Writing Lab Reports
This page outlines general guidelines for lab reports that can be adapted as needed. Whilst the information presented will be appropriate for many subjects, some tutors and supervisors may have particular preferences or conventions that differ slightly from that outlined here. Make sure you listen to any briefings and ask if unsure.
A good lab report will follow a number of conventions that are designed to set the context for the study, present results in a clear, concise manner and then discuss the implications of the findings and the writers understanding of what has happened.
A note on writing style
The predominant method of scientific writing uses the third person. This means not using any of the following:
I, me, my, we, us, our, mine (all of which are the first person)
Second person phrases are also to be avoided such as you and your (second person).
While writing in the third person is recommended, the tense used will depend on the section that you're writing for. The best way to learn how to do this is to study how it's done in published articles.
Try the exercises on this site to help develop your ability to write in the third person
This needs to contain the name of the experiment and the date. Titles should be straightforward and informative.
The abstract is a short summary of your work. They will usually follow the general structure of the work itself along the lines of the IMRAD principle (Intro, Method, Results and Discussion) (Alexandrov and Hennerici, 2007) although there are a range of ways of presenting this information and one journal's abstract style will not necessarily look the same as another. The information should clearly sum up the report within 100-200 words.
Print off abstracts from articles taken from three different journal titles. Using different colours, underline the different components of the abstracts.
Find a journal article and put the abstract to one side. Read the journal writing down the key elements of each section. Write an abstract of up to 200 words and then compare this to the published abstract.
An introduction is designed to set the context in which the study has been undertaken and to move the reader from what is known about an area to what is unknown and outline the aim of the specific experiment in question (Foote, 2006). There should be three phases to the introduction that move from a broader review of the topic area, toward the areas being addressed in your study and then, only in the last sentence or so, should the specific aims of the study be highlighted. In longer theses, there may be a whole section or chapter covering a literature review, but within a shorter lab reports this will be addressed by the use of more concise critiques of previous studies (MacAuley, 1994).
Aim, objectives, hypotheses: whilst the aim of the study should be included at the end of the introduction, common errors are to include it too soon, to have an aim that is not linked to the rationale, or is too vague, or to avoid having an aim at all.
Being overly focused on introducing the essay or lab report as an object in itself rather than introducing the topic of interest.
Note on Verb Tense
Introductions often create difficulties for students who struggle with keeping verb tenses straight. These two points might help you navigate the introduction:
The experiment is already finished. Use the past tense when talking about the experiment.
"The objective of the experiment was..."
The report, the theory and permanent equipment still exist; therefore, these get the present tense:
"The purpose of this report is..."
Print out an introduction from a journal article. Using three colours identify the following three phases 1: context, 2:development of themes, 3: aim of this experiment (like the example above). Within the same introduction, circle the references that have been cited for an idea of how many could be used.
This section should be written so that someone else can repeat the experiment just by reading your method section. A key point throughout is to include enough information for replication, but to not include unnecessary information.
The methods section should have some distinct elements within it that may be presented under sub-headings or might be presented in separate paragraphs. The content should include participants, study design, experimental procedures and intended statistical analysis.
When reporting the participants that have taken part in the experiment, the writer should include standard characteristics such as age, height and body mass. It is also recommended that you describe the participants’ backgrounds in terms of experience and fitness levels. The section on participants should also make reference to ethical considerations, informed consent and health screening that has been completed.
Experimental Procedure describes the process in chronological order. Using clear paragraph structure (avoid numbering the stages), explain all steps in the order as they happened.
See the image below for an example (but ignore the different colour of the reference year, that's just a hyperlink).
The method should be written in “past tense, third person” ie “height and body mass were recorded prior to the tests being completed” rather than “height and weight will be taken…”
Equipment used should be included in the main body of the method whenever it has been used ie the participants completed a warm-up on the treadmill (Woodway Desmo HP, Woodway GmbH, Weil am Rhein, Germany) follow this link for a list of the equipment available in the Marjon sport science lab
The purpose of the results section is to present the data you have collected in a clear, concise manner. The data should be presented in a logical format and will probably include a combination of figures and/or tables, statistical analysis and brief descriptions of data.(Foote, 2009)
Figures should be labelled under the graph with a label that briefly describes the data that is included.
The Axes should be labelled and SI units should be included alongside.
If there are more than one series on any axis then a legend should be included. If there is only one then no legend is required.
If printing in black and white, ensure that the data markers are easily distinguishable for each series.
You might not need to include all of your collected data on a figure.
