PREPARING YOUR LABORATORY REPORT
The format and style used to prepare lab reports is the same as is used to prepare articles for publication. This format is standardized and is detailed in the publication manual of the American Psychological Association, fourth edition. The following is an abridgement of the major rules for the preparation of scientific reports.
Organization of Reports
Running head: LONG-TERM MEMORY OF EARLY DENTAL EXPERIENCES
The title should be a concise statement of the main topic of the report, usually consisting of about 12 to 15 words. It should refer to the major variables or theoretical issues under investigation. Since the purpose of the title is to inform the reader, it should be explanatory when standing alone. Avoid words that serve no useful purpose and only increase the length. Such phrases as "A Study of..." or "An Experimental Investigation of..." should be avoided. Do not use abbreviations in the title. All words should be spelled out for clarity. Centered directly under the title should appear your name and under it your institution.
Participants, apparatus or materials.
If materials (such as a questionnaire) were used, either cite your source (if published materials were used) or provide a copy in the appendix of your paper if you devised the instrument yourself. You should describe the instrument in your materials section. For example,
A 50-item six-point Likert-type questionnaire was devised by the experimenter to measure attitudes toward authority figures. Half of the questions were worded such that....The highest (positive) score that could be attained on the measure was 300; the lowest (negative) score was 50. Thus, higher scores reflected more positive attitudes toward authority figures.
The reference to the table or figure should be close to the relevant material in the text. Never use a figure or table without referring to it in the text.
Tables are often used when presenting descriptive statistics such as means, standard deviations and correlations. Pictures, graphs, and drawings are referred to as figures. You should use as few tables and figures as possible. They should be used as supplements, not to do the entire job of communication. (See the APA manual for detailed guidelines for Tables and for Figures.)
Generally, one reports descriptive statistics, then inferential statistics, then states in words what was found.
FIGURE CHECKLIST: A BRIEF GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT GRAPHS IN APA STYLE
- All figures included in a paper should be necessary for understanding the results.
- Figures should be simple, clean, and free of elaborate detail.
- Always double-check to see if data have been plotted correctly.
- All figures should be mentioned in the text (see Figure 1).
- Figures are included within a paper after any appendices and tables.
- Each figure should be typed on a separate page.
- Figure pages, just as every other page in a manuscript, should have the short title and page number in the upper right-hand corner (unless a photograph).
- All figure labels are numbered consecutively (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.).
- The length of the vertical (Y) axis should be approximately 2/3 the length of the horizontal (X) axis.
- The dependent variable is plotted on the Y-axis, and the independent variable is plotted on the X-axis.
- Clearly label each axis with respect to what was measured, quantity measured, and units in which the quality was measured.
- Choose the appropriate scale units (length of intervals) so that the figure will not distort actual data points.
- Make sure that the scale points on each axis have equal intervals.
- All figures are followed by a caption, which is written below each figure and ended with a period.
Figure 6. Reaction time in seconds as a function of the intensity of the stimulus.
TABLE CHECKLIST: A BRIEF GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT TABLES IN APA STYLE
- All tables included in a paper should be necessary for understanding the data.
- Tables should be simple, clean, and free of elaborate detail.
- Always double-check to make sure the data are correct.
- All tables should be mentioned in the text.
- Tables are included within a paper after any appendices and before any figures.
- Each table should be typed on a separate page.
- All tables are double-spaced.
- Table pages, just as every other page in a manuscript, should have the short title and page number in the upper right-hand corner.
- All table labels should be numbered consecutively (Table 1, Table 2, etc.).
- The data are listed in an orderly fashion with the decimal points falling in a straight vertical line.
- All tables include a caption which is located directly below the table label and is capitalized just as a title would be, underlined, and is not followed by a period.
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How To Write A Lab Report | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples
Published on May 20, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on July 23, 2023.
A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment. The main purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method by performing and evaluating a hands-on lab experiment. This type of assignment is usually shorter than a research paper .
Lab reports are commonly used in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This article focuses on how to structure and write a lab report.
Table of contents
Structuring a lab report, introduction, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about lab reports.
The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but they usually contain the purpose, methods, and findings of a lab experiment .
Each section of a lab report has its own purpose.
