This handout offers general guidelines for writing reports on the scientific research you have undertaken. We will describe the conventional rules regarding format and content of a lab report as well as try to explain why these rules exist so that you will have a better understanding of how to undertake this type of writing. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF WRITING RESEARCH REPORTS? In your science class you participated in an experiment, and now you must write it up to submit to your teacher. You think that you had sufficient understanding of the background, designed and finished the study well, were able to gain useful data, and could to apply the data to draw conclusions about a particular scientific process or principle. However, how do you go about writing all that? What expectations does your teacher have? To avoid guesswork in trying to ascertain this, try to think beyond the context of a classroom. Indeed, you and your teacher are both members of a scientific community, and participants in this community often share the same values.
As long as you appreciate and understand these values, it is likely that your writing will satisfy the expectations of your audience, which includes your teacher. What is your motivation for writing this research report? The most immediate answer is “because it was assigned by the teacher,” but this is thinking inside the classroom context. Broadly speaking, individuals perusing a scientific hypothesis have an obligation to the rest of the scientific community to report the findings of their research, especially if these make a contribution to or contradict previous ideas. They wish to collect the information that is presented. They seek to establish that the findings are legitimate. As a writer, your job is to enable these two goals. HOW DO I DO THAT? This format, sometimes called “IMRAD,” may be slightly modified depending on the discipline or audience. As you will likely recall, the scientific method requires developing a hypothesis, putting it to the test, and then determining if your results support the hypothesis.
Essentially, the format for a research report in the sciences reflects the scientific method but adds to the process a little. Below you can see a table that demonstrates how each written section corresponds to the scientific method and what information it offers to the reader. Conceptualizing your research report as derived from the scientific method albeit fleshed out in the ways noted above. Our advice enables you to meet the expectations of your audience. We will continue by explicitly drawing connections between each component of a lab report to the scientific method, and then provide the rationale regarding how and why you must elaborate the respective section. Although this handout addresses each component in the order, it should be presented in the final report, for practical reasons you may decide to write your sections in a different order. For instance, often writers find that writing the Methods and Results section before the others helps them to clarify their conception of the experiment or study as a whole. You might think about utilizing each assignment to try out different methods for drafting the report in order to determine which works best for you.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE DRAFTING THE LAB REPORT? The optimal way to prepare to compose the lab report is to ensure that you have full comprehension of everything you need to know about the experiment. Clearly, if you do not really understand what happened in the lab, you will find it hard to explain it to another person. What knowledge are we hoping to gain from this experiment? Read your lab manual extensively, and far ahead of when you begin the experiment. What is the procedure going to be for this lab? Why are we following this procedure? What knowledge are we hoping to gain from this experiment? How might this knowledge contribute positively to our work? Providing answers to these questions will promote a more complete understanding of the experiment, and this knowledge of the larger picture will enable you to write a successful lab report. Consult with your lab supervisor as you undertake the experiment. If you don’t know how to respond to one of the above questions, your lab supervisor will probably provide you with an explanation or guide you towards the proper response.