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Writing Laboratory Reports
There is a standard format for writing laboratory reports and in general it is sensible to adhere to this format.
Before you carry out any laboratory experiment, you need to have an AIM. In other words what are you trying to achieve during the experiment? Your report should always commence with the AIM of your work and this is usually found on the lab worksheets you have been provided with.
The next section in the report should be APPARATUS. Here you can briefly describe the apparatus you used during the experiment and you should include a neat sketch of the equipment or perhaps a photograph.
Following the apparatus section should be your description of what you did. This is called PROCEDURE or METHOD. Your description should always be in the third person. For example:
The control valves were all closed prior to turning on the main supply valve. The levels in the manometer were adjusted and all air bubbles were bled from the plastic connecting tubes.......... NEVER say: I closed the valves ...... or we read the meter..........
ALWAYS write in the past tense because you have carried out the experiment. Too many students just copy out the working instructions from the lab sheet. This is wrong.
The next section of your report should be RESULTS. Here you show all the values that you and your team recorded during the experiment. Results should be tabulated where possible and following on from the results should be all your calculations which you have carried out to determine the answers you were looking for. Do not forget to make references to all the theory you have relied upon to achieve your calculations. In other words where did you get the equations from that you have used and why have you used them.
Where possible, draw graphs to represent your findings and make sure you put the parameters on the correct axes, especially when drawing straight line graphs (log/log) that you need to find the slope of. If you get them wrong, the slope value will be the inverse of what you are trying to determine.
The most important section of the report is the CONCLUSIONS. Did you achieve your AIMS? Explain what you found and whether the values you determined are within acceptable limits based on published values. If they are not then explain the reasons why your results are so different. Don't just blame it on human error, analyse your results and see whether you might have made a mistake with your calculations. For example, if the velocity of flow along a pipe has been calculated at 3000 m/s rather than 3.000 m/s then it will make quite a considerable difference to other calculations reliant on this value. Obvious errors like this should be easy to spot because when you think about it, 3000 m/s is over 7000 mph!! That's pretty fast for water going through laboratory equipment!!
If you think that improvements could be made to the equipment then make those comments in the conclusions. To say that all readings could be computerised is not always a practical solution especially when part of the experiment is for you to see what is actually going on and actually taking manual readings.
Finally do not forget to add a bibliography of all the books, documents and web pages you read to help you with the writing of the report. In other words, you must reference all sources of material. If you are unsure about the way to reference your written work, take a look at this web site
The reason for referencing your work, falls under the heading of plagiarism. Your academic institution will take a really dim view of plagiarism and most have procedures in place to deal with such offenders. Indeed, only recently at my college, several students were severely reprimanded by their employer and the college for copying and one almost lost his job through it. So be warned, do not copy other peoples work and pass it off as your own. Take a look at this web site for some more advice.
Last Edited : 20 February 2015 12:29:04