- Title: expresses the topic of your study
- Abstract : summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
- Introduction: establishes the context needed to understand the topic
- Method: describes the materials and procedures used in the experiment
- Results: reports all descriptive and inferential statistical analyses
- Discussion: interprets and evaluates results and identifies limitations
- Conclusion: sums up the main findings of your experiment
- References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA )
- Appendices : contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures
Although most lab reports contain these sections, some sections can be omitted or combined with others. For example, some lab reports contain a brief section on research aims instead of an introduction, and a separate conclusion is not always required.
If you’re not sure, it’s best to check your lab report requirements with your instructor.
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Your title provides the first impression of your lab report – effective titles communicate the topic and/or the findings of your study in specific terms.
Create a title that directly conveys the main focus or purpose of your study. It doesn’t need to be creative or thought-provoking, but it should be informative.
- The effects of varying nitrogen levels on tomato plant height.
- Testing the universality of the McGurk effect.
- Comparing the viscosity of common liquids found in kitchens.
An abstract condenses a lab report into a brief overview of about 150–300 words. It should provide readers with a compact version of the research aims, the methods and materials used, the main results, and the final conclusion.
Think of it as a way of giving readers a preview of your full lab report. Write the abstract last, in the past tense, after you’ve drafted all the other sections of your report, so you’ll be able to succinctly summarize each section.
To write a lab report abstract, use these guiding questions:
- What is the wider context of your study?
- What research question were you trying to answer?
- How did you perform the experiment?
- What did your results show?
- How did you interpret your results?
- What is the importance of your findings?
Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for high quality plants. Tomatoes, one of the most consumed fruits worldwide, rely on nitrogen for healthy leaves and stems to grow fruit. This experiment tested whether nitrogen levels affected tomato plant height in a controlled setting. It was expected that higher levels of nitrogen fertilizer would yield taller tomato plants.
Levels of nitrogen fertilizer were varied between three groups of tomato plants. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer, while one experimental group received low levels of nitrogen fertilizer, and a second experimental group received high levels of nitrogen fertilizer. All plants were grown from seeds, and heights were measured 50 days into the experiment.
The effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were tested between groups using an ANOVA. The plants with the highest level of nitrogen fertilizer were the tallest, while the plants with low levels of nitrogen exceeded the control group plants in height. In line with expectations and previous findings, the effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were statistically significant. This study strengthens the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants.
Your lab report introduction should set the scene for your experiment. One way to write your introduction is with a funnel (an inverted triangle) structure:
- Start with the broad, general research topic
- Narrow your topic down your specific study focus
- End with a clear research question
Begin by providing background information on your research topic and explaining why it’s important in a broad real-world or theoretical context. Describe relevant previous research on your topic and note how your study may confirm it or expand it, or fill a gap in the research field.
This lab experiment builds on previous research from Haque, Paul, and Sarker (2011), who demonstrated that tomato plant yield increased at higher levels of nitrogen. However, the present research focuses on plant height as a growth indicator and uses a lab-controlled setting instead.
Next, go into detail on the theoretical basis for your study and describe any directly relevant laws or equations that you’ll be using. State your main research aims and expectations by outlining your hypotheses .
Based on the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants, the primary hypothesis was that the plants with the high levels of nitrogen would grow the tallest. The secondary hypothesis was that plants with low levels of nitrogen would grow taller than plants with no nitrogen.
Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, but you may need to organize it into a few paragraphs or with subheadings such as “Research Context” or “Research Aims.”
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A lab report Method section details the steps you took to gather and analyze data. Give enough detail so that others can follow or evaluate your procedures. Write this section in the past tense. If you need to include any long lists of procedural steps or materials, place them in the Appendices section but refer to them in the text here.
You should describe your experimental design, your subjects, materials, and specific procedures used for data collection and analysis.
Briefly note whether your experiment is a within-subjects or between-subjects design, and describe how your sample units were assigned to conditions if relevant.
A between-subjects design with three groups of tomato plants was used. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer. The first experimental group received a low level of nitrogen fertilizer, while the second experimental group received a high level of nitrogen fertilizer.
Describe human subjects in terms of demographic characteristics, and animal or plant subjects in terms of genetic background. Note the total number of subjects as well as the number of subjects per condition or per group. You should also state how you recruited subjects for your study.
