Technologies or Applied Science . In any case, pay close attention to citation and reference rules, as each of these styles has strict requirements for that. A real lab report format example can be found below – note that it follows the APA guidelines.

Lab Report Examples

Need some good examples of lab reports in addition to all these guidelines? We’ve got some for you! Each sample lab report that can be found below is available for free and can be downloaded if needed. Feel free to use them as an inspiration for your own work or borrow some ideas, styles, or sources from them. Pick a laboratory reports sample from this list below: Lab report example 1


Example of lab report 2

Scientific lab report example 3

Please avoid copying anything from them into your paper as that would be considered plagiarism . Make sure you submit 100% original text for your assignments.

Tips on Writing a Lab Report

We hope this detailed information on how do you write a lab report will be useful. In addition, to make our guide even more convenient, here are some quick lab report writing tips:

  • Think things through before starting your research. Do you have enough data for it and can you organize appropriate conditions and equipment for conducting experiments?
  • Don’t skip writing the sketch version first. Outlines help to form lab reports layout and avoid logical gaps.
  • Take notes while conducting your experiment – unfortunately, it’s very easy to forget important details when you describe it later.
  • Double check yourself when making calculations. The more complicated they are, the more error-prone your entire report is.
  • Pick your sources carefully. You should only use valid and peer-reviewed scientific materials to retrieve empirical and theoretical information from.
  • Properly refer to each and every source you’ve used. Your lab writeup format is very important for your grades.
  • Pay attention to discussing weak points of your report. Try refuting your own results and hypothesis and see how you can counter that using actual data.
  • Maintain a formal tone and keep it straightforward. Don’t be too wordy and avoid providing irrelevant details.
  • Review your completed report several times, paying attention to layouts of different sections. If possible, ask some peer students or colleagues to do it for you – they might notice some missing details or weak assumptions.

Don’t forget to check our laboratory report example for more useful ideas.

Lab Report Checklist

Let’s summarize all the above information on how to do a lab report. We’ve prepared a short checklist for you. So, here’s what you should do in order to compose a great science lab report:

  • checkbox I completed all calculations on the experimental data and properly analyze my results.
  • checkbox I sketched my lab report layout by preparing its outline.
  • checkbox My thesis statement is strong.
  • checkbox I provided enough context in my intro.
  • checkbox I described methods, materials, and procedures in detail.
  • checkbox I conducted proper analysis, including all my calculations and assumptions in it.
  • checkbox I created illustrative materials if needed: tables, charts, figures etc.
  • checkbox All outcomes are discussed without omitting any of their weaknesses.
  • checkbox I wrote a brief but informative conclusion and show how the initial hypothesis has been confirmed or rejected.
  • checkbox I reviewed my laboratory report once again and wrote an abstract.
  • checkbox The title page and appendices are added.

Bottom Line on Lab Report Writing

In this article, we have prepared all necessary information on how to write a lab report. This should help you with your own research or studies, especially when it comes to complicated tasks, such as composing lab reports outline. Several lab reports examples are also available here. They are provided by real researchers and may help you a lot with ideas for your own work. Feel free to check them online or download them. Just remember that you should only submit 100% original content for your assignments.


Connect with our academic writing service and say ‘ write my college paper .’ With our help, you will receive papers of great quality and will never miss your deadline.

FAQ About Lab Reports

1. what is the difference between a lab report and a research paper.

A lab report should showcase your ability to conduct experiments and properly describe your actions and findings. It is focused on specific data and methods used to analyze it. A research paper is expected to reflect your investigation of a problem, including asking correct questions and finding relevant information about it.

2. Should I continue to write a lab report if an experiment failed?

It depends on your assignment. If your primary goal is to display your ability to document your steps and results, then you may report on a failed experiment too. Particularly, analyze the integrity of your data or conditions that were set and make an assumption about factors which led to the failure.

4. Should lab reports be written in the third person?

Yes, laboratory experiment reports usually present information in third person. The reason is that you are expected to focus on the data, methods, and findings, rather than on yourself or your audience. Check the samples available here and see what writing style is followed there.

3. What tense should a lab report be written in?

You should mostly use past tense in your paper, since your science experiment has already been conducted. But you can also speak in present tense when describing the context of problems which still exist. Check any template available here to get more clarity on this issue.

5. Where do I put calculations in a lab report?

Remember to follow our layout guidelines and put your calculations in the analysis section. This is where you process the results collected during your experiments. You can also make brief write ups about your calculations in the abstract paragraph or discussion section, but make sure they precede the description of outcomes.


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How to Format a Biology Lab Report

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If you are taking a general biology course or AP Biology , at some point you will have to do biology lab experiments. This means that you will also have to complete biology lab reports .

