A lab report is something that's typically taught in a science class, but has applications that are useful outside of the classroom. The aim of a lab report is to collect the information gathered during a study or an experiment and to prove that the results presented are legitimate. Learning how to write a quality lab report is always a good way to learn how to organize information, present data clearly and draw conclusions from your work. In that way, learning how to construct a lab report is a skill that will serve you well throughout your educational career.
Elements of a Lab Report
Scientists typically follow a basic format when designing and writing lab reports. Whether you're writing the lab report for a social science or a physical science, you will likely find that the template is equally applicable. The structure of a lab report tends to go as follows:
- Introduction. The introduction section introduces the hypothesis behind the experiment. Include information about how you formulated this hypothesis and how it might be related to existing research or scholarship on the same subject. The introduction should also explain what you hope to discover by undertaking the experiment.
- Methods and Materials. In this section, explain the method or strategy you have selected for testing your hypothesis and describe the steps you'll take to gather the information necessary to come to a conclusion. Also list any materials you plan to use in service of the experiment. It's a good idea to discuss why you've chosen the particular method you've selected versus another strategy.
- Results. In this section, detail the results of your experiment. Whether the experiment was a success or failure, this section of the lab report is for the honest and accurate reporting of exactly what happened when the experiment was undertaken. Whether it is numerical data or something less quantifiable, any and all results and findings should be reported in this section. The data should not be analyzed or interpreted in this section of the lab report; it is exclusively for raw results.
- Discussion. Discuss what the results of the experiment mean and whether or not your hypothesis was supported. You should also take the time to reference any experimental errors that may have affected the results. This section should also analyze the success of your experimental design and whether it presented any limitations in testing your hypothesis.
- Conclusion. Write a definitive conclusion that details what you've discovered from your experiment and whether or not you think it proved your hypothesis. If your experiment failed to prove or disprove the hypothesis or was otherwise inconclusive, put that information here.
Example of a Lab Report
A simple example of a lab report might discuss the results of an experiment you developed when trying to figure out how many cups of sugar would fit in a large glass jar. You guessed that 7 cups will fit and you decided to test that hypothesis. Your lab report should be written in the passive voice and might look like this:
- Introduction. In this experiment, we will learn how many cups of sugar this large glass jar can hold. The experiment will specifically test the hypothesis that 7 cups of sugar will fit into the jar.
- Methods and Materials. The materials used are a measuring cup that has a volume of 1 cup, the glass jar in question and a large bag of sugar. Cups of sugar will be added to the jar until it is full, and the number of cups required to fill it will be recorded.
- Results. Only 6 cups of sugar were added to the jar before the jar became full.
- Discussion. The experiment proved that the jar can only hold 6 cups of sugar. By the time the 6th cup of sugar was added, the jar was full. It is possible given an experimental error that not every cup of sugar added to the jar was a full cup, so it is possible that the jar holds even less than 6 full cups of sugar.
- Results. The results of this experiment conclusively proved that the initial hypothesis was incorrect. The results of the experiment proved that this jar can hold no more than 6 cups of sugar.
What Disciplines Require a Lab Report?
Many scientific disciplines require lab reports. Scientists working with natural sciences such as cosmology, geology, life science, biology, chemistry and physics regularly create lab reports. Medical science advancements are also dependent on the creation of lab reports. Researchers working in the social science fields like sociology and psychology also regularly create lab reports based on their studies. Outside of the fields of science, anytime you have a theory or a hypothesis and undertake an experiment to prove it, those results can be usefully captured in a lab report.