List the equipment or materials you used to gather data and state the model names for any specialized equipment.
List of materials
35 Tomato seeds
15 plant pots (15 cm tall)
Light lamps (50,000 lux)
Describe your experimental settings and conditions in detail. You can provide labelled diagrams or images of the exact set-up necessary for experimental equipment. State how extraneous variables were controlled through restriction or by fixing them at a certain level (e.g., keeping the lab at room temperature).
Light levels were fixed throughout the experiment, and the plants were exposed to 12 hours of light a day. Temperature was restricted to between 23 and 25℃. The pH and carbon levels of the soil were also held constant throughout the experiment as these variables could influence plant height. The plants were grown in rooms free of insects or other pests, and they were spaced out adequately.
Your experimental procedure should describe the exact steps you took to gather data in chronological order. You’ll need to provide enough information so that someone else can replicate your procedure, but you should also be concise. Place detailed information in the appendices where appropriate.
In a lab experiment, you’ll often closely follow a lab manual to gather data. Some instructors will allow you to simply reference the manual and state whether you changed any steps based on practical considerations. Other instructors may want you to rewrite the lab manual procedures as complete sentences in coherent paragraphs, while noting any changes to the steps that you applied in practice.
If you’re performing extensive data analysis, be sure to state your planned analysis methods as well. This includes the types of tests you’ll perform and any programs or software you’ll use for calculations (if relevant).
First, tomato seeds were sown in wooden flats containing soil about 2 cm below the surface. Each seed was kept 3-5 cm apart. The flats were covered to keep the soil moist until germination. The seedlings were removed and transplanted to pots 8 days later, with a maximum of 2 plants to a pot. Each pot was watered once a day to keep the soil moist.
The nitrogen fertilizer treatment was applied to the plant pots 12 days after transplantation. The control group received no treatment, while the first experimental group received a low concentration, and the second experimental group received a high concentration. There were 5 pots in each group, and each plant pot was labelled to indicate the group the plants belonged to.
50 days after the start of the experiment, plant height was measured for all plants. A measuring tape was used to record the length of the plant from ground level to the top of the tallest leaf.
In your results section, you should report the results of any statistical analysis procedures that you undertook. You should clearly state how the results of statistical tests support or refute your initial hypotheses.
The main results to report include:
- any descriptive statistics
- statistical test results
- the significance of the test results
- estimates of standard error or confidence intervals
The mean heights of the plants in the control group, low nitrogen group, and high nitrogen groups were 20.3, 25.1, and 29.6 cm respectively. A one-way ANOVA was applied to calculate the effect of nitrogen fertilizer level on plant height. The results demonstrated statistically significant ( p = .03) height differences between groups.
Next, post-hoc tests were performed to assess the primary and secondary hypotheses. In support of the primary hypothesis, the high nitrogen group plants were significantly taller than the low nitrogen group and the control group plants. Similarly, the results supported the secondary hypothesis: the low nitrogen plants were taller than the control group plants.
These results can be reported in the text or in tables and figures. Use text for highlighting a few key results, but present large sets of numbers in tables, or show relationships between variables with graphs.
You should also include sample calculations in the Results section for complex experiments. For each sample calculation, provide a brief description of what it does and use clear symbols. Present your raw data in the Appendices section and refer to it to highlight any outliers or trends.
The Discussion section will help demonstrate your understanding of the experimental process and your critical thinking skills.
In this section, you can:
- Interpret your results
- Compare your findings with your expectations
- Identify any sources of experimental error
- Explain any unexpected results
- Suggest possible improvements for further studies
Interpreting your results involves clarifying how your results help you answer your main research question. Report whether your results support your hypotheses.
- Did you measure what you sought out to measure?
- Were your analysis procedures appropriate for this type of data?
Compare your findings with other research and explain any key differences in findings.
- Are your results in line with those from previous studies or your classmates’ results? Why or why not?
An effective Discussion section will also highlight the strengths and limitations of a study.
- Did you have high internal validity or reliability?
- How did you establish these aspects of your study?
When describing limitations, use specific examples. For example, if random error contributed substantially to the measurements in your study, state the particular sources of error (e.g., imprecise apparatus) and explain ways to improve them.