The purpose of writing a lab report is to determine how well you performed your experiment, how much you understood about what happened during the experimentation process, and how well you can convey that information in an organized fashion.

Lab Report Format

A good lab report format includes six main sections:

  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods

Keep in mind that individual instructors may have a specific format that they require you to follow. Please be sure to consult your teacher about the specifics of what to include in your lab report.

Title:  The title states the focus of your experiment. The title should be to the point, descriptive, accurate, and concise (ten words or less). If your instructor requires a separate title page, include the title followed by the name(s) of the project participant(s), class title, date, and instructors name. If a title page is required, consult your instructor about the specific format for the page.

Introduction:  The introduction of a lab report states the purpose of your experiment. Your hypothesis should be included in the introduction, as well as a brief statement about how you intend to test your hypothesis.

To be sure that you have a good understanding of your experiment, some educators suggest writing the introduction after you have completed the methods and materials, results, and conclusion sections of your lab report.

Methods and Materials:  This section of your lab report involves producing a written description of the materials used and the methods involved in performing your experiment. You should not just record a list of materials, but indicate when and how they were used during the process of completing your experiment.

The information you include should not be overly detailed but should include enough detail so that someone else could perform the experiment by following your instructions.

Results:  The results section should include all tabulated data from observations during your experiment. This includes charts, tables, graphs, and any other illustrations of data you have collected. You should also include a written summary of the information in your charts, tables, and/or other illustrations. Any patterns or trends observed in your experiment or indicated in your illustrations should be noted as well.

Discussion and Conclusion:  This section is where you summarize what happened in your experiment. You will want to fully discuss and interpret the information. What did you learn? What were your results? Was your hypothesis correct, why or why not? Were there any errors? If there is anything about your experiment that you think could be improved upon, provide suggestions for doing so.

Citation/References:  All references used should be included at the end of your lab report. That includes any books, articles, lab manuals, etc. that you used when writing your report.

Example APA citation formats for referencing materials from different sources are listed below.

  • Book Name of author or authors (last name, first initial, middle initial) Year of publication Title of book Edition (if more than one) Place where published (city, state) followed by a colon Publisher name For example: Smith, J. B. (2005). Science of Life. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Thompson Brooks.
  • Journal Name of author or authors (last name, first initial, middle initial) Year of publication Article title Journal title Volume followed by issue number (issue number is in parenthesis) Page numbers For example: Jones, R. B. & Collins, K. (2002). Creatures of the desert. National Geographic. 101(3), 235-248.

Your instructor may require that you follow a specific citation format. Be sure to consult your teacher concerning the citation format that you should follow.

What Is an Abstract?

Some instructors also require that you include an abstract in your lab report. An abstract is a concise summary of your experiment. It should include information about the purpose of the experiment, the problem being addressed, the methods used for solving the problem, overall results from the experiment, and the conclusion drawn from your experiment.

The abstract typically comes at the beginning of the lab report, after the title, but should not be composed until your written report is completed. View a sample lab report template .

Do Your Own Work

Remember that lab reports are individual assignments. You may have a lab partner, but the work that you do and report on should be your own. Since you may see this material again on an exam , it is best that you know it for yourself. Always give credit where credit is due on your report. You don't want to plagiarize the work of others. That means you should properly acknowledge the statements or ideas of others in your report.

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Example of a well-written lab report.

Return to Laboratory report Instruction main page Example of a poorly written lab report

(single-spaced to conserve paper; yours should be double-spaced to leave room for comments)

Ontogenetic Color Change and Mating Cues in Largus californicus (Hemiptera: Largidae)

Carey Booth Box 123 Biology 102 2 February 1995 Lab instructor: Ned Knight Lab day: Friday

Ontogenetic color change at sexual maturation can be useful in identifying an appropriate mate for some organisms. Largus californicus individuals undergo two ontogenetic color changes. First instars are bright red, second through fifth instars are shiny blue-black, and adults are black with orange markings. Adult male mating behavior suggested that the change in color from fifth instars to adults might enable males to discriminate between nymphs and adults. Males mount adults and persist if they have mounted a female and quickly release if they have mounted another male. Males were never observed to mount nymphs. Female color patterns were altered and male's copulatory attempts were timed to determine if color pattern was used by males in mating decisions. The null hypothesis that dorsal color pattern does not significantly affect male mating behavior could not be rejected, therefore the significance of the color change from nymph to adult must be sought elsewhere.


