Helpful Tips on How To Write a Lab Report
Laboratory reports are necessary for the communication of scientific research, so learning how to write a lab report is essential for scientists and other researchers who wish to contribute to knowledge in their areas of specialisation and achieve a significant impact with their experimental findings. In their simplest forms, lab reports are written by students for high school science classes and are an extremely common kind of university assignment in the physical and biological sciences, in engineering and in other fields that make use of empirical research methods. Even the original research articles published in scientific journals are basically long and formal lab reports prepared in accordance with the specific publication requirements of those journals. It is therefore impossible to overestimate the value of knowing exactly how to write a lab report that will communicate research findings successfully.

The first concern when faced with the question of how to write a lab report is to discover, study and follow the relevant instructions. If you are writing a lab report that will be submitted to a professor or teaching assistant for grading, instructions will usually be provided in a laboratory manual or other course material. If, on the other hand, you are preparing a lab report for publication as an original research article in a scholarly or professional journal, there will generally be guidelines for authors on the journal’s website. Some instructors and journals will provide a great deal more helpful advice than others about how to write a lab report, but asking about any requirements that seem unclear is a sound approach when you are in doubt about how to proceed. Research articles recently published by your target journal can also be used as models for your own, and lab instructors will often provide a sample lab report or perhaps a template, ideally along with instructions for using it to prepare your own lab report.

Whether you are consulting guidelines, following a template or reading sample papers as you determine how to write a lab report, there are two basic kinds of information that require attention: content or what you should be writing, and presentation or how you should be writing. In the most general terms, the research content of a lab report should tell readers what was done, how it was done, why it was done, what was found and what the findings mean. Background information is usually required to establish the context of the research, and some discussion of previous scholarship in the area is normal, though lab reports written for university credit may cite little more than the relevant lab manual and lecture notes. Research objectives and hypotheses, detailed descriptions and justifications of methods, factual reports of results, careful analysis and interpretation of significant findings, explicit acknowledgements of limitations, discussion of implications for future research and practice, assessments of the value and contribution of the findings, and carefully designed and labelled tables and figures to convey raw data and important trends effectively are standard ingredients in a reliable recipe for how to write a lab report.

Understanding the experiment behind a lab report is obviously vital for creating successful content, but a publisher’s or instructor’s guidelines about the presentation, organisation and formatting of content can also be immensely helpful for determining the nature of that content. If, for instance, a structure demarcated by internal headings such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methods & Materials, Results, Discussion and Conclusions is recommended in the relevant instructions on how to write a lab report, this guidance can help with choosing as well as arranging content. Be aware that the standard structure indicated by these headings does vary somewhat among disciplines, publishers and instructors, so some sections may not be necessary in a particular report, whereas others may need to be added. The Literature Review, for instance, might be no more than a few key sources cited in other sections; the Methods & Materials section may provide enough information for the research to be duplicated or it might simply refer to standard procedure as explained in a lab manual; the Results may be long and detailed or only a single sentence referring readers to the tables and figures that present the findings; the Discussion might be blended with the Results, combining factual reporting with logical interpretation, or Conclusions may appear as the final paragraph of the Discussion section. Organising and formatting your report with precision according to the relevant instructions for how to write a lab report will render it more accessible and comprehensible to its intended readers.

Finally, identifying the intended audience for a lab report and writing with that audience in mind are necessary aspects of how to write a lab report that will effectively communicate research findings and their significance to readers. If you are writing a report for an instructor, you can assume an audience familiar with the terms, concepts and procedures specific to the area of specialisation, but the instructor will want to know that you are familiar with them as well, so careful explanation is usually in order. If the lab report is intended for a wider audience – for a funding agency, for example – it is usually best to keep discipline-specific terminology to a minimum and briefly define any potentially confusing words that must be used. The guidelines of today’s scientific journals tend to ask authors to write original research articles in this way as well so that a wide range of readers can readily access and understand the content. Achieving this universal appeal while also providing the specialised material that peer reviewers and fellow researchers are seeking is among the primary challenges of how to write a lab report well.