The results support the hypothesis that nitrogen levels affect plant height, with increasing levels producing taller plants. These statistically significant results are taken together with previous research to support the importance of nitrogen as a nutrient for tomato plant growth.
However, unlike previous studies, this study focused on plant height as an indicator of plant growth in the present experiment. Importantly, plant height may not always reflect plant health or fruit yield, so measuring other indicators would have strengthened the study findings.
Another limitation of the study is the plant height measurement technique, as the measuring tape was not suitable for plants with extreme curvature. Future studies may focus on measuring plant height in different ways.
The main strengths of this study were the controls for extraneous variables, such as pH and carbon levels of the soil. All other factors that could affect plant height were tightly controlled to isolate the effects of nitrogen levels, resulting in high internal validity for this study.
Your conclusion should be the final section of your lab report. Here, you’ll summarize the findings of your experiment, with a brief overview of the strengths and limitations, and implications of your study for further research.
Some lab reports may omit a Conclusion section because it overlaps with the Discussion section, but you should check with your instructor before doing so.
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A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment . Lab reports are commonly assigned in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method with a hands-on lab experiment. Course instructors will often provide you with an experimental design and procedure. Your task is to write up how you actually performed the experiment and evaluate the outcome.
In contrast, a research paper requires you to independently develop an original argument. It involves more in-depth research and interpretation of sources and data.
A lab report is usually shorter than a research paper.
The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but it usually contains the following:
- Abstract: summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
- References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA)
- Appendices: contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures
The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.
In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.
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Lab report format: Step-by-Step Guide & Examples
Saul Mcleod, PhD
BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester
Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
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In psychology, a lab report outlines a study’s objectives, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions, ensuring clarity and adherence to APA (or relevant) formatting guidelines.
A typical lab report would include the following sections: title, abstract, introduction, method, results, and discussion.
The title page, abstract, references, and appendices are started on separate pages (subsections from the main body of the report are not). Use double-line spacing of text, font size 12, and include page numbers.
The report should have a thread of arguments linking the prediction in the introduction to the content of the discussion.
This must indicate what the study is about. It must include the variables under investigation. It should not be written as a question.
Title pages should be formatted in APA style .
The abstract provides a concise and comprehensive summary of a research report. Your style should be brief but not use note form. Look at examples in journal articles . It should aim to explain very briefly (about 150 words) the following:
- Start with a one/two sentence summary, providing the aim and rationale for the study.
- Describe participants and setting: who, when, where, how many, and what groups?
- Describe the method: what design, what experimental treatment, what questionnaires, surveys, or tests were used.
- Describe the major findings, including a mention of the statistics used and the significance levels, or simply one sentence summing up the outcome.
- The final sentence(s) outline the study’s “contribution to knowledge” within the literature. What does it all mean? Mention the implications of your findings if appropriate.
The abstract comes at the beginning of your report but is written at the end (as it summarises information from all the other sections of the report).
The purpose of the introduction is to explain where your hypothesis comes from (i.e., it should provide a rationale for your research study).
Ideally, the introduction should have a funnel structure: Start broad and then become more specific. The aims should not appear out of thin air; the preceding review of psychological literature should lead logically into the aims and hypotheses.
- Start with general theory, briefly introducing the topic. Define the important key terms.
- Explain the theoretical framework.
- Summarise and synthesize previous studies – What was the purpose? Who were the participants? What did they do? What did they find? What do these results mean? How do the results relate to the theoretical framework?
- Rationale: How does the current study address a gap in the literature? Perhaps it overcomes a limitation of previous research.
- Aims and hypothesis. Write a paragraph explaining what you plan to investigate and make a clear and concise prediction regarding the results you expect to find.
There should be a logical progression of ideas that aids the flow of the report. This means the studies outlined should lead logically to your aims and hypotheses.
Do be concise and selective, and avoid the temptation to include anything in case it is relevant (i.e., don’t write a shopping list of studies).
USE THE FOLLOWING SUBHEADINGS:
- How many participants were recruited?
- Say how you obtained your sample (e.g., opportunity sample).
- Give relevant demographic details (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age range, mean age, and standard deviation).
- State the experimental design .
- What were the independent and dependent variables ? Make sure the independent variable is labeled and name the different conditions/levels.
