Skip to Content
Skip to Case Study Report Navigation
Skip to Lab Report Navigation
Skip to Reflective Writing Navigaiton
Skip to Literature Review Navigaiton
Skip to Help Navigation

Lab Report Icon Lab Report
Prepared by University of Waterloo

Section A: Overview

In this section you will learn the basics of writing a lab report: what a lab report is, what it looks like, and what writing conventions you should use. You’ll also be introduced to different types of lab reports.

What will I learn?

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  • describe the structure of a standard lab report, and
  • explain the unique features of lab report writing.

Overview

In this resource, we cover the requirements of a Standard Lab Report. However, your instructor may require a different type of organization and content. As you use this tutorial it is always advisable to check with your instructor about what is expected in your lab report.

What is a Lab Report?

Lab reports are a primary mode of delivering scientific information to other researchers. As a student in the sciences, you’ll find that lab reports are a common way for you to share your own scientific knowledge.

Scientific research is a group activity, and scientists are constantly working with others. Although individual scientists or small groups perform an experiment to test a hypothesis, they do so to broaden the knowledge of their entire scientific community. Additionally, their work must be repeated and tested, which is the hallmark of the scientific method. These findings are communicated through lab reports and other scientific documents.

Why Do We Write Lab Reports?

Scientists, including you, write lab reports for two reasons:

  1. to document the findings of an experiment
  2. to communicate their significance

First, they’re looking, quite simply, for information. What scientific question is being asked? Why is that hypothesis being proposed? What were the methods used in the experiment? What do the results mean?

Second, readers want to know whether the research findings are legitimate and useful. Were the methods accurate? Were the results biased in any way? Can the experiment be replicated?

How Are Lab Reports Unique?

Different situations call for different kinds of writing. In this respect, the sciences are no different than other disciplines. Like all writing formats, lab reports have a number of characteristics that set them apart from other kinds of writing. You’ll see these differences, namely, in the structure of the report and the writing style. You can read more about the structure of a lab report below. For information about scientific writing style, check out "What Should I Keep in Mind?”

Structure of a Standard Lab Report

So far, we’ve been discussing the parts of a standard lab report. However, there are, in fact, different kinds of lab reports. Depending on the design and purpose of a lab, scientists categorize lab reports as Standard, Self-Designed or Descriptive.

Although the differences are slight, they can influence how you write your lab report. In this entire lab report guide, we explain what you need to write a Standard Lab Report. The following information highlights the content typically found in a standard lab report as well as the differences you may encounter if you write a descriptive or self-designed report.

A Standard Lab Report is written for a lab where you develop and test a hypothesis and is organized into nine parts. If you’ve never written a science paper before, you’ll notice that a lab report contains sections that are quite different from a typical five-paragraph essay.

Below, you’ll find both an outline of a Standard Lab Report and an example of what a completed lab report looks like:

  1. Title page: Separate cover page for the entire document; includes the title and author information
  2. Abstract: Summary of the entire report, printed on a separate page
  3. Introduction: Presentation of background information, research goals, hypotheses, and explanation for the hypotheses
  4. Methods and Materials: Discussion of the materials and methods used in the experiment and analysis
  5. Results: Presentation of data resulting from the experiment
  6. Discussion: Interpretation of data presented in the results section, including experimental limitations
  7. Conclusion: Brief summary of the report, with a particular focus on interpretation of the data and future recommendations
  8. References: Catalogue of research used to write the report
  9. Appendices: Information related to but not the focus of the experiment and findings

Lab Report Template

This sample of a Lab Report should serve as a useful guide to help you get started.

Download PDF

Preview: PDF Worksheet
Previous Next

Below, we explore differences found in the Self-Designed Lab Report and the Descriptive Lab Report.

The Descriptive Lab Report

The descriptive lab report is written for a lab that does not require a hypothesis. You follow a procedure and describe the results.

It includes all of the sections required in a Standard Lab Report, with the following considerations:

Introduction: should include a description of the background, objectives, the purpose of the lab, and should omit a discussion of a hypothesis.

Discussion: should include a discussion of what the findings mean in relation to scientific concepts or procedures you learned, and should omit a discussion of a hypothesis.

Conclusion: should focus on what you learned through completing the lab.

The Self-Designed Lab Report

Written for an experiment you design yourself.

It includes all of the sections required in a Standard Lab Report, with the following considerations:

Introduction

Should focus on: a research problem you encountered, the background of that problem, the research question you designed, a hypothesis for that research question

Important Note

Although formal lab reports usually include all of these features, your instructors may expect a different format for your lab report. The preferences of not only disciplines but individual instructors can differ. Here are some examples of the kinds of changes you may be asked to make:

  • Omitting an abstract for less formal reports
  • Combining your results and discussion into one section
  • Placing your methods and materials into two, separate sections

If in doubt, always check with your instructor about what is expected of you.

Key Takeaways

  • Know what type of lab report you need to write.
  • Check with your instructor to determine what kind of structure he/she requires.

References

Books

American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (6th ed.). Washington, DC: APA Press.

Alley, M. (1998). The craft of scientific writing. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Springer

Council of Science Editors. (2014). Scientific style and format: The CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Davis, M. (2004). Scientific papers and presentations: Navigating scientific communication in today’s world. (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

McMillan, V. E. (2011). Writing papers in the biological sciences. (5th ed.). New York, NY: Bedford St. Martins

Northey, M. & Timney, B. (2002). Making sense: A student’s guide to research and writing, psychology and the life sciences. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press Canada

Online resources

North Carolina State University. (2004). LabWrite: Improving lab reports. Retrieved June 29, 2015 from https://www.ncsu.edu/labwrite/info/contact.htm

The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (n.d.). Sciences. Retrieved June 29, 2015 from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/sciences

Next Section Overview

In Section B: Planning and Researching, you will explore how to plan for your lab and research before you write.

Images © Thinkstock