5 Tips for writing lab reports

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So, you’ve completed the experiment in your high school science class. Now what? After hours in the lab and analyzing your data, it is now time to write a lab report. This can be a hard assignment for students to wrap their heads around. Lab reports are kind of like the essays you have written for English and history, but now it is time to apply what you’ve learned about writing to something new. Whether this is a biology, chemistry, physics, or environmental science class, these five tips will help your lab report stand out and effectively communicate your findings to your audience. 

1. Take good notes 

One of the most important things you can do for your lab report starts before you even begin writing. Your lab report depends on how detailed your notes are when you are performing your procedure. It may feel tedious, but writing down everything you do and everything you observe is very useful when you are writing your report. These notes will help you write your methods section and could provide you with crucial evidence to help explain your results. Plus, you never know when something cool that you observe will lead to new experimentation and discoveries! 

2. Check your significant figures and units

In most experiments, you will collect quantitative data. Whenever you are recording numbers or writing out calculations in the results section, it is very important that all of your measurements have both units and the correct number of significant figures. These will depend on the instrument you’ve used to collect the data and are very important for communicating the precision of your data. 

3. Write in the third person person

Lab reports tend to be written in the third person and in the past tense. This is especially important when you are writing about the experimental procedure itself, since it is something you performed in the past. A common mistake in lab reports is to write in the first person, and sometimes an “I,” “me,” or “we” sneaks its way in. When you are revising your report before turning it in, make sure you keep an eye out for this. 

4. Support your claims

You’ve gathered and interpreted the data, and now it is time to explain your findings. Why are your results the way they are? It is really important when you are writing lab reports, particularly in the discussion or conclusion, to use evidence from your experiment to support your claims. Be sure to offer an explanation of why whenever you make a claim that explains your results. If you're having a hard time organizing, try using Claim Evidence Reasoning, or CER. 

5. Find your “voice”

When you first start writing lab reports, it feels like there are so many rules and it is highly technical. However, that does not mean that your writing needs to be bereft of your own personal voice. Having style and voice in your writing is just as important in science as it is in any other subject. You want your reader to be excited about your discoveries, to feel invested in your findings. It should be enjoyable to read, and imbuing your personal style into your writing can play a big part in that. Your writing may feel different in a lab report but it should still feel like you.

Emily holds a BA in Chemistry from Wesleyan University. She has taught chemistry and physics at several independent schools, including The Hill School, Loomis Chaffee, and, most recently, The Field School in Washington, DC.

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