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Lab reports

These reports are frequent kind of engineering documents, and they can account for a significant percentage of a course. However, there is the little time that is dedicated to the writing process for coming up with a good paper. Every professor has different requirements concerning lab reports. Irrespective of the variations in requirements, the purpose of lab reports remains constant. It documents the findings and communicates their significance.

A lab report can be written to archive the work so that it will not be done in the future. An effective report transcends the presentation of data and demonstrates the writer understands the concepts behind the data. Recording the expected data and observed results are not enough. One has to identify how and why the differences took place, explain their impact on the experiment and demonstrates an understanding of the principles the experiment was examining. Understand that a clear thinking and organised writing is irreplaceable, irrespective of the format used to write the report. Your ideas must follow a clear organisation and a coherent expression.

Lab reports are also essential in laboratory courses and are crucial in determining your grade. If you are given an outline of how to structure your lab report, stick to it. If you find lab reports examples, go through them. Some instructors will require the lab report to be included in a lab notebook whereas others will prefer a separate report.

The title page

This should contain the name of your experiment, names of lab partners, the name of your instructor, name of the lab in which the experiment was conducted and the date of carrying out the experiment. Ensure that the titles are straightforward, informative and less than ten words. However, the title page should be included if it is a requirement from your instructor.

Abstract

This paragraph summarises all the important aspects of the lab reports. It incorporates a brief reference to theory or methodology. You should write it in a way that assists the reader to decide whether they will explore the contents of your report or not. Your abstract should not exceed 200 words.

The introduction

This paragraph employs a narrowed focus than an abstract. It houses purpose of the experiment and provides the reader with the background to the performance of the experiment. Your thesis statement should be stated clearly and concisely. Do not exceed two sentences. To make your introduction effective, give the reader a background theory, previous research or formula that is necessary for their knowledge.

Your instructor abhors the repetition of the lab manual. Instead, he prefers to see your understanding of the problem. If there is too much information in your introduction, you can add subheadings like theoretical background or principle.

Writing introduction can become problematic if the student is struggling to keep the verb tenses straight and lab reports examples would suffice.  Use past tense when you are talking about the experiment. The theory, the report, and permanent equipment should take the present tense.

Methods and materials/equipment

This is a simple list of equipment that should be accurate and complete. In some instances, you can direct the reader to a lab manual or the standard procedure.

Experimental procedure

This is a chronological description of the process. Explain every step in a clear paragraph structure. Let the reader know what happens at every step. When writing this section, use the order in which the steps happened, not as they were supposed to happen. If you are required to state that you followed the procedure indicated in the manual, you have to document the instances when you did not follow it. If you have done it successfully, another researcher should duplicate it successfully.

Data

Present the numerical data you obtained from the procedure as a table. It encompasses your recording as you conducted the experiment. These are just facts, not the interpretation of their meaning. 

Results

This comprises of tables and figures. However, you have to explain your results using words. This will create a better understanding of your report to your audience. The graphic that has been used have to be very clear, and well labelled. You can draw the reader’s attention to these graphics using a sentence or two. It also enables the reader to have a focus when reading your graphs.

The provision of a simple calculation is important in the report. The rest of the calculations can be included in your appendices. Raw data can also be included in the appendix.  You have to refer to the appendices and point out trends and special features.

Discussion

Demonstrate your understanding of the experiment at this point. It should transcend the mere completion of the experiment. Explain, analyze, and interpret your experiment to the audience. According to some people, this s considered as the subjective part of lab reports. In other words, it is what is not readily observable. This section must focus on the question of understanding the significance or the meaning of the results. When answering this question, it is imperative you include both aspects of the discussion.

  • Analysis
    Show a clear indication of the results, your findings and explain what you know based on the results and deduce conclusions.
  • Interpretation
    Show the significance of your results, the existing ambiguities, possible questions and find logical explanations for the problems in the data.

Strategies for your discussion

You can focus your discussion using the following strategies

  • A comparison of the anticipated results with the ones obtained
    If there are differences, show how you can account for them. Do not use the term ‘human errors’ as it will depict you as incompetent. Specificity is important, for instance, the equipment could not give a precise measurement, the sample was not pure, or calculated values did not account for friction.
  • Analyze the experimental error
    You have to show if the error was avoidable or not. Explain if the equipment caused it and if it were within the parameters, you would be able to account for the difference from the ideal. If the flaws emanated from the experimental design, explain how the design can be improved or upgraded.
  • Explain your results using theoretical issues
    Undergraduate labs are intended to demonstrate significant physical laws, which are usually discussed in the introduction. You now move the results to the theory in this section. Show how well your theory has been illustrated.
  • Relate your results to the objectives of your experiment
    If for instance, you wanted to identify an unknown metal by finding its lattice parameter and the atomic structure, you have to know the metal and its attribute well.
  • Make a comparison of your results with similar experiments
    In some instances, it is legitimate to make a comparison of the results. The idea is not to change your answer but to identify any anomalies between the groups and discuss them.
  • Analyze the strengths and limitations of your experimental design
    This becomes especially applicable if you are testing something that you designed

Conclusion

This is a very short section in most of the undergraduate lab reports. You should state what you know and are sure of. This should come from the experiment you have just conducted. Show if your hypothesis was accepted or rejected and what it means. Talk about the future research that needs to be done to further your conclusions and the implications of the findings.

References

If your research was pegged on someone’s work or if you cited information that requires documentation, it is important to list all these references. The references should be organised in a manner that conforms to your field. 

Appendices

This includes things like raw data, graphs, pictures, calculations, or tables that have not been included in the report. Each kind of item should appear in a separate appendix. Ensure that you refer to each appendix at least once in your report. There are many lab reports examples you can consult on this.

Important tips when you are writing a partial lab report

  • Be sure of the sections that you are required to write in full
  • Follow the format of writing lab reports, that is, title, abstract, introduction, discussion, methods results, conclusion, references, and appendices.
  • For each sentence, you are not supposed to write in full, write a sentence or two summarising that section.

Like any other form of writing, lab reports require the writer to follow every guideline to the letter. This is important especially if the lab report accounts for a bigger percentage of a grade in a test.

The above format is not an exhaustive list of what you can and cannot do when writing your lab report. You can base your report on this framework. The idea is to ensure that everything is logical and well explained. All lab reports are part of scientific writing since major scientific experiments take place in the lab. The lab report becomes effective if it has a good structure. It also influences the reputation of the researcher.

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