- For example, if gender is the independent variable label, then male and female are the levels/conditions/groups.
- How were the IV and DV operationalized?
- Identify any controls used, e.g., counterbalancing and control of extraneous variables.
- List all the materials and measures (e.g., what was the title of the questionnaire? Was it adapted from a study?).
- You do not need to include wholesale replication of materials – instead, include a ‘sensible’ (illustrate) level of detail. For example, give examples of questionnaire items.
- Include the reliability (e.g., alpha values) for the measure(s).
- Describe the precise procedure you followed when conducting your research, i.e., exactly what you did.
- Describe in sufficient detail to allow for replication of findings.
- Be concise in your description and omit extraneous/trivial details, e.g., you don’t need to include details regarding instructions, debrief, record sheets, etc.
- Assume the reader has no knowledge of what you did and ensure that he/she can replicate (i.e., copy) your study exactly by what you write in this section.
- Write in the past tense.
- Don’t justify or explain in the Method (e.g., why you chose a particular sampling method); just report what you did.
- Only give enough detail for someone to replicate the experiment – be concise in your writing.
- The results section of a paper usually presents descriptive statistics followed by inferential statistics.
- Report the means, standard deviations, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for each IV level. If you have four to 20 numbers to present, a well-presented table is best, APA style.
- Name the statistical test being used.
- Report appropriate statistics (e.g., t-scores, p values ).
- Report the magnitude (e.g., are the results significant or not?) as well as the direction of the results (e.g., which group performed better?).
- It is optional to report the effect size (this does not appear on the SPSS output).
- Avoid interpreting the results (save this for the discussion).
- Make sure the results are presented clearly and concisely. A table can be used to display descriptive statistics if this makes the data easier to understand.
- DO NOT include any raw data.
- Follow APA style.
Use APA Style
- Numbers reported to 2 d.p. (incl. 0 before the decimal if 1.00, e.g., “0.51”). The exceptions to this rule: Numbers which can never exceed 1.0 (e.g., p -values, r-values): report to 3 d.p. and do not include 0 before the decimal place, e.g., “.001”.
- Percentages and degrees of freedom: report as whole numbers.
- Statistical symbols that are not Greek letters should be italicized (e.g., M , SD , t , X 2 , F , p , d ).
- Include spaces on either side of the equals sign.
- When reporting 95%, CIs (confidence intervals), upper and lower limits are given inside square brackets, e.g., “95% CI [73.37, 102.23]”
- Outline your findings in plain English (avoid statistical jargon) and relate your results to your hypothesis, e.g., is it supported or rejected?
- Compare your results to background materials from the introduction section. Are your results similar or different? Discuss why/why not.
- How confident can we be in the results? Acknowledge limitations, but only if they can explain the result obtained. If the study has found a reliable effect, be very careful suggesting limitations as you are doubting your results. Unless you can think of any c onfounding variable that can explain the results instead of the IV, it would be advisable to leave the section out.
- Suggest constructive ways to improve your study if appropriate.
- What are the implications of your findings? Say what your findings mean for how people behave in the real world.
- Suggest an idea for further research triggered by your study, something in the same area but not simply an improved version of yours. Perhaps you could base this on a limitation of your study.
- Concluding paragraph – Finish with a statement of your findings and the key points of the discussion (e.g., interpretation and implications) in no more than 3 or 4 sentences.
The reference section lists all the sources cited in the essay (alphabetically). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).
In simple terms, every time you refer to a psychologist’s name (and date), you need to reference the original source of information.
If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.
References need to be set out APA style :
Author, A. A. (year). Title of work . Location: Publisher.
Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number (issue number), page numbers
A simple way to write your reference section is to use Google scholar . Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the “cite” link.
Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.
Once again, remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.
Psychology Lab Report Example
Quantitative paper template.
Quantitative professional paper template: Adapted from “Fake News, Fast and Slow: Deliberation Reduces Belief in False (but Not True) News Headlines,” by B. Bago, D. G. Rand, and G. Pennycook, 2020, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General , 149 (8), pp. 1608–1613 ( https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000729 ). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.
