Posted by: lapazfarm | August 12, 2009

How to write a lab report

You may notice as you read through lesson plans that I often ask students to record their work in their  notebooks. I want to take this opportunity to address the expectations for this work.

Sometimes the instructions are written in a casual way, as in “describe what you saw..” or “take notes on…”.  In these cases I am asking only for a well-written paragraph or so of material (depending on ability), in the student’s own words.

Sometimes, however, you will note that I ask for specific parts of a formal lab report: materials, methods, results, discussion,etc. In these cases, and in the case of project week write-ups, where a full lab report is expected, the student needs to understand how a formal lab report is written. If the student has no previous exposure to lab reports, he may find it a very different process and product from his previous writing experiences in history, literature, or even science.

Lab reports are an important concept in science. They are written in a specific, formalized way which is fairly standard throughout many branches of science at all levels (with certain specific deviations based on the needs of specific field of study). There are good reasons for this standardization, the most important of which is for the purpose of repeatability (ie. so future scientists can repeat the study and independently confirm or refute the results).

In this course, I provide a gentle introduction to the formal lab report by asking at first for only a section or two at a time, gradually building up to a full report after the first project week (week 7).

Rather than reinventing the wheel, I am going to direct you to a few excellent online resources on writing lab reports.Please visit the following sites, look them over and decide which is most appropriate for your level of understanding/experience:

For the beginning high school student, middle school students, or those with no lab report writing experience, this is the best place to start:

For upper high school level students or those with experience writing lab reports. These are  comprehensive and detailed guides. They will prepare you well for college-level report writing:

  • Writing lab reports (fairly concise)
  • Lab report pdf (very detailed)
  • LabWrite (a very thorough work-as-you-go guide to lab report writing, from pre-lab to post-lab. Interesting concept. I especially like the guidance provided for student-designed labs. I’d be interested in hearing feedback if anyone chooses this route)

For the upper elementary student, I like this ultra-simple form: Scientific method worksheet. It is a gentle introduction to thinking about science in a more formal way. Parents may have to provide guidance here, but I urge you to keep it simple at this level.

This cute handout is appropriate for lower elementary students working with an older sibling or parent:

Things to think about:

Not all labs/experiments are the same, so not all lab reports will be the same. In some labs, particularly those which involve mainly observations, it will not be appropriate to even have a formal hypothesis because you are not testing anything. If this is the case then your lab report will be more descriptive in nature and you can leave out the hypothesis part. You still need to write up exactly what you are observing and why(introduction), exactly what you did (materials and methods) and what you saw (results/observations) and what you learned from it (discussion/conclusion).

If, however, you are doing an experiment where you are asking a specific question (ex: do hermit crabs prefer shells which are longer than wide) then you will have a hypothesis and need to write your report accordingly.

If you have any questions about lab report writing or what exactly to include in your report, please feel free to ask me when the time comes!

And most of all, don’t worry! Lab reports are super simple once you get the hang of them.

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Responses

  1. […] Fieldwork: How to write a lab report […]

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    Wish I would have found this last year. 🙂

    Let me know what you think.
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

    • Thanks, Barb. That’s a great site and we have used stuff from there before (love the tree leaf bingo). Thanks for the reminder.

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  4. I need a lesson plan for teaching 9-11th graders to write a lab report in envirnmental science. Anyone have one?
    Deb

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