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A Laboratory Report: Purposes and Guidance

Laboratory report is a paper that is written to describe a certain experiment. It may serve various purposes.

One is to inform the management that the laboratory experiment has taken place and has the following results.

Another purpose is quite simple yet very important. The lab report archives the experiment and prevents others from doing the superfluous job of performing the same experiment again.

And certainly, the report opens an avenue for further scientific development. Based on the experiment’s results, researchers in the respective area may prove or disprove hypotheses, open up new research lines and compile statistics. Certainly, the same is done within the report itself by its author (or authors). Even if the findings in the report don’t confirm the author’s hypothesis, they are all the same valuable.

Usually a lab report assumes various interpretations of the performed experiment and the authors need not provide just a single explanation. However, that strongly depends on the situation. If you are dealing with one of the last experiments in a project, the results may serve as final proofs confirming its hypothesis. In most cases, a well staged experiment provides voluminous statistical and factual information, so a lab report may serve a valuable source of empirical data and primary analysis.

However, more solid analysis is somewhere beyond the scope of a correct lab report. Even a good hypothesis is usually formulated based on more than one experiments (and correspondingly on more than one lab reports). That only confirms the statement that each scientific genre should have its own clear purpose.

How to write a lab report

In producing a lab report, many factors actually matter, including tradition. Thus, a traditional lab report should be written in passive voice (“a study was conducted by Smith on…”). However, presently you may easily use the active voice. That is, it is absolutely normal to write “Smith   conducted a study on…” But certainly the author should keep the voice the same (or consistent) throughout the report.

The report outline is largely standard, though with some peculiarities. A lab report usually begins with abstract and introduction and has a conclusive section. However, the report’s body is normally presented by a section of procedures, where the author describes the experiment itself, and a section of results and discussions. Besides, a lab report very often includes appendices, which are in many cases indispensable elements as they contain the experiment’s detailed results.

Abstract

In a lab report, abstract usually represents a synopsis of the conducted experiment. The abstract section should be written concisely and with a minimum number of abbreviations. Scientific language, especially in technological areas, usually includes many abbreviations. But the abstract is not the right place for them.

Although the abstract assumes that the reader has a basic knowledge of the subject, it is still intended to serve as a brief presentation of the whole paper for broad public. So everything should be clear even for non-specialists.

For the same reason, abstract is usually “complete in itself”. Also it should not contain figures, tables or citations. In the opening phrases, the author indicates the subject and sets the objective(s) of the whole report. The abstract’s body should provide newly observed facts and basic numeral results. There may be general methods used in the experiment, the degree of accuracy and other information important in characterizing the described research effort, but in a concise form.

Abstract is almost always typed as one paragraph

Introduction

In the introductory part, the author identifies the experiment, as well as its objectives and importance. Besides, there is a theoretical background that includes predictions of the experiment’s results. The objectives stated in the Introduction will be analyzed in the paper’s Conclusion, where the author defines whether the experiment succeeded or not.

Procedures

The section of Procedures describes the experiment itself, that is, how it actually occurred. For that reason, the other widespread name of this section, “Methods”, seems to be less exact. The section includes such a top important element as the experiment’s documentation.

The form of presentation in the Procedures section is marked with tradition. Historically laboratory experiments have been described from the first person (“I conducted…”). And most modern time lab reports still are first-person narratives, which is actually a great way of representing nearly all kinds of information.

A chief requirement for the Procedures section is the sufficient information depth. A useful measure for the assessment of a lab report is the possibility to replicate the experiment based solely on the report’s materials. Indeed, it is logical and clear: if a specialist fails to repeat your experiment based on your report, then your report is poor and unsatisfactory.

Results and Discussion

That part is definitely the core of the whole report. However, it is difficult to provide any strict rules or suggestions concerning this section, because the details here are largely determined by particular experiments and by the purpose of the lab report. In the discussion on the results, don’t forget to devote part of the volume to the experiment’s implications and prospects. Certainly, the errors made in the course of the experiments should be thoroughly analyzed and the section of Results and Discussion is the right place for such an analysis.

Conclusions

Except for very short lab reports, there is a section of conclusions. Here the author defines if the experiment has succeeded. If not, the reasons of the failure should be mentioned.

Appendices

Appendices are needed in lab reports to present data that are too detailed to fit within the report’s body section. If the experiment has produced a voluminous array of data in a tabular form, the tables are usually placed in the Appendices, while in the reports are corresponding graphs, which are more compact. Also, the Appendices section may include the experiment’s results with no direct relation to its objectives.

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