Title Page – includes the title of the lab, the date it was performed, the title of the class, the professor’s name, and the names of the group members. Abstract – summarizes in a paragraph or two at most the purpose of the experiment, as well as the key results and significance and major conclusion(s) you drew from these results. Introduction – describes the experiment, and why it was important. This may require a series of paragraphs where you describe the scientific principles you were modeling and give background historical and theoretical information. In longer and more complex experiments, you would include results of prior relevant research, too. The introduction should also explicitly state the goals of your investigation. Experiment Materials, and Methods and Procedure – describes in narrative form how you did the experiment, including information about the equipment you used, the steps you took, and the methods of gathering and analyzing the data. This section must include complete details and be written clearly to allow readers to duplicate the experiment if they wish.
Your goal for this part of the report is to allow anyone reading the report to duplicate your results. Good science demands that results that are to be trusted must be independently verified by other observers. This section is not a list of materials and list of instructions copied from a laboratory manual. If you just followed the procedure from a laboratory manual or experiment handout, you can say that the published procedure was followed. But you also must record here any changes you made, or variations in that procedure you chose to do, or had to do based on your equipment. In some disciplines, each of these (materials, methods, and procedure) might have separate sections. For our purposes in physics labs at Chabot College, you can combine these. Results, Calculations, Data, Figures – summarizes your observations, data, calculations, and results. Note that you should include in your results an estimate of the uncertainty of your calculations and experiment!
Raw data will probably be most effective in table format, with the highlights summarized in graph form. Data should be recorded in a neat and orderly fashion, either on data tables provided in a lab handout, or in tables you create for the activity. Data must include the units of measurement and those should appear consistently throughout calculations. Sample calculations illustrating how you derived your results can be included here, including any statistical tests or analysis applied. But, leave the interpretation of your data and interpretation of any statistical test applied to the data for the Discussion and Conclusion section. Remember that no experiment is 100% precise, because all measurements – made by humans or electronic data gathering tools – are imprecise to some limit. Be sure to reasonably estimate what your uncertainties in measurements are (and record those in your data tables). You can then account for the impact these measurement uncertainties have upon your results in the next section. 2% uncertain. It could really have been between 4.9 cm and 5.1cm, and this uncertainty will translate to an uncertainty in your overall derived or calculated value.
Please Note: It is ESSENTIAL that you accurately report your findings and not manufacture data to fit preconceptions. You will be graded on how you analyze and interpret your data not on whether it agrees with your expectations. Did your results confirm or conflict with your initial expectations? Was your hypothesis supported or contradicted, or were the results not sufficiently precise to allow you to say one way or the other? If your results differed from known values, how do you account for the error? Did it arise from measurement uncertainties, the procedure, the equipment, or a combination? If so, how did these factors influence your results? Be as specific as possible here – not just mentioning sources of error, but analyzing them for their expected impact on the results. Interpretations should be supported whenever possible by references to the lab handout, your text, and/or other studies from the literature that can be properly cited.
Analyze your results, looking for trends or patterns. Were you consistently above expected values, or below? Were your errors random? Did your results differ from other groups in the class doing the same experiment? Propose hypotheses to account for any differences or patterns you identified. If you graphed data elements, and analyzed those plots, discuss what the graphs revealed. If your lab handout includes questions to be answered, include those answers here. Good lab reports look forward as well as backward, and the conclusion of your discussion (and your report) might well include predictions of how the experiment might have produced different results if done differently, with better equipment, or different procedures. Do not spend enormous amounts of time explaining data that cannot be explained! Most importantly, you should offer “supported” statements or what was determined from doing the experiment. In other words, tell me what your conclusions were with supporting evidence confirming your beliefs.