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What Is a Lab Report?
According to a report by DoSomething.org, about 92% of experimental drugs deemed safe and effective in animals are either too dangerous or ineffective in human clinical trials. This lab report proves how different animals are likely to react to scientific compounds compared to humans. If we didn’t have a lab report to prove this fact, we could be putting the lives of everyday consumers at risk.
Lab reports are written to define the procedure done to explore a scientific concept. Apart from presenting data, the report also demonstrates the author’s full comprehension of the concepts behind the discoveries. Showing that you understand the principles of the experiment proves your careful analysis of the results as well. Lab reports also help identify the reasons why a certain phenomenon occurred following another incident that might have triggered it. This records what happened, why it happened, and what it signifies in relation to your objectives to serve as evidence for a broader study.
The Importance of Lab Reports
Writing a physics lab report to pass the class might have been one of the most daunting episodes of your student life. Since they were only a requirement back then, you probably didn’t pay much attention to its purpose. Not many people seem to realize how lab report writing can be an integral part of the scientific process. It’s not enough to learn facts out of a book, as laboratory experiments offer us a unique learning experience that no publication could ever do. And in the process of conducting the experiment, lab reports allow us to document our findings on paper.
Lab report writing might not have been fun back then, but it has helped many professionals in different fields of study. In terms of evidence-based laboratory medicine, studies estimate that 70% of all health care decisions affecting the diagnosis or treatment of a patient involve a pathology investigation based on lab reports. You can just imagine how many more discoveries were made based on that report alone.
There are a ton of reasons why lab reports are a significant part of any experiment. For one, it helps us understand a procedure by recording what happened. Being able to understand the process of deriving a result is just as important as the outcome itself. This is where the real learning experience comes to play. You get to collect and organize data for the experiment, share the information you’ve acquired from the procedure, and see where this information takes you. It’s safe to say that writing a lab report is one way to sharpen your skills in effectively communicating the complexities of a scientific experiment. The same skill can also be valuable in other areas of study or interest.
How to Write a Lab Report
Lab reports are an essential part of any scientific experiment. It communicates the procedures and results of an experiment in a coherent manner for others to grasp. But there is nothing simple about the process itself, as writing a formal report on a complex subject is far from easy. After weeks of conducting the experiment, you have finally found something worth sharing with the rest of the world. The only way you could relay this information to a targeted audience is if you could write a report explaining the events that occurred throughout the study. This may seem like an overwhelming amount of work to do but with the right steps, you should be able to create an informative lab report for your readers.
Step 1: Outline the Structure of Your Report
Start by drafting your report on a separate piece of paper. Like a regular business report, a lab report should consist of several sections for each aspect of the process. This will guide you in turning a blank page into a finished document. To ensure a logical flow of information, begin with section headings and leave spaces between them for your subsections and experiment details. The goal here is to create an overview of the topic by capturing the proper structure and form of the report. Make use of organizational tools available in the word processor you are using to note down important matters to remember later on.
Step 2: Create an Introduction
The first two elements of the report are the most crucial. Your title and abstract will be the most visible pages to first-time readers who want to find out how the report can help them with their study. The key is to create a title and abstract that can leave a positive impact on your peers. It should reflect the entire report as a whole and bring out any interesting factors of your work that are worth emphasizing.
Be mindful of what you put in the abstract as it carries the very essence of your lab report. Most researchers only read the abstract of the material before deciding to flip through the rest of its contents. If you can capture a person’s attention with your abstract, your introduction should then give the reader a better glimpse of the topic.
Step 3: Construct the Body of Your Study
Now for the meat of your report, describe the materials or theories used to conduct the experiment. Do this without overwhelming your audience with pounds of information they won’t be able to grasp quickly. If necessary, mention similar researches that inspired you to expand the topic even further through a new approach. Be sure to differentiate your report from those past works to explain what makes your experiment novel to the field of interest. You can compare your report to that of a related study in terms of its functionality, performance, approach, implementation, and outcome. Feel free to use a table or graph to set forth these differences.
If your experiment yielded abundant results, you’ll want to summarize these points in a way that is easy to digest for readers to remember.
Step 4: Formulate a Conclusion
To close your report, discuss the data and results of the experiment in the last section of the document. This will require you to make a logical connection between an existing theory or knowledge and your findings. It’s also a good idea to point out the limitations of your report by addressing them explicitly. Not only will this information be useful to future researchers, but it can also establish trust and respect between you and your audience. Be sure to keep your conclusion as precise as possible by focusing on the main findings of your lab. In most cases, this comes in a single paragraph to sum up what happened in the experiment and to demonstrate what the results mean.
Step 5: Reference Your Sources
If pieces of your report were based on someone else’s work, always give credit where credit is due. This includes introductions to theories and other facts cited within the document. Whether it’s a book, journal, magazine, or any online publication of previous works that were consulted in making the report, all these must be listed on the reference section of the final material. Standard practice is to list your references in the APA style to ensure uniformity with the rest of your technical reports.