Qualitative paper template
Qualitative professional paper template: Adapted from “‘My Smartphone Is an Extension of Myself’: A Holistic Qualitative Exploration of the Impact of Using a Smartphone,” by L. J. Harkin and D. Kuss, 2020, Psychology of Popular Media , 10 (1), pp. 28–38 ( https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000278 ). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.
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Writing the Experimental Report: Overview, Introductions, and Literature Reviews
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Written for undergraduate students and new graduate students in psychology (experimental), this handout provides information on writing in psychology and on experimental report and experimental article writing.
Experimental reports (also known as "lab reports") are reports of empirical research conducted by their authors. You should think of an experimental report as a "story" of your research in which you lead your readers through your experiment. As you are telling this story, you are crafting an argument about both the validity and reliability of your research, what your results mean, and how they fit into other previous work.
These next two sections provide an overview of the experimental report in APA format. Always check with your instructor, advisor, or journal editor for specific formatting guidelines.
Experimental reports follow a general to specific to general pattern. Your report will start off broadly in your introduction and discussion of the literature; the report narrows as it leads up to your specific hypotheses, methods, and results. Your discussion transitions from talking about your specific results to more general ramifications, future work, and trends relating to your research.
Experimental reports in APA format have a title page. Title page formatting is as follows:
- A running head and page number in the upper right corner (right aligned)
- A definition of running head in IN ALL CAPS below the running head (left aligned)
- Vertically and horizontally centered paper title, followed by author and affiliation
Please see our sample APA title page .
Crafting your story
Before you begin to write, carefully consider your purpose in writing: what is it that you discovered, would like to share, or would like to argue? You can see report writing as crafting a story about your research and your findings. Consider the following.
- What is the story you would like to tell?
- What literature best speaks to that story?
- How do your results tell the story?
- How can you discuss the story in broad terms?
During each section of your paper, you should be focusing on your story. Consider how each sentence, each paragraph, and each section contributes to your overall purpose in writing. Here is a description of one student's process.
Briel is writing an experimental report on her results from her experimental psychology lab class. She was interested in looking at the role gender plays in persuading individuals to take financial risks. After her data analysis, she finds that men are more easily persuaded by women to take financial risks and that men are generally willing to take more financial risks.
When Briel begins to write, she focuses her introduction on financial risk taking and gender, focusing on male behaviors. She then presents relevant literature on financial risk taking and gender that help illuminate her own study, but also help demonstrate the need for her own work. Her introduction ends with a study overview that directly leads from the literature review. Because she has already broadly introduced her study through her introduction and literature review, her readers can anticipate where she is going when she gets to her study overview. Her methods and results continue that story. Finally, her discussion concludes that story, discussing her findings, implications of her work, and the need for more research in the area of gender and financial risk taking.
The abstract gives a concise summary of the contents of the report.
- Abstracts should be brief (about 100 words)
- Abstracts should be self-contained and provide a complete picture of what the study is about
- Abstracts should be organized just like your experimental report—introduction, literature review, methods, results and discussion
- Abstracts should be written last during your drafting stage
The introduction in an experimental article should follow a general to specific pattern, where you first introduce the problem generally and then provide a short overview of your own study. The introduction includes three parts: opening statements, literature review, and study overview.
Opening statements: Define the problem broadly in plain English and then lead into the literature review (this is the "general" part of the introduction). Your opening statements should already be setting the stage for the story you are going to tell.
Literature review: Discusses literature (previous studies) relevant to your current study in a concise manner. Keep your story in mind as you organize your lit review and as you choose what literature to include. The following are tips when writing your literature review.
- You should discuss studies that are directly related to your problem at hand and that logically lead to your own hypotheses.
- You do not need to provide a complete historical overview nor provide literature that is peripheral to your own study.
- Studies should be presented based on themes or concepts relevant to your research, not in a chronological format.
- You should also consider what gap in the literature your own research fills. What hasn't been examined? What does your work do that others have not?
Study overview: The literature review should lead directly into the last section of the introduction—your study overview. Your short overview should provide your hypotheses and briefly describe your method. The study overview functions as a transition to your methods section.
You should always give good, descriptive names to your hypotheses that you use consistently throughout your study. When you number hypotheses, readers must go back to your introduction to find them, which makes your piece more difficult to read. Using descriptive names reminds readers what your hypotheses were and allows for better overall flow.
