Descriptive Labs

PostLab: writing your lab report


Describing the lab procedure

Using your lab manual, handouts, and notes taken during the lab as a guide, describe in paragraph form how you did the lab. The point is to demonstrate that you have a solid grasp of the lab procedures, such as conducting a dissection or using specific laboratory equipment to determine an unknown. Provide enough detail of the materials you used and the methods you followed so that someone else could repeat the procedure. Make sure to note any differences between the procedures presented in the lab manual and what you actually did. This will be very important when you are writing the discussion portion of your report. Remember that the Methods should only describe what you did in the lab and not what you found.

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Making sense of your findings for yourself and others

Step 1: If you haven't already done so, create appropriate tables, graphs, and other figures to enable you to visualize your lab data. Use a spreadsheet program or table function in a word processing program. If your lab data consists of only drawings, or observations, you may want to organize these in tabular format as well. If not, go to Step 2. Remember that representing your data in a visual format will allow you to identify trends, relationships, and other patterns in your data more easily.

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Step 2: Once you have generated visual representations of your data, determine the best order for presenting the visuals. If the the proper order for visuals is already determined by the lab manual, go to step three.

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Step 3: Review all the data from your experiment. In a sentence or two, summarize the main finding of this lab. This is the opening sentence(s) of the Results section.

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Step 4: In separate paragraphs, summarize the general finding in each of your visuals--tables, graphs, drawings, or other figures. First, describe any relationship or interaction which exists among variables for each visual. Then include any specific details from the visual(s) that are important for understanding the results. Refer to your tables, graphs, drawings, or other figures as figure or table 1, 2, 3, etc.

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Step 5: Complete the Results by placing all the elements you've written in the proper order: (1) the sentence summarizing the overall data for the lab; (2) the paragraphs of word descriptions for each visual arranged in the order the visuals are presented. Remember that the Results only reports and describes what you observed and collected during your lab. The Results does not explain, discuss, or draw conclusions.

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SECTION THREE : Introduction

Establishing a context for the lab

Step 1: Begin the opening paragraph of the Introduction by stating the scientific concept (principle, theory, law) or laboratory procedure of the lab. Then finish the paragraph by writing down all the details about the concept or procedure relevant to the lab that you can find in the lab manual, textbook, class notes, handouts, etc. If you completed the PreLab, this step corresponds to question 1. Note any citations you use here for including in the References section of your report.

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Step 2: Write in sentence form the objectives for this lab--specific things you are being asked to do in the lab, such as measure, analyze, observe, test something, etc. Then, continue the paragraph by describing the purpose of the lab--how the achievement of these objectives are designed to help you learn about the scientific concept or procedure of the lab. If you completed the PreLab, this step corresponds to questions 2 and 3.

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Step 3: Describe the questions you had before doing the lab, things you didn't understand or would like to know more about. These are questions about the scientific concept, lab materials, procedures, or application of this lab to other scenarios. If other questions came up as you were completing the lab, include them here as well. State why these questions are important to understanding the lab. Make sure to describe your questions in the context of the scientific concept for the lab. If you completed the PreLab, this step corresponds to question 4.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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SECTION FIVE: Conclusion

Focusing on what you learned by doing the lab

Step 1: Write a paragraph summarizing what you have learned about the scientific concept or procedure of the lab. Back up your statement with details from your lab experience.

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Step 2: There may be more that you have learned about from the lab experience that is not directly related to the main focus of the lab, the scientific concept or lab procedure. If so, describe it in a paragraph or two.

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Summarizing the lab report

Summarize each major section of the lab report--Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion--in 1 sentence each (two if a section is complex). Then string the summaries together in a paragraph in the order the sections come in the final report.

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Capturing the essence of the report

A good title very efficiently tells the reader what the report is about. Write a title that captures what is important about the lab, including the scientific concept the lab.

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Acknowledging sources of information

List all the sources you referred to in writing the report, such as the lab manual, a textbook, a course packet, or a scientific article. Be sure to use the proper form of documentation for the scientific field you are working in (See Citations and References).

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