Scientific writing is just as important as scientific investigation or experimenting. Although the major part of scientific investigation takes place in the laboratory--connecting equipment together, repairing, obtaining supplies and samples, checking each apparatus for consistency, calibration, and finally data collection by running the experiment—a great deal of time is spent to present the results in a concise, objective, critical and conclusive format called laboratory report (similar to research paper). Therefore, a well-organized laboratory report is much more effective and influential than one without a structure. There is no short list of instructions for writing a good laboratory report. You may have only one chance to influence your reader. While ineffective writing can turn off the readers, a well-written laboratory report can have impacts on your reputation, chance of employment or promotion. You may also draw the attention of the scientific community to your work and retain them as your readers.
Sections of a laboratory report:
A laboratory report usually have several sections identified by titles. A typical report would include such sections as TITLE, INTRODUCTION, PROCEDURE, RESULTS, and DISCUSSION/CONCLUSION. If you are using a computer to type your work, section headings should be in boldface.
The title can usually draw attention of the reader to your work. It should clearly represent the work presented. If the purpose of the experiment is to measure the gravitational acceleration of the earth using pendulum as the experimental apparatus, the title should be like “ Measurement of the Gravitational Acceleration Using Simple Pendulum”. Avoid “The” as the first word in the title for it will lead to misleading searches when one uses the database.
State the purpose of the experiment in general terms. For example, “ It is possible to measure the gravitational acceleration using the oscillations of a simple pendulum.”
Review the existing information or the theory. Reader will look for some reminder of the basic information relating to this particular area. This can be done by giving him/her a brief summary of the existing state of knowledge. We can also include a summary of earlier work with proper references.
Supply a paragraph or two about how the basic information, such as an equation representing the behavior of a model (theory), can be used to make measurements.
Indicate what parameter or properties of the system you are measuring. Usually you change a parameter of the system (such as changing the temperature, independent variable), and measure its effect (such as the length of a metal rod, dependent variable).
Specify such measurement details as the type of standard or instrument used to make the measurement (for example, meter stick or vernier caliper, etc.). Give the instrument uncertainties. For example, if we are using a meter stick, we can say, “ the length of the rod is measured using a laboratory meter stick accurate to within 1 cm. You may also give, if necessary, an apparatus diagram.
Although these do not make an exhaustive list of do’s or don'ts, they nevertheless offer a framework around which one can write an effective report. In our experiment, some of the items indicated under each section may not be needed. I will give you more feedback in class. I expect that, the lab reports, either typed or handwritten, should be neat, clear, and organized. Points will be deducted for these, as well as for missing units and failing to follow the outline (i.e. title, introduction, procedure, results, conclusion) given above.