In our example above, Briel had three different hypotheses based on previous literature. Her first hypothesis, the "masculine risk-taking hypothesis" was that men would be more willing to take financial risks overall. She clearly named her hypothesis in the study overview, and then referred back to it in her results and discussion sections.
Thais and Sanford (2000) recommend the following organization for introductions.
- Provide an introduction to your topic
- Provide a very concise overview of the literature
- State your hypotheses and how they connect to the literature
- Provide an overview of the methods for investigation used in your research
Bem (2006) provides the following rules of thumb for writing introductions.
- Write in plain English
- Take the time and space to introduce readers to your problem step-by-step; do not plunge them into the middle of the problem without an introduction
- Use examples to illustrate difficult or unfamiliar theories or concepts. The more complicated the concept or theory, the more important it is to have clear examples
- Open with a discussion about people and their behavior, not about psychologists and their research
How to Set Up a Lab Report
Helpful lab report formatting tips
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.
Elements needed for correct lab report format
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.
Remember to use the past tense of verbs to describe your research, since the experiment has already been completed by the time you write your lab report or scientific paper; for example, "The properties of this compound were found to be…" However, the lab report itself, theory, and permanent equipment still exist; therefore, use the present tense when describing these:"The purpose of this report is…" or, "The experiment produces this result…" This section should include a brief outline of the various methods used in your study. If certain details are cited as having been done before by other scientists or are referenced in your lab manual, you can refer the reader to these sources rather than re-writing the entire description, remembering to cite them properly according to the style guide you are using (e.g., the Council of Science Editors' Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers ). If you are referring to a method in which something has been changed, however, you must address this properly within the text by thoroughly explaining the change in this section.
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. Here are a few guidelines:
- 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.
You may wish to list your "References and Notes" of a literary nature—i.e., book or journal form—separately from a "Supporting Online Material" heading, wherein you would list any websites from which you have taken information.
List only those works you have actually referenced in the scientific paper. Remember, this is not a bibliography , which would involve listing books and other works you reviewed but did not find necessary to include in your report because they did not specifically pertain to your study. Therefore, a References section includes only those works you refer to in the text itself.
List names alphabetically by last name, as well as the year of publication, title, publisher location, and publisher, as follows:
Randolph, M. (1998). How to write proper references for Lab Reports. New York: Academia Press.
This is a general example. Format varies slightly when citing journals and websites; refer to your style manual for specifics. Keep in mind that referencing format differs according to the many style manuals used in the world of publishing (e.g., APA , Chicago Manual of Style , CSE), so it is wise to be clear about the particular format and style guide you are using.
You may wish to include an appendix (or appendices) at the end of your report on a separate page (or pages). Check with the journal or professor you are submitting your work to for their specific requirements. An appendix lists your raw data—that is, your calculations that lead you to your conclusions—or any graphs or charts used but that are not necessary to include in the body of the text. Each type of item should be included in a separate appendix (i.e., Appendix A, Appendix B). Also, refer to an appendix at least once in your Results section; for example, "Data compiled from this group of tests are listed in Appendix A."
- Appendices will allow your professor or reader to see how your knowledge and results were acquired. Placing the appendices on separate pages will not interfere with the clarity and conciseness of your report.
Useful further reading
Check with your professor about this section of your lab report; this is a noteworthy segment because it suggests other works and /or websites to which the reader can refer to acquire further knowledge of your subject. These works should also be referred to on a separate page, but should be cited in the same style as your earlier References section. For example:
McGill, Ian. (2003). A brief excerpt on herbal remedies of Southeast Asia. New York: Global Press, p. 9.
Once again, remember to check the style guide you are using to determine the proper format for all your references.
General lab report format tips
Nothing makes a lab report appear less convincing than misspelled words, so make sure you read and re-read your report before submitting it to your professor or for publication. You want readers to believe in your ability and the knowledge you have gained. A lab report or scientific paper illustrates all the hard work you have done; therefore, showcase that work in a well-written, professional style! If you have doubts about your lab report format, don't hesitate to submit your paper to our academic editors .
Have You Read?
"The Complete Beginner's Guide to Academic Writing"
APA Style and APA Formatting
How to Write a Lab Report
Lab Report Citations
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