Lab reports, like other kinds of writing, have an organized format. Organizing your report depends on how the report will be used and what headings your readers expect to find. For example, in industry, an engineer reading a report may be concerned only about a test's results and not the procedures or equipment used. On the other hand, a peer in your class reading your report may need to know what equipment you used or how you conducted your test.
Most lab reports follow a general format. However, you may be required to use different headings or to present your data in a different order. You may also be required to include or exclude specific information. Be sure to check with your instructor before using the format depicted here.
A lab report should always include a title clearly identifying the lab. A title should be descriptive and accurate, but not wordy, verbose or too terse. Discussions with several instructors show that no relationship exists between the length or literary quality of a title and the quality of a report. That is, a long title does not reflect how good the report is.
The abstract is extremely important because it helps readers decide what to read and what to pass over. The idea of the abstract is to give readers an honest evaluation of what's in the report, so they can quickly judge whether they should spend their valuable time reading the report. This section should give a true, brief description of what's in the report. The most important purpose of the abstract is to allow somebody to get a quick picture of what's in the paper and make a judgment.
The abstract is a brief summary of your report. Its length corresponds with the report's length. So, for example, if your report is eight pages long, you shouldn't use more than 150 words in the abstract. Generally, abstracts define the lab's objective and the procedures followed. They also include the lab's results.
The introduction provides a rationale for why you are doing an experiment and why the experiment is useful. It sets the framework or overview for the rest of the report. Here, you can also present the problem you are solving and summarize any related research.
An introduction should be an introduction. For instance, if you're going to give a speech, presumably the master of ceremonies will introduce you. He or she will give your name, perhaps provide your background, the title of what you'll talk about, and maybe why you have chosen to give the talk. An introduction to a report works the same way.
Under the experiment heading, you should describe each step of the lab test. Here, you might also document your goals and the steps taken to accomplish those goals. Basically, you are writing down everything you did during the experiment.
The experiment section tells readers what you wanted to accomplish (to measure a the voltage of a circuit, for instance), what steps you took to accomplish your goals, and what materials and equipment you used to accomplish your goals.
In the results, you should report what you found. Here, you may or may not include data interpretations. Some readers expect interpretations, or conclusions, to be a separate heading. Check with your instructor for what to include in your results.
The results section documents the test's outcome(s). Here, readers discover what the test measured with exact data. Calculations or equations may also be included.
Discussion & Conclusions
One of the goals of the discussion and conclusions section is to comment on the outcome of what you did. You can also speculate about the implications of what you found. Or even about the methods you used to obtain your results.
Typically, the Discussion & Conclusion sections demonstrate what was learned from the experiment. Here, what's been gained in understanding, both from the experiment itself and from any background reading in preparing the report are emphasized. For example, you might note that the procedure you used was a good method for measuring capacity. As a student, it's not likely that you'll be familiar with as many procedures as a practicing engineer, but you can learn about them by reading textbooks and published reports.
Lab reports may or may not include references. If you use information from the course textbook, cite it as a reference. You should also cite any IEEE, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. standards used in your report. Check with your instructor to determine which reference style you should use.
Graphics provide illustrated information to readers. In general, graphics are designed to make it easier for readers to understand your report. Deciding when to insert a graphic depends on the information you need to convey. For example, as you're writing your report, you find yourself struggling to describe a complex concept. Fitting your description within a few paragraphs is impossible, so you decide to create a graphic. Often, graphics are useful when concepts, designs, or processes are too complex or cumbersome to describe in written or oral form.