Science Lab Reports

Each lab report has specific expectations so a definitive style does not really exist. Thus, the best advice is to read the lab sheet carefully to ensure that you meet all the expectations. They serve several functions:

  • Persuade others to accept or reject hypotheses by presenting data and interpretations
  • Detail data, procedures, and outcomes for future researchers
  • Become part of the accepted body of scientific knowledge when published unless later disproved
  • Provide an archival record for reference and document a current situation for future comparison

There are some general guidelines you can follow.

  1. Always include an underlined, centered title at the top of the report (assuming a title page has omitted--see Class APA Guides/Writing Format).
  2. Always include an underlined date to the right of the title at the top of the report (assuming a title page has omitted--see Class APA Guides/Writing Format).
  3. Always put your name at the very top left or right of the report. It is helpful to place the names of your lab partners under your name (assuming a title page has omitted--see Class APA Guides/Writing Format).
  4. If you wish to include subtitles to separate sections of the report, be consistent in your style. They should be flush with the left margin, but not underlined (see Class APA Guides/Writing Format). For example, if you use a subtitle "Observations", you should also use subtitles such as"Conclusions" and etc. Be consistent!
  5. If there is a hypothesis for the experiment, it is typically the first section of the report, unless otherwise specified. It may be informal (just a prediction such as "It is predicted that bromthymol blue indicator will turn yellow in foods that contain acids". It may be formal (for example, "If hydration affects test scores, then it is predicted that the more water high school students drink during the day, the higher their test scores will be on average". The type of hypothesis expected will be stated.
  6. Typically the observations section comes next. There are two main types of observations that are requested, but most often the work is displayed in a table. You may be asked to make an observations table or a results table. An observations table only includes data that was directly observed and no inferences, conclusions or calculations. A results table includes both data that was directly observed and inferences, conclusions or calculations. Making concise and clear tables is a developed skill and is much harder than most students realize. Any table needed, is very specific to the experiment being conducted. Try to make sure it is very clear, there should be no short-forms and it should neatly summarize results without creating redundancies. It should not be ambiguous, misleading or difficult to interpret. The easier it is to decipher, the better the table. All data tables must either have an introduction or a title. For example, an introduction could be, "The following table depicts the measurement of blood pressure of grade eleven students recorded before and after ten minutes of vigorous exercise". The same goal can be achieved using a table title which would be immediately above the table and is flush with the left edge of the table. It would be written as, "Table 1: Blood Pressure Measurements of Grade eleven Students Before and After Ten Minutes of Vigorous Exercise" or "Table 1: Measurement of blood pressure of grade eleven students before and after completing ten minutes of vigorous exercise." The former is a title with capitals and no punctuation, while the latter is sentence with only one capital and a period at the end and must have perfect grammar. The styles are different so do not mix them. Making a good table title is very challenging, but it should be concise and allow the reader to know all about the experiment.
  7. Typically any graphs would come next and would still be included in the observations/results section. They can go on separate paper at the end of the report, in order used in the report. In this case, they should be mentioned in the report. For example, "The relationship between blood pressure and sex is depicted in figure one", or "No relationship was found between blood pressure and sex of grade eleven students (see figure one)". It is sometimes acceptable to just use a title on the graph, but it is better to have a figure caption instead of a title. The figure caption is placed flush with the left edge of the graph at the bottom of the graph. It should be concise summary that allows the reader to know exactly what happened during the experiment. For example, "Figure 1: The relationship between blood pressure and sex for grade eleven students before and after ten minutes of vigorous exercise." Figure captions are most typically sentences, but can occasionally use title format.
  8. Typically the report ends with the conclusions section. This is where you may be asked to summarize your findings, support or reject your hypothesis, conduct math or answer questions. It is very important that your reword the question as clarity is extremely important. All math should be conducted in an Appendix section (a separate sheet of paper, at the end of the report). The appendix can be a little rougher (in pencil, short-forms, fractions or division lines can be drawn free-hand), but there must be a formal statement for the math in the main body of the report. Thus, you do the work in the appendix and state the answer in the conclusions section.
  9. If you needed sources to help explain your answer, then you must include citations, and a separate reference page as outlined by the APA. The Reference page would be the last page in the report in this case.

Some general points of style:

  • Strive for logic and precision and avoid ambiguity, especially with pronouns and sequences
  • Keep your writing impersonal; avoid the use of the first person (i.e. I or we)
  • Use the past tense and be consistent within the report note: "data" is plural and "datum" is singular; species is singular and plural
  • Italicize all scientific names (genus and species)
  • Use the metric system of measurement and abbreviate measurements without periods (i.e. cm kg) spell out all numbers beginning sentences or less than 10 (i.e. "two explanations of six factors").
  • Write numbers as numerals when greater than ten (i.e. 156) or associated with measurements (i.e. 6 mm or 2 g)
  • Have a neutral person review and critique your report before submission