Writing a Lab Report
During your tenure in college, you may be asked to write a lab report at some point. Lab reports are often used, with some variance, in all of the sciences including chemistry, biology, psychology, physics and engineering. Your professor will likely give you a guideline to follow as well as examples to learn from before you begin writing. The writing center is another great resource to tap before you begin writing your lab report. Tutors at the writing center are able to help with writing in any subject including the sciences, humanities, and mathematics. Cadets are encouraged to come to the writing center at any stage of writing (brainstorming, outlining, rough draft or polished draft). To make an appointment at VMI’s writing center, click the link, create a profile, and sign up for a half hour session today.
A lab report differs from other disciplines in it’s structure and style, but by following the steps laid out below you can be successful.
Begin your lab report with a specific, informative title.
The abstract should be approximately the length of a paragraph and should inform the reader of the main idea (hypothesis, methods, results) of the following report.
Much like the introduction of an English or history paper, the introduction to your lab report should draw your audience in by explaining why you ran the experiment that you did. The introduction sets up the logical purpose for the rest of the report giving background information and introducing the hypothesis. This is often where there is a brief literature review. Make sure to cite your sources using the style dictated by your professor (APA in psychology, and CSE in most physical sciences).
Materials and methods
This is where you describe the materials and methods used in your actual experiment. This section should be detailed enough that someone else could follow your same steps and repeat the experiment.
In your results, simply focus on presenting the data you collected in your experiment. This is not the place for any in depth analysis or discussion (that comes next). This is where you may present charts and graphs that present the data in a visual way.
This is where you reflect on your hypothesis and the area where you explain what your results mean. This should typically be the longest section of your lab report. It is appropriate to cite other literature here, as well.