In Part One of this series, we discussed 10 key lab report writing tips. In this installment, we shift the focus to lab report formatting and the overall organization of information. In Part Three, we will discuss the typical citation style of lab reports. Lab reports consist of eight specific elements. While authors of scientific papers have a bit more leeway when it comes to overall organization, they should try to incorporate elements of the following lab report format into their finished product. This includes the title of your lab report as well as your name, the current date, the day of your lab studies (e.g., Monday, Thursday), and the name of a lab partner or colleague if you have one. This page should be very informative and should stand out, perhaps by including a sentence that summarizes your results. The cover page is initially the most viewed portion of your report.
This page may be looked at by many scientists, so be sure it includes the right amount of information. This should serve as an outline for your lab report—what you already know about the subject as well as what you have discovered from your scientific experiments—by providing some background information to the reader. In the second section of the introduction, describe some specific questions you have chosen to study, but write about them in a general way. The details pertaining to those questions will be written about in the Methods or Results section later. If you need to include a hypothesis (a theory or theories), state it specifically at the end of the Introduction. Some lab reports require this and some do not, so check with your professor. Your methods should be detailed enough so other students and scientists can duplicate your procedure. For example, give accurate descriptions of measurements, times, and expected results.
Always begin this section using normal text format, as opposed to figures and table details. For example, indicate what a table is going to demonstrate and summarize the significant data it contains before displaying the table. The same holds true for figures and other types of charted information. Remember to remain focused and organized here to ensure clarity. Heavy editing is often required in this section of a lab report. Remember to be consistent and use the least amount of words necessary to convey your statistics. Only the important points of each table or figure need to be briefly explained in the normal text. Leave the details to the charts. In this section, which is considered the most important part of lab report formatting, you can be a bit more creative and elaborate by interpreting your results, expanding on them, and noting general conclusions. Start with the major conclusions of your lab report, i.e., does your study support or contradict the hypothesis in question?
Next, expand on the discussion of your results by citing other studies. Remember to reference these studies using proper citations within the body of the text and in the APA References page at the end of your report. Suggest some original ideas or interpretations of the study you conducted. Finally, you may want to suggest some improvements in the methods of experimentation or recommend ways of improving the reader’s understanding of the subject. Remember, it is not a crime to achieve a negative result during your lab work (which can be simply noted as “no significant change was observed”). In the body of the lab report itself, a citation normally consists of the last name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication (Randolph, 1998). This is then expanded upon in your References section. This is a must whenever you cite a source within the body of text so the reader knows immediately where you acquired your information. In the References section at the end of your report, you will list any books, publications, or websites you cited in the report.