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How To Write A Lab Report to Make Your TA Cry Tears of Joy

(& become a great chemistry student!)


Casey Waun GTA, Oregon State University

When writing lab reports, there are many things to remember. It is certainly
understandable that this may not come naturally to you, but if you follow these
steps you will certainly make your TA very happy (and get a fabulous grade on your
lab report!)
First and foremost, lab reports should always be written in 3rd person, passive past
tense. This means you should not use the words we", "our", "us", "they" or anything
of that sort. For example, instead of saying We calculated the molarity and found it
to be 1.5 M. you should say something like The molarity calculations which were
performed resulted in a concentration of 1.5M. Another example: We weighed out
4 samples of sucrose in order to add them to 4 volumetric flasks each with 15 mL of
water. changes to 4 samples of sucrose were weighed. Each was placed in a
different volumetric flask and each flask was filled with water.

Abstract
This section is arguably the most important section of your entire lab report, as it is
the portion of scientific writing that the reader uses to determine whether or not
they will continue reading (This is more relevant with journal articles, because
obviously I will read your lab report. However, is important to think of it this way.).
There are 4 major parts which should be included in a good abstract: 1) The
purpose or goal of your experiment, 2) 1-2 sentences briefly describing how you
reached your goal/purpose, 3) The results you obtained. This is an extremely
important thing to state, since this section is essentially a summary of your entire
lab report. The purpose of your experiment was to find a certain result, so you have
to make sure you include that result! 4) One sentence about what your results
suggest.
The abstract is easiest to write last, after you have completed every other section.
Taking the most important sentence (or two) from each section will ensure that you
have an abstract that coherently introduces the reader to your topic.

Introduction
The introduction of your lab report introduces the reader to the theory behind your
experiment. This gives any background information that the reader will need to
understand in order to comprehend your findings.
1. Briefly describe the research problem you were given. Define the problem by
giving the knowns and the unknowns.

2. State the scientific concept that this problem relates to and describe what you
know about the scientific concept that is relevant to understanding and solving the
problem. Note any citations you use here for References section.
3. Present the hypothesis that emerged out of the research question. Explain the
reasoning you used, based on what you have said about the scientific concept, to
arrive at the hypothesis. Finally, briefly describe the experimental procedures you
used to test your hypothesis. 1
Experimental (sometimes referred to as Procedure or Methods)
This section explains to the reader what you did to solve your research problem. It
is easy to make this section too long. You need to give enough information to make it
possible for your reader to repeat your experiment, but you need to omit
unnecessary details. Its all about balance.
Here is an example of a bad experimental section (If your experiment was to
see what happened when placing Mentos in soda):
First, we put all the sodas next to each other. Then, everyone put on goggles. Then
we dropped a mentos into the soda. Then we recorded data. Then we compared it to
our hypothesis. Then we cleaned up.
A much better experimental section would say:
Soda bottles were placed next to each other in order to compare their reactions
with the Mentos. One Mento was dropped in each of the bottles and chemical
reactions were observed.
This section should ALWAYS be written in paragraph format, never in a list. It
should also be in 3rd person passive past tense (this is very important!). You neednt
list the materials you used at the beginning of the Experimental section. Just refer to
these materials as you use them during your explanation of your procedure.
Results
Your results section should state just that, your results. Include any relevant tables,
plots, or charts in this section. Make sure you label each figure, as you will need to
refer to them when writing your Discussion section. When making plots, be sure to
label each axis (including units!) and title your plot. When making tables, be sure to
include units.
Review all the data from your experiment. In a sentence or two summarize the
overall results of this lab. This is the opening sentence(s) of the Results section. In
separate paragraphs summarize the finding in each of your visuals--tables, graphs,
or other figures. First state the overall relationship or interaction among variables

that each visual represents. Then include any specific details from the visual that are
important for understanding the results. Refer to your tables, graphs, or other
figures as figure or table 1, 2, 3.
*REMEMBER* - The Results does not explain, discuss, or draw conclusions. 1
Discussion
Now its time to talk about your findings! How exciting! This is the section where
you explain, discuss, and draw conclusions.
1. Write a sentence or two stating whether or not the results from the lab
procedures fully support your hypothesis, do not support the hypothesis, or support
the hypothesis but with certain exceptions.
2. Identify specific data from your lab that led you to either support or reject your
hypothesis. Refer to the visual representations of your data as evidence to back up
your judgment about the hypothesis.
3. Use your understanding of the scientific concept of this lab to explain why
the results did or did not support your hypothesis. If the hypothesis from the
Introduction was not fully supported, show how your understanding of the
scientific concept has changed. Note any citations you use here for including in
the Reference section of your report.
4. Restate the research question and present the answer your experiment has
suggested for that question. Show how the experiment has helped you to solve for
the unknowns.
5. Discuss other items as appropriate, such as any problems that occurred
or sources of uncertainty in your lab procedure that may account for any
unexpected results.1 KEEP IN MIND: Calculation errors which were done after the
lab and did not have an impact on your procedure ARE NOT ERRORS. They can be
fixed! I know its a pain, but science isnt always easy! Also, broadly stating human
error is NOT AN ERROR. If you dropped a beaker and lost all of your product so
were unable to analyze any data, you can include that as human error. If everything
went well but you assume someone screwed up at some point, please do not state
that human error occurred.
Calculations
This section is rather straightforwardyou include calculations here. You do not
need to write out every calculation you did, just a representative calculation for each
group of calculations of the same sort. Please make sure youre using equation
editor to show your calculations. For example, I would like to see this:

NOT this:
1.5 mol HCl * 1 mol NaOH/1 mol HCl*39.997 g NaOH/1 mol NaOH = 59 g NaOH
You can do this by selecting Insert and then Equation in Microsoft Word.
Conclusion
Your conclusion should be slightly similar to your abstract, but include what you
learned in the lab. DO NOT EVER write I learnedblah blah blah. SHOW your TA
that you learned something by addressing briefly why you obtained your results.
References
Your references should be in ACS format. You need to reference all materials you
used (even if theyre from Blackboard). You should also obtain at least one outside
resource to reference in your Intro (this could be your book if youd like).
See this link for ACS format: http://library.williams.edu/citing/styles/acs.php
General Lab Report Writing Tips:
-If you know that writing clearly and concisely with proper grammar is not your
strong suit, PLEASE utilize the Writing Center. If you are given an opportunity to
have a rough draft, your TA will be more than willing to fix parts your lab report
that are specific to lab report writing, but at this point in your careers you should all
be able to write with proper sentence structure and correct grammar. We are not
English TAs, so we should not be responsible for correcting your grammar errors.
-Dont be wordy! Writing as concise as possible in science is very important. Fluff
words have no place in your lab report.
-Do not use names of people in your group in your lab report. At this point it really
doesnt matter who did what during your experiment, since youre just presenting
your findings.
-Never say We didsuch and such.because our TA told us to. If you are unsure of
why you completed a certain step that I told you to do, ask me! I am more than
willing to answer any questions you have on this report!

References:
1. LabWrite. Designing Experiments Self Guide.
http://www.ncsu.edu/labwrite/Experimental%20Design/Exp_PO.htm
(accessed February 26, 2014)