Descriptive Labs

SECTION FOUR : Discussion

Interpreting the results of the lab

Step 1: For the opening paragraph of the Discussion, explain what the findings mean in terms of the scientific concept or laboratory procedure of the lab. In other words, discuss the connection between the evidence you collected and what you were supposed to be learning about by doing the lab. If necessary, refer to graphs, drawings, tables, lists, or other visuals from the Results to support your explanation.

More Help:

  • Go back to the first part of your Introduction where you establish the main focus of the lab--the scientific concept or procedure of the lab--and use what you have written to address the following questions in your opening paragraph of the Discussion:
    • What is the connection between your findings and the scientific concept or procedure of the lab?
    • What implications do the findings suggest about the concept or procedure?
    • How do the findings relate to your description of what you already knew about the concept or procedure in the first paragraph of the Introduction?
  • If appropriate, refer to specific drawings, tables, or other visuals from the Results to support your explanation.

Step 2: Go back to the questions you raised in your Introduction, and in a paragraph or so, discuss any answers you arrived at as a result of doing the lab or as a result of additional research you may have done. Where appropriate, refer to specific data in your findings or to specific points in the protocol to support the answers to these questions. Finally, discuss the importance of these questions to the scientific concept or lab procedure you explored in this lab. Note any citations you use here for including in the References section of your report.

More Help:

  • Return to the Introduction and to the original PreLab question (if you did one) where you raised the questions to guide your learning. Identify any of those questions that doing the lab or doing additional research provided answers for, even partial answers. These are the ones you can discuss in this section of the report.
  • In the Discussion, consider each question separately, unless some questions are better grouped together. Restate the question or issue and then present what you think is an answer to it. Then explain how you came to the answer. This is where you should refer to specific findings or other observations from the laboratory procedure.
  • If you are not sure of an answer, put in any qualifiers you think are appropriate. You can say that you think the answer is tentative.
  • For help with citing references, go to Citations and References.

Step 3: In the final part of your Discussion, write about other items as appropriate, such as (1) questions from the Introduction that remain unanswered; (2) sources of uncertainty in your lab methods that may have led you to unclear answers; (3) how your findings compare to the findings of other students in the lab and an explanation for any differences; (4) what further investigations you would do in order to gather more information; (5) suggestions for improving the lab.

More Help:

  • The final part of your Discussion allows you to bring up other issues that may be appropriate for this lab. The list here is intended to be suggestive. They point to the kinds of things you could address here.
  • Previously, you had identified questions from the Introduction that you could answer based on the lab research. Go back to the ones that you don’t have a satisfactory answer for. Restate those questions and talk about why they remain unanswered and speculate, if you can, on what it would take to answer them.
  • If you have reason to be uncertain about some of your data (for example, it doesn’t match you think you should have found or if you had problems in your lab procedure) go back to the notes you took as you were setting up the lab and collecting and recording data. These notes might enable you to identify sources of uncertainty.
  • In scientific articles, the Discussion is where scientists typically compare their results to those from other scientific experiments. If your teacher says it is permissible, you can do something similar by comparing your results to those of other students in the lab. In your paragraph, comment on any similarities or differences you find and offer possible explanations for the differences.
  • Professors who write lab manuals are typically interested in how they can improve the experiments in the manuals. You can also demonstrate your ability to provide productive critique of the lab by offering suggestions for improvement.
  • In the Discussion section, use the past tense when referring to what has been done in the experiment, but use present tense when talking about most everything else, such as scientific concepts, explanations, and references to articles. For help with citing references, go to Citations and References.

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