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Bio 116/117 Lab Report

Basics of the Lab Report

About the Lab Report

A lab report is a primary means of communication among scientists and researchers to share their findings and ideas with peers in an organized and official manner.  It describes the experiment that was performed and provides a detailed discussion of the results and how they are significant. Lab reports allow scientists to share information, and they lead to new discoveries; your lab report is a part of this body of knowledge, this scholarly conversation. (1) 

Following are some general guidelines for your lab report, however it is always advisable to check with your instructor about exactly what is expected in your lab report.  Your lab report should follow the APA Style Guide; find information on Formatting your pages, developing bibliographic entries for the References page, and creating In-text citations using the guide that we've built for you!

A lab report begins broad, becomes narrower as you get to your methods and results sections; and becomes broader through your discussion and broadest when you conclude your lab report. Consider the model to the right that describes the structure of a lab report from question to significance. (7)

In addition to a title page and references page (see Your Bio 116/7 Lab Report for information), the body of your lab report will generally include these sections:


Introduction: 

"What is your research question, and why did you investigate it?" (2)

The introduction might be the last section you’ll write, as it outlines a framework for the project and demonstrates that you understand the scientific context and purpose of the experiment (3).  It provides background information on the necessary terms and concepts to help your reader understand the context of your work, the reason for the experiment, the phenomenon that you studied, and why the study is important (4, 5).  You will rely heavily on scholarly resources, cited using in-text citations and a References page, for the contextual information; use your own words to craft an overview of the current state of research for the subject. Each topic area and every idea that is not your own should have a citation. The overview should reasonably lead to your hypothesis, which is stated in your introduction. The introduction for a lab report will:

  • Identify the topic area being studied in the lab and the problem or issue being studied in your experiment (1)
  • Provide background information on the topic (6)
  • Include a brief literature review to describe previous research conducted on the problem or issue as well as research that has not yet been conducted or that has not been conclusive (referred to as “the gap” in research). (1)
  • Present the purpose and objective for the lab (6)
  • End with a purpose statement (sometimes in the form of a hypothesis and prediction). A purpose statement is one sentence which specifically states the question your experiment was designed to answer. (1)

Your hypothesis is your prediction of the results based on your own experience, knowledge of the subject, or additional research. State your hypothesis by expressing the relationship between the independent and dependent variables using an "if…., then…" statement.

  • “If an acid is added to the soil sample, then the seeds will not germinate.” 

In the above example, acid is the independent variable (what is manipulated) and seed 

germination is the dependent variable (or what changes due to a manipulation). (4)

 


Methods & Materials: 

"What did you do, and how did you do it?" (2)

The materials and methods section is an organized, detailed account of how you carried out the experiment. Describe the procedure in your own words and in sufficient detail (e.g., precise measurements) such that someone else could exactly duplicate the experiment. (4) Think of this section as a historical record. You want to tell a story of your lab work, from beginning to end: what steps you followed and what materials you used in each stage of the lab. Use transition words and phrases to help your readers follow the story. This section should accurately reflect what you did in the experiment, so be detailed but efficient To keep your methods and materials section focused, here are two good rules to follow:

  • Provide only those details needed for recreating the experiment.

  • Avoid writing lengthy descriptions of procedures that most readers would be familiar with. (6)

In writing lab reports for undergraduate courses, you may not always be required to write a detailed materials and methods section because the methods are already described in the laboratory manual; check with your instructors about how much information to include in the written report. (1)

 


Data & Results: 

“What did you find, and what patterns and trends did you observe?”(2)

In this section, you present your observations and data with no interpretations or conclusions about what they mean. A well-written and well-organized results section will provide the framework for the your discussion.(1) You also need to figure out the trends that follow the facts which you have learned during your experiment - try to call the reader’s attention to trends or patterns.(3)

  • Data: "What did you find?"

Data are the raw, unorganized factual observations from your experiment. Most data will be presented in table format; however, possible figures include graphs, drawings, maps, or images.(4) Use this APA guide for labeling tables and figures. 

  • Results: "What patterns and trends did you observe?"

Verbally summarize your findings in written paragraphs. In this section you will organize and process the raw data to create information about patterns, trends, and observable relationships in your data. Include results that went "wrong" or were unexpected as this may be useful information for someone trying to repeat the experiment.(1)

 


Discussion & Conclusion: 

“What do your findings mean, and how do they relate to the research in your field?” (2)

In the results section, you presented trends and relationships in the data. In the discussion section, you want to take your findings one step further. What do these trends and relationships mean? (6)   The final section of your lab report is where you make logical interpretations of your data. Restate your hypotheses and discuss whether or not your data (evidence) supports or refutes your hypotheses by directly referring to your data. Your data is your evidence and forms the basis for your discussion and conclusions. (4)  This section should include (6):

  • A summary of your findings.
    • Accept or reject your hypothesis and explain why. It is acceptable to reject your own hypothesis as long as you can demonstrate it to be untrue and explain why the results did not turn out as you predicted. (1)
  • An explanation of your findings.
  • A comparison of your results with previous research and theories. 
  • A discussion of the weaknesses and limitations of your experiment.
  • An analysis of the significance of your results.

A good way to end a discussion section is as follows — "In conclusion..." and briefly summarize the results and conclusions of the experiment. (5) 


1. University of Guelph Library. (2022, February 14). Guides: Write lab reports or research reports. UoGuelph.ca. https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/LaborResearchReport

2. Salter, J., & Gibbons, S. (n.d.). Getting started: Writing in the sciences. WritingintheSciences.UoGuelph.ca. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://writinginthesciences.uoguelph.ca/getting-started/

3. Dr. Caroline. (2021, August 24). How to write a lab report for biology? PapersOwl. https://papersowl.com/blog/how-to-write-biology-lab-report

4. ABRHS Library. (n.d.). Biology lab reports guide. ABSchools.Org. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://sites.google.com/a/abschools.org/abrhs-library/home/biology-lab-reports-guide

5. UM-Dearborn. (2022, February 28). BIOL/ESCI 304 - Ecology: Writing lab reports. uMich.Edu. https://guides.umd.umich.edu/c.php?g=529359&p=7747802

6. University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Write Online: Lab report writing guide. WriteOnline.Ca. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://writeonline.ca/labreport.php?content=section4

7. Assignment Expert. (n.d.). Biology lab report help. AssignmentExpert.Com. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.assignmentexpert.com/blog/how-to-write-biology-lab-report/