Ontogenetic color change at the time of sexual maturation has been shown to be advantageous to fish (Fricke 1980), reptiles (Werner, 1978), and birds (Lyon and Montgomerie, 1986). In general, dull-colored juveniles avoid predation risk and harassment by breeding males, and sexually mature individuals use bright colors to advertise their readiness to mate (Booth, 1990a). In insects, mating cues are often chemical rather than visual (Jacobson, 1972), but there are some exceptions. In diurnal Lepidoptera, adult color pattern plays an important role in the initial phase of mating behavior (Graham et al., 1980). In holometabolous insects, such as Lepidoptera, maturation is associated with dramatic morphological changes, therefore distinguishing between larvae and adults for mating attempts is not difficult. The recognition of maturity is more difficult in hemimetabolous insects where late instars may be similar to adults in size and shape. The possibility that ontogenetic color change in some Hemiptera may have evolved as an indication of maturation has not been investigated experimentally.

The mating behavior of male Largus californicus suggests that males may be using visual cues, perhaps in addition to pheromonal cues, to distinguish between fifth instars and adults for mating attempts. Fifth instars are shiny blue-black and almost adult-sized. Adults (both males and females) are black with orange borders around the thickened portion of the hemelytra and pronotum (Booth, 1990b). Although males were never observed to mount nymphs, they do mount other adults, and persist if they have mounted a female or release within a few seconds if they have mounted another male. Their distinctive courtship behavior allows an observer to identify immediately the initiation of a mating event. This consists of the male orienting towards the female when he is approximately 1 cm away, rapidly waving his antennae, leaping onto the female's back, and agitatedly grabbing the female with his legs. As their genitals do not immediately join, it is possible to separate a pair before they actually mate.

These bugs do not fly and are easily handled and painted without significantly disrupting their normal behavior. Experiments were designed to determine if males use color cues in their mating decision and if their behavior could explain the significance of the ontogenetic color change from fifth instars to adults. The null hypothesis that dorsal color pattern does not significantly affect male mating behavior was tested.

Materials and Methods

The experiment was performed outdoors at the Main Campus Reserve at the University of California, Santa Barbara on January 31, 1988. Bugs were collected from the Reserve on the morning of the testing day. Tests were performed when the bugs are normally active (1030 to 1430 hours) and control tests were interspersed between experimental tests so that time of day, temperature, cloudiness, and other environmental variables would be approximately the same between experiment and control.

An acrylic black paint and clear finish were used in each treatment. The first treatment was black paint and clear finish on the ventral surface of the female to control for the smell of the paints without altering the black and orange pattern on the dorsum. The second treatment was clear finish on the dorsum to control for covering the dorsal surface, which may reduce any scent emitted or otherwise affect the female's behavior. The third treatment was black paint on the dorsum to mimic the color of the fifth instars. The three treatments will be referred to as normal, clear, and black for brevity.

One female was used for all three treatments to hold other aspects (size, shape, scent) of the female's attractiveness constant. The order of presentation of the three treatments was necessarily the same for all males, as the one female in each experiment could only have black paint added after the normal and clear treatments. This design allows for a repeated measures analysis of variance as each male is tested with the same female under three different paint conditions.

After each painting, the female was placed in a clear plastic 9 x 7 x 3 cm box. Males were held separately in labeled plastic petri dishes. Each male was introduced one at a time into the box at the point farthest from the female. He was removed when he mounted the female or after an arbitrarily chosen time of 270 seconds had elapsed, whichever came first. The time to mount or 270 seconds (no-mount) was recorded. The pair was separated before their genitalia joined so no actual mating occurred. After all 15 males were tested, the female was painted for the next treatment and the males were tested in the same order.

To control for the possibility of males tiring by the second or third trial, a similar number of different males were tested three times each with one untreated female; i.e. no changes were made to the female between trials. Trials were alternated between experimental and control males throughout the day of testing. A total of two females (one experimental and one control) and 29 males (15 experimental and 14 control) were used.

Statistical analyses were performed using the StatView program on a Macintosh microcomputer. One-way, repeated measures ANOVAs were used to test for differences in males' time to mount among the three treatments and among the three control trials.

No significant differences were found in males' time to mount among the three treatments or among the three control trials based on a repeated measures ANOVA (Table 1). Males mounted black painted females as readily as females with the typical black and orange pattern.

There was a slight, but not significant, increase in male's mean time to mount for the black treatment as compared to the normal and clear treatments (Figure 1). The 95% confidence intervals were also larger for the black treatment. The first control trial had a slightly larger, but not significantly different, male's mean time to mount as compared to the second and third trials (Figure 2). The male's mean times to mount were lower for the three control trials than for the three experimental treatments.

Because the maximal time males were allowed to stay in the box without mounting the female was chosen arbitrarily, the one case where a male did not mount the female within the allotted 270 seconds could have biased the results (Table 1). After excluding the mount time for the male that failed to mount, the results did not differ qualitatively from the above: no significant differences were found.

