If you are working in the lab to complete a senior thesis, an independent project, or general chemistry work, it is almost certain that all lab reports or papers will follow. Writing about an experiment is not difficult but can be a challenge, especially if you are dealing with unexpected results. This post will provide tips for writing a lab document and outline its components.
You should thoroughly understand your experiments
You should understand the experiment you are writing about before you begin. This will allow you to choose what information you would like to include. My first organic chemistry laboratory report was written in a rush. I started answering the questions and realized halfway through I made a serious conceptual error. As a result, I spent a lot more time revising what I’d written. Start by defining the lab’s purpose, forming a hypothesis, and thinking about what you expect to see. It is important to confirm that you understand the project by checking in with your Lab Assistant, Mentor, or Principal Investigator (PI).
The abstract will consist of a brief summary of all of your report. This is usually in the order of your report. This section is usually the first in your lab reports, but you should write it last. It is easier to write the report before you try to summarize it, rather than relying on the abstract to guide you.
Introduction to Background
In your introduction, explain your purpose for conducting the experiment. Include your hypothesis about what you hope to observe and why. Also include relevant findings from other experts in the field. You’ve probably read a lot about your project, whether it be in textbooks or lecture notes. Write only the background information you need to know about your experiment. During the summer I read articles that explained metabolic engineering, its role in yeast, and how it works. This information, however, was not relevant to my project and was more of a general introduction.
This section should include enough detail so that another person can replicate your experiments. This section should help the reader understand how you tested and supported your hypothesis. Explain what your project is about, the variables to be tested, and the controls you used. This section is used to validate the data by verifying that variables have been tested properly.
The results section is written by someone else because you cannot alter the data that you collected from your experiments. It is your job to organize these results into appropriate charts and tables. Your project may be long enough to have several months’ worth data, or you may only have a lab session of three hours. For in-class reports, I usually include all the data that I have collected in my report. For longer projects, like summer internships, the preliminary experiments are spread out over many pages, so it is easier to select which data I include. You cannot change data but you can choose which information to include. Your report should reflect the project’s goals and objectives.
Discussion and conclusion
You should relate your data to your hypotheses and analyze the results. If the results were not as expected, you should explain why. You should discuss the data you have collected and your conclusions before writing this section. Consult your mentors to avoid large conceptual errors.
No particular order is required to write your report. But it’s easier to start with some sections. Because your results are final, it’s easier to write them first. It is also helpful to write the section on your methods after you have written your results, as you cannot change them. The goal of every lab report and research paper is the same, regardless of the format or writing style. It’s to describe your experiment, results and the significance they have. Remember your audience as you write.