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Writing Lab Reports: Overview

Lab reports are your introduction to communicating science. They follow the same format of peer-reviewed journal articles, which are the foundation of scientific knowledge. The purpose of your lab report is to communicate your research in a clear and systematic way. The reader should be able to follow your logic, reproduce your experiment, understand your results, and see how these results and their implications fit into the larger context of your field of study.


Lab reports have four standard sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. These sections are sometimes collectively called “IMRAD” as an easy way to refer to this style of report. This standard format closely relates to the scientific method, as you can see in the diagram below. Notice that the second half of the scientific method mirrors the first; your lab report should follow a similar structure.

Steps of the scientific linked to sections of lab report. The introduction includes three actions: 1. question, 2. research, 3. hypothesize. The methods section is linked to the experiment step, and the results section is linked to the analyze step. Finally, the discussion is linked to three actions: 1. interpret, 2. compare, 3. contemplate. The steps of the scientific method are connected: contemplate is linked to question; compare is linked to research; interpret is linked to hypothesize; analyze is linked to experiment.

While the content of the lab report follows the scientific method, the structure follows the shape of an hourglass; this is a helpful visual to keep in mind while writing your reports. In the diagram below, you can see that the introduction begins broadly and narrows to your specific study; the methods and results stay focused only on your research; and the discussion expands and returns to the broader scope defined in your introduction. The size of each box illustrates the relative size of each section – the methods and results are usually quite brief, while the discussion is the longest portion of the report.

Hourglass image divided into four sections. Top inverted triangle represents the introduction. Two middle rectangles represent two sections: methods and results. Bottom triangle represents the discussion.

Introduction

  • Begins with broader scope of your research question
  • Gradually narrows to your specific study topic
  • Concludes with your hypothesis, prediction, and rationale

Methods

  • Specific to your study only; provides sufficient detail for others to reproduce your results

Results

  • Specific to your study only; provides a summary of your findings; no raw data

Discussion

  • Begins by relating your data to your hypothesis and predictions
  • Expands to put your results in context with those of other studies
  • Concludes by discussing broader implications of your study and direction for future research