By using one female for all three color treatments, any non-color aspects of the female's attractiveness were held constant. As the null hypothesis (that males' time to mount is not significantly affected by color of the female) was not rejected, males evidently used those other traits in seeking a mate. The male behavior of mounting other adults (male or female) and not nymphs may indicate that there are pheromonal differences between nymphs and adults but not between adult males and females. Males release other males rapidly once contact has been made, so chemical cues transferred by touch or other close range signals (such as sound) may be used to distinguish males from females. There are slight shape differences between nymphs and adults (nymphs are more spherical) that could possibly be used by males in mating decisions. Other experiments are necessary to determine the nature of the communication between adults and between adults and nymphs.

Among hemipterans, several species use pheromones as mating cues. Males of the southern green stink bug (Nezara viridula) release a pheromone that attracts females, males, late-stage nymphs, and a parasitoid (Aldrich et al., 1987). Females of Dysdercus cingulatus and Pyrrhocoris apterus also produce substances attractive to males (Osmani and Naidu, 1967; Zdarek, 1970). As these last two species are in the same superfamily (Pyrrhocoroidea) as L. californicus, it is possible that L. californicus females also produce a pheromone that is attractive to males. However, several species in the family Largidae, including L. cinctus (a close relative of L. californicus), have minimal development of the metathoracic scent gland evaporative area (Schaefer, 1972), so their use of pheromonal communication may be limited. The use of pheromones does not rule out the possibility that visual cues may also be important.

Aldrich, J. R., J. E. Oliver, W. R. Lusby, J. P. Kochansky and J. A. Lockwood. 1987. Pheromone strains of the cosmopolitan pest, Nezara viridula (Heteroptera: Pentatomidae). J. Exp. Zool. 244: 171-175.

Booth, C. L. 1990a. Evolutionary significance of ontogenetic colour change in animals. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 40: 125-163.

Booth, C. L. 1990b. Biology of Largus californicus (Hemiptera: Largidae). Southwestern Naturalist 35: 15-22.

Fricke, H. W. 1980. Juvenile-adult colour patterns and coexistence in the territorial coral reef fish Pomacanthus imperator. Mar. Ecol. 1: 133-141.

Graham, S. M., W. B. Watt and L. F. Gall. 1980. Metabolic resource allocation vs. mating attractiveness: Adaptive pressures on the "alba" polymorphism of Colias butterflies. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 77: 3615-3619.

Jacobson, M. 1972. Insect sex pheromones. Academic Press, New York.

Lyon, B. E. and R. D. Montgomerie. 1986. Delayed plumage maturation in passerine birds: reliable signaling by subordinate males? Evolution 40: 605-615.

Osmani, Z. and M. B. Naidu. 1967. Evidence of sex attractant in female Dysdercus cingulatus Fabr. Indian J. Exp. Biol. 5: 51.

Schaefer, C. W. 1972. Degree of metathoracic scent-gland development in the trichophorous Heteroptera (Hemiptera). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 65: 810-821.

Werner, D. I. 1978. On the biology of Tropidurus delanonis, Baur (Iguanidae). Z. Tierpsychol. 47: 337-395.

Zdarek, J. 1970. Mating behaviour in the bug, Pyrrhocoris apterus L. (Heteroptera): ontogeny and its environmental control. Behaviour 37: 253-268.

Table 1. Repeated measures ANOVA on males' time to mount female (in seconds).

a Males' copulatory attempts were timed from point of entry into female container.

b SEM = standard error of the mean

c F = F statistic

d df = degrees of freedom for numerator, denominator

e P = probability value

f Each Largus californicus male was tested with the same female under three different paint conditions. Black and clear paint on the dorsum = Normal treatment. Clear paint on the dorsum = Clear treatment. Black paint on the dorsum = Black treatment to mimic the color of the fifth instar larva.

g Different males were tested three times each with one untreated female = Control trials 1-3.

Figure 1: Mean male mount time (sec) with 95% confidence intervals under three experimental conditions. Each Largus californicus male was tested for time to mount (attempting copulation) with the same female under three different paint conditions. Normal = Black and clear paint on the dorsum to control for odor of paints. Clear = Clear paint on the dorsum to control for covering the dorsal surface. Black = Black paint on the dorsum to mimic the color of the fifth instar larva.

Figure 2: Mean male mount time (sec) with 95% confidence intervals for three control trials. Different Largus californicus males were tested for time to mount (attempting copulation) three times each with one untreated female to control for order of presentation in the experimental treatments.


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    Example of a well-written lab report. Return to Laboratory report Instruction main page Example of a poorly written lab report (single-spaced to conserve paper; yours should be double-spaced to leave room for comments) Ontogenetic Color Change and Mating Cues in Largus californicus (Hemiptera: Largidae). Carey Booth Box 123 Biology 102 2 February 1995 Lab instructor: Ned Knight Lab day: Friday