The Dos and Don’ts of a Lab Report
What you write on paper is an actual account of what you’ve done and uncovered during a laboratory experiment. Think of it as a personal diary that takes readers on a journey of what went down in the given experiment. This is an opportunity for you to get your thoughts across in a manner that the reader can understand. Unfortunately, even after writing over a dozen lab reports in your years as a student, you might still struggle with the process. If you aren’t confident enough to make the report on your own, the following guide should be helpful.
1. Do make it specific.
The best lab reports tell a reader exactly what the paper is about. It should be descriptive yet distinctive to clearly indicate the topic being tackled. Make sure the title includes the subjects of the laboratory test as well. So if it consists of multiple parts, specifying the method taken and subject studied in their order of importance is one way to keep the report organized. Avoid using abbreviations and wordy texts. Technical terms may be used as long as you don’t do so excessively. Making the material too detailed will often cause readers to lose their train of thought, which is why lab reports must be as straightforward as possible to keep readers focused on the main point.
2. Do include values.
Statistical data must be added where applicable. Most people like to skip the explanation and go straight to what’s valuable. Numbers and variables are a key part of any type of lab report as they make it easier for both researchers and readers to compare results and figure out where they are derived from. Including units whenever you state a statistical value is also necessary, as quantitative descriptions can often be more helpful than qualitative definitions. This is especially important for scientific experiments that are relatively complex and require the accurate delivery of information.
3. Do insert general background information.
When writing the introduction of your lab report, be sure to expound the basic concepts and terms that are being covered in the document. You can also include a section for the review of related literature to show how past experiments differ from yours and the things they lack which prompted you to conduct a similar test. Readers would also want to know the objectives of your experiment, so remember to define the aims of your study at the beginning of the lab report. Be considerate of other researchers that might want to use your report as a reference by providing sufficient information to support their study.
4. Do number and title tables and figures.
For quick reference, always number and title every single table and figure included in the report. It’s one way to shorten your text and make the data you are referring to easier to find. Be sure to separate the two as well, especially if you’re creating a lengthy report. Since you’ve already presented your data in a table or figure form, there’s no reason to repeat what it contains once more. This will only make your paper appear redundant and confusing. Instead, you can indicate the number of the table or figure you are referring to for readers to be guided.
5. Do briefly summarize results.
Go straight to the point. Lab reports are technical documents that relay information as it is. If you want people to understand the results of your experiment, creating a brief summary of your findings would be the most practical option. It’s best to present everything, including the descriptive and inferential statistics, logically in this section for readability and clarity reasons. Also, you want to avoid making conclusions that are not directly supported by your data. Raw data should also be excluded in the final copy. Otherwise, the credibility of your lab report would be questionable.
1. Don’t introduce irrelevant topics.
Lab reports need to be short and concise to deliver information with clarity. Maintaining a rational flow of information, with no speed bumps in between, is one way to keep readers hooked on an idea. Hence, don’t mention anything that is unrelated to your main content. It may seem tempting to expound a concept by referencing something closely similar to the topic being discussed, but if it pays no importance to your objective, don’t include it. This will only lengthen your report and cause readers to drift away from the point you are trying to convey.
2. Don’t describe results from another study.
Once you begin discussing the results of your lab experiment, don’t make any reference to the findings of a different source. This will likely mislead readers and cause them to interpret your report a lot differently than intended. The last thing you want to do is interrupt someone’s way of processing information. You also want to avoid forming speculations or interpretations about your results without basing it off the facts. It’s best to keep the focus on your study and your study only so as not to confuse readers with the results drawn from a separate experiment.
3. Don’t repeat concepts already introduced.
If you’ve explained a concept in the introduction of your lab report, the succeeding parts of the material should focus on expanding the idea even further for better understanding. After all, there’s no reason to repeat what has already been mentioned at the very beginning of your report if you fail to mention anything that might be useful to the reader. You can also add physiologically relevant explanations for your data whenever possible, just as long as you use references to prove its significance to the topic.
4. Don’t reference unpublished materials.
Lecture notes, PowerPoints, and other unpublished materials cannot be used as a reliable reference for your lab report. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a class discussion presented by your professor. If you can’t cite the original source of the data, refrain from using it as a reference. Not only does it affect the credibility of your report, but it’s likely to show data that is inconsistent with yours. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time with a report that utilizes information provided by an unknown author with an uncertain background of the topic.
5. Don’t forget to review it.
Never submit or publish a lab report without checking it for errors. While in the process of drafting the document, you might have committed a few mistakes here and there. Grammar and spelling errors may be forgivable, but typos that lead to the incorrect conveyance of data is bound to cause problems in your report. It could be anything from missing a number or lacking a unit that could change the way a person interprets your data. Thus, it won’t hurt to double-check the entire report for anything that might have been missed. Revisions should then follow before submitting the report.
Keeping a record of your laboratory activities can come as an advantage in many ways. But students and professionals alike know how challenging it is to write a lab report that is informative enough to give the next person a better idea of the scientific concept being studied. With the guidelines above, you should be able to make a comprehensive lab report with ease.