There are a number of things that you will need to have in your title page. You will need to put the name of your experiment, the dates and the names of any lab partners. It is important to go with a straightforward title which is informative, to the point and usually less than 15 words.
Within your abstract, you will want to summarise the main features of the report: the reasons for doing the experiment (experiment’s purpose), the significance of your report, your key findings and the main conclusions that you have drawn. Abstracts should also include brief references to methodology or theories, yet every abstract is different so if your professor has instructed you to follow the abstract style of a particular journal, visit that journal’s website and take a look at their requirements. Abstracts have strict word counts, typically between 100 and 200 words - check with your professor or journal guidelines first.
As you move on to the introduction, you should aim to provide a more narrow focus than the focus you’ve given in your abstract. Introductions are there two states any objectives that you have in your experiment, providing the audience with the background. It is important to state your topic in a clear and concise manner, never going over two or three sentences.
The best introductions are ones that can provide background theory, formulas and any previous research that the reader ought to know about before reading on. It is not necessary to repeat the whole of that lab manual, however, you should aim to show that you can comprehend problems.
It is worth mentioning that introductions can often create a difficult situation for students who have trouble with their tenses and grammar. Let’s look at examples to help settle the matter when you’re writing your introduction.
Since the experiment has already been completed, make sure you use the past tense and not the present tense, for example:“The objectives of this experiment were…” Because the theory, the report and all of the equipment still exist today, you will need to write about them in the present tense, for example: “The main purpose of this lab report is…” “Einstein’s law of relativity states that…” “Electron microscope methods produce…”
At this stage of the lab report, you will need to make a note of any methods, materials and equipment used. Keep things concise, i.e. you can form a simple list - just make sure that it is accurate and succinct. Often in some cases, you can direct the reader towards a particular section of a lab manual or standard procedure, for example:“The microscope was set up as in CHE 359 manual.”
This is a description of the experimental process in chronological order. You will need to write using a clear structure, making the audience fully aware of each step in the exact order in which they occurred. You will want to think of this section as if you wanted somebody else to repeat your experiment from scratch. Make everything as clear and concise as possible so that anybody reading would be able to replicate the experiment. If your professor tells you that you can state what you did by citing the procedures manual, be sure to document any instances where you strayed from what is mentioned in the procedure manual. Remember the underlying point of this section is for it to read as if anybody could replicate what you’ve done from scratch.
Results action is where you will want to include your tables, calculations and figures. You will want to state any results that you achieved in an explicit and verbal form, for example:Statistical modelling of the animal showed results to be statistically significant (P < 0.05)
Any visual aid such as graphics need to be clear, well labelled and easy to read. An important way of doing this is to make sure that your results include a sentence or 2 to draw the attention of the reader to them. This will help the reader focus when going through your results. Most of the time, providing sample calculations is what is sufficient within your report. You can leave any details within your appendix, such as any raw data tables which would not be very pleasant to look at in full. If someone wants to get a more clear understanding, they can turn towards your appendix for further clarity. Make sure that you refer to your appendices whenever necessary, pointing out any trends and special features which will need to be identified there.
This is arguably the most important part of your report, showing to the audience that you have understood the experiment beyond the simple base level understanding. You should demonstrate that not only have you completed the experiment, but you have also analysed, explained and interpreted the experiment. Many people think of the discussion as the most subjective part of a lab report, meaning that one can draw upon what is not easily observable. This is certainly true, but not always. Essentially, you will want to show the significance and meaning of your results. You can focus on several strategies in order to help you do this:
If you have found differences in your experiment, how can they be accounted for? Simply claiming that human error has created a difference is not sufficient. It is important to be as specific as possible, for example, limitations with instruments causing them to measure incorrectly, contaminated samples, limitations with sample sizes or results that did not take something into account.
Can you think of anything which you would have done differently? Were any errors a result of your equipment? Can you think of anything which you would have avoided? Thinking about answers to these questions is important in the discussion. If there are some flaws that have come from your experimental design, this is okay, just explain how you might have improved things and how things could be improved in the future.
It is often the case that undergraduate lab reports are conducted in order to present physics laws, such as Einstein’s theory of relativity. You should have discussed this in your introduction already, so move on from the results to the theory. How well has this theory been illustrated within your experiment? Can you explain the results in relation to this theory? If not, think about what you could do differently.
If one of your objectives was to identify some unknown metal by looking at lattice parameters and atomic structures, it’s vital that you know the properties of the metal and all of its attributes.
Take a look at what your peers have done. You won’t want to change your answer, but you will want to see how your experiment has gone between your peers. This can be a great way of getting information to use in your discussion.
Conclusions are usually very short within a lab report. It is often sufficient that you just state what you have found as a result of the lab experiment. This is not a place to provide colourful vocabulary and description - the reader only wants to know what has happened in a clear and succinct manner. Take a look at this example:Comparative functional responses showed that rainbow trout consumed fish meal pellets at a faster rate in experimental fish tanks with plants than in control tanks without plants. This would reveal that rainbow trout feed faster around plants.
Notice that in this example there is a justification for the results. The conclusion is sufficiently concise and anyone reading can see that this is a sound conclusion. In general, this is enough, yet check with your professor.
It is important to put any future work that needs to be done - this demonstrates that your experiment was useful and gives it more of a purpose. It is standard scientific practice in journals to recommend what needs to be done in the future. In the lab report, one can also do this.
Discuss with your professor as to what reference style you should use. Referencing is all about organisation and format, i.e. things need to be written in a certain way. If you stray from using the same reference style throughout your whole lab report, you will lose marks and it will look very mediocre.
The appendix is a section where you can put all of your raw data and anything that is too large to be put in the body of the report. Typically you can include calculations, pictures, graphs and tables. Just think about anything that is too large to include within the report itself and put it in her. Make sure that each appendix is labelled sufficiently.
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