The key to writing any type of paper is to understand your purpose. Why are you writing it and what are you hoping to accomplish with this paper? In papers for an English class, the purpose is to entertain, educate or inform. Science reports also have purposes. Our purpose is to explore, experiment and articulate our results in our scientific report. So our writing is precise, technical and definitive. It is like a recipe, but you must use technical language.
Here is a good basic lab report format using many of the techniques we learn in English class. These tips will work well with many subject areas, but will walk you through step-by-step and teach you how to write a science lab report.
- Define your hypothesis. When learning how to write a lab report for science, remember that the scientist seeks to explore. When preparing for writing reports, be sure to summarize your expected outcome or what you think will or should happen based on your prior knowledge. For example: "When we add baking soda to vinegar, we get a fizzing reaction. I hypothesize that when I substitute another acid (like diet cola) for vinegar, I will get the same reaction." My favorite detective, Hercule Poirot, often used hypotheses although he warned, "It is useless to theorize in front of the facts."
- List your materials. Like a good recipe, your lab report must include the specific materials you use and in what quantities. This is an area for detail and description. You will use your powers of description here and throughout your report as well. A scientist must be able to demonstrate and repeat her results. To do this, she must keep accurate accounts of what she uses and how much.
- Describe your procedure. Again, you must be very specific. Describe in detail what you did, step by step. This is the place to be very sequential and orderly and also a good place to use a diagram or flow chart. In creative writing, when we write mystery stories, or in literature, when we read stories in the mystery genre, we learn to follow steps and find patterns. Sequence and procedure are essential to the solution of many a mystery, and also to your science lab report.
- Elaborate in detail what happened. In science jargon, this is the 'Results' section. Describe the quality of matter: smoke (if any), noise, smell (disgusting!) and any other sundry details you notice. Remember the sensory details of sight (color, size, amount), sound (think 'hiss, sizzle, boom'--onomatopoeia works well here), smell (acrid, sulphuric, sweet, neutral), touch (sticky, smooth, soft, mushy) and taste (only if applicable). Measure results and give data on quantities of matter as well. This is the place to include data, Venn diagrams, graphs and charts.
- End with your conclusion. The next step in how to write a report is to summarize what you had predicted would happen and what did happen. Use this section to confirm your hypothesis or rewrite it to explain your results. Using the diet cola example, let's suppose that the diet cola created a reaction, but it was less dramatic than the experiment with vinegar. You might conclude that you had been right to suppose that other acids produced similar results, but that they were less potent. Therefore the acid in them was different. You could hypothesize that other acids closer to vinegar in composition would get better results. (See EepyBird for details of the Diet Coke and Mentos phenomenon, which would make a great science lab report.)
Keep your lab reports in a notebook in sequential order. When you write a report, write neatly and use color to highlight different concepts or vocabulary. Remember the words of the great Thomas Edison, "Invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!"