The example below has some general tips overlaid on a classic exercise science figure. This type of figure might not be the best for your data though, so it's therefore important to think about the best way of illustrating your particular data.
Tables should have a title and this should go above the table.
Tables require formatting so that there is little unnecessary white space. Experiment with the row height, column width and position of text within the table.
Raw data should be included in the appendices, the results section should only include data that is concise, representative of key data and should not simply repeat that which is found in any figures.
For more see Annesley (2010)
Don’t discuss the results. Use concise text that presents or describes findings, but avoid discussing reasons or explanations.
Ensure figures and tables contain useful information presented with attention to detail.
More on presenting your results
Price (2013), Chapter 4: Results
Reaburn et al (2013) Chapter 47: Graphs; Chapter 48: Tables
The discussion is the most important part of your report where you show can that you understand the experiment beyond the simple level of completing it. It requires the writer to explain, analyse and interpret the results and present them in a clear, concise and meaningful way (Price, 2013).
The discussion should start with a brief summary of the main findings of the study. This should not include any statistical data but a concise description of the conclusions presented in a short paragraph.
It should then relate the findings to your original predictions and to the reported conclusions of previous studies. The results of your study can then be contextualised to support, contradict or qualify these previous findings. Speculation can be offered as to the reason for any differences but try to avoid simply saying that it was human error or bad scientific practice as this implies you are incompetent. If the flaws result from the experimental design explain how the design might be improved.
It is often appropriate to suggest how the findings of this study can be used in the wider context. How can this method of assessment, or this knowledge help practitioners work with athletes or health-related clients?
It is common to suggest how future studies may build on your findings and experience in order to be more robust in design or to look at further questions and issues. Avoid the phrase “more research is needed” but do be more precise in making suggestions for future research designs.
The discussion should end with a paragraph that summarises the main findings of the study and makes conclusions based on the topics that have been covered.
Not discussing your own results at all
Not discussing your findings in the context of previous findings
Repeating previous passages of content
Blaming equipment failure and/or passing the buck to others
These should be presented in the appropriate format as in-text citations and in the final reference section.
Watch the videos below to see some shortcuts for doing referencing and how Mendeley can help to manage citations and produce a reference section in MS Word.
These typically include such elements as raw data, calculations, graphs pictures or tables that have not been included in the report itself. Each kind of item should be contained in a separate appendix. Make sure you refer to each appendix at least once in your report.
A note on terminology and units
Ensure that you are consistent and correct in presenting key terms and units. Maximal Oxygen Uptake is usually abbreviated to VO2max, or VO2max or even V̇O2max.
The first version has just the 2 as subscript, the second has both the 2 and the "max" as subscript and the final version has a dot above the V. You'll see all versions in published journal articles so all are acceptable. The golden rule however, is to pick one and stick to it throughout a piece of your own submitted work.
To make text subscript in MS Word, use "ctrl and +/=" and follow this link to get the dot above the V. If you don't fancy messing around with unicode or subscript everytime you want to use the term then consider setting up an autocorrect so that you just need to type "vo2max" and MS Word does the hard work for you.
Alexandrov, A. V. and Hennerici, M.G. (2006). Writing good abstracts. Cerebrovascular Diseases, Vol. 23, No.4: 256-259. [full text]
Annesley, T. M. (2010). Bring your best to the table. Clinical Chemistry, Vol. 56, No.10: 1528-1534. [full text]
Foote, M. (2006). How to make a good first impression: a proper introduction. CHEST Journal, Vol.130, No. 6: 1935-1937. [full text]
Foote, M. (2009). The proof of the pudding: how to report results and write a good discussion. CHEST Journal, Vol. 135, No. 3: 866-868. [full text]
MacAuley, D. (1994). READER: an acronym to aid critical reading by general practitioners. The British Journal of General Practice, Vol. 44, No. 379: 83 [full text]
Price, M. (2013) Lab Reports and Projects in Sport and Exercise Science. Harlow: Pearson [amazon]
Reaburn, P., Dascombe, B., Reed, R., Jones, A., & Weyers, J. (2011). Practical Skills in Sport and Exercise Science. Prentice Hall
Becker, L. (2014). Writing Successful Reports and Dissertations. Sage.[full text]
Field, A. (2012) Writing up Research [available online at: http://www.statisticshell.com/docs/writinglabreports.pdf]
Price, M. (2013) Lab Reports and Projects in Sport and Exercise Science. Harlow: Pearson [amazon]
Reaburn, P., Dascombe, B., Reed, R., Jones, A., & Weyers, J. (2011). Practical Skills in Sport and Exercise Science. Prentice Hall [amazon]