Lab experiments allow you to observe scientific concepts in action and practice research techniques. A lab report provides a formal record of an experiment, specific enough so that an experiment can be replicated by others. As a student in the sciences, you’ll find that lab reports are a common way for you to share your own scientific knowledge.
Click on the Timeline for a visual representation of the timeline. Click on the Checklist for a document containing the checklist items for a lab report.
For help with pre-lab planning, see the handout, Preparing for Your Lab.
Your stepsClick on the steps to expand or collapse.Expand All Steps (+)
Step 1: Write your introduction
Use the research you gathered and thought about in your pre-lab work to prepare the introduction to your lab report. The introduction to a lab report usually includes the following elements:
- Background information about scientific concepts related to the lab
- The lab's purpose
- The lab's objective(s)
- Your hypothesis for the experiment
- Reasons for your hypothesis
For additional help, check out WriteOnline.ca (Section D > Introduction).
Step 2: Write your materials and methods
Write a story of the methodology you followed. As you describe your process, refer to equipment and analytical tools you used. Your goal is not to make a list but to write a precise account.
You should provide only those details needed to conduct the experiment. Avoid a discussion of procedures and tools that your classmates would be familar with. WriteOnline.ca (Section D > Methods and Materials) explains what to include in your materials and methods section.
Step 3: Develop tables and graphs. Write a summary of your results
What did you observe? Your goal is to show trends, patterns, and relationships in your data. Your first step is to develop tables and graphs that help you tell a story of what you observed. Next, incorporate these visuals into a written story of these outcomes. Remember: write about what you saw, not why it happened. Your results section should include:
- A introductory summary of your significant observations and the trend(s) you see;
- The body paragraphs where you highlight your observations;
- Visuals (graphs, tables, figures) that serve as evidence for the observations.
Step 4: Discussion section prep.: Analyze your results
You are now ready to think more deeply about what your results mean. Why did you get the results you did? How do these results differ from previous studies, other class experiments, or even other classmate’s findings? What are the implications of those differences? Review the WCC's resource, Moving from research to writing: How to think. The following strategies can help you analyze the significance of your results:
- Re-read your lab notes.
- Compare your findings with others in the class.
- Find and read articles or other material related to your lab experiment (Keep track of your sources as you go. You’ll need to prepare a reference section later).
Step 5: Write your discussion
Use the research and analysis you completed in Step 4 to critically reflect on your experiment and its results. Consult your lab manual, TA, or instructor for specifics about what to include. A discussion section can include the following parts:
- A summary of your findings
- An explanation of your findings (Why did you get the results you did?)
- A comparison of your results with previous research or other findings
- A discussion of the weaknesses and limitations of your experiment
- An analysis of the significance of the results (What do the results mean? So what?)
- Recommendations for future research
For more information on writing the Discussion, check out WriteOnline.ca (Section D > Discussion).
Step 6: Write your conclusion
A typical lab report conclusion usually includes a brief summary of the following:
- The lab's purpose and methods
- The results of the experiment
- The significance of the results
- Any errors, limitations, or inconsistencies you noticed
For undergraduate lab reports, the lab itself is a learning experience. So, your summary should also focus on what you learned about the concepts behind the experiment.
Consult your lab manual, TA, or instructor for specifics about what to include. For more information, check out WriteOnline.ca (Section D > Conclusion)
Step 7: Write the abstract. Prepare a bibliography.
An abstract is a brief summary of your report (about 100-200 words) placed at the beginning of the paper. The abstract should contain the following information:
- The objectives of the lab and your primary hypothesis
- A brief description of the procedures
- A short conclusion of the overall findings and how they relate to your original hypothesis
- An explanation of your conclusions
- The scientific concepts you learned during the lab
Your bibliography should contain reference information for all the sources you used to write your report. It is formatted according to the citation style guide recommended in your lab manual or by your instructor. Take a look at citing sources from UWaterloo Library. Using reference management software helps you manage your citations as you write. Use tools such as RefWorks and Write-N-Cite for building your bibliography.
Step 8: Put the lab report in final form. Revise and edit.
Take one final look at the formatting of your document, images, and references. Consult your lab handbook and TA for more information on specific formatting procedures.
As with all writing, the first draft of your lab report is likely to have omissions, problems with organization and clarity, and grammatical or spelling errors. For a successful report, take time to revise and edit your work. For help with revising and editing, check out WriteOnline.ca (Section E).
You can also refer to WriteOnline.ca (Section C > see Scientific writing) to learn more about scientific writing standards.