Writing in Your Major

Tips From Tutors

Lab Reports

Lab reports are designed to provide information to the scientific community. Usually they include the following sections: Title, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion, and Literature Cited. See a sample lab report.

IMPORTANT: These tips are particularly relevant to your NR 1 lab reports. You should ask your instructor about any class specific lab report format expectations. While usually separate sections, many NR instructors prefer these sections to be combined. Remember that the results section (portion) introduces the reader to the important data/findings, but does NOT discuss/interpret/etc. It is just “telling” (usually written in passive voice and past tense). The discussion section (portion) is where you interpret data, draw conclusions, critically analyze, synthesize data, suggest further study, etc.

Title

Titles must be descriptive and detailed (i.e. the title provides information regarding the report's content). Example: "An Evaluation of Water Quantity and Water Quality in Brush Brook, Huntington Center, VT"

Introduction

Begin with a broad statement telling the reader what the report is about and giving a description of the study area, including features and general location. You may also want to include references to other sources. Remember not to use “I” in a scientific report. Finish up this short section by listing the type(s) of data to be included in your report.

Methods
Study Area

Provide a detailed description of the study area, including elements such as location, elevation, ecosystem type (stream, lake, forest), name of stream, lake, or forest (if it has one), the forest cover type (e.g. boreal forest, pine-hemlock forest, northern hardwood forest), description of the topography, and soils information (soil series, soil pH, drainage class, depth of rooting and the approximate thickness of each horizon).

Procedure

Tell the reader the specific type(s) of data you collected, and how the data were collected. For forest sites this includes types of vegetation sampled, plot size for each, and number of sample plots (e.g., number of 0.01 ha plots established to record shrub information). Include the number of replications. Describe the types of data analyses (if any).

Results and Discussion

In this section, the data are summarized and discussed. When presenting and discussing the information (either in the text or in one or more tables or figures), adhere to the following requirements:

  • Do not include any 'raw' data; only include summarized data (e.g., average percent cover by species of herbaceous plants).
  • Tables and figures must be referred to in the text before they are presented and must appear as soon as possible after they have been referred to (preferably, at the end of the paragraph within which they first appeared; if that is not possible, because of space limitation, include them at the top of the next page or at the end of the first paragraph on the next page if a paragraph had been continued from the previous page). Do not attach figures or tables to the end of your paper; include them within the body of your report.
  • Figures and tables must be numbered and must have a descriptive title (if need be, this title may contain two or more sentences). By convention, titles for figures appear below the figure, whereas titles for tables appear above the table. Titles must appear on the same page as the figure or table to which they refer.
  • It is extremely important to remember that figures and tables must 'stand alone;’ in other words, if someone has only the table or figure to look at, he or she must be able to understand it.
  • Make sure your findings are discussed. The type and extent of discussion will depend upon the data being presented. If, for example, you have prepared a table listing the species present and the abundance of each, you should tell the reader what the dominant species were (based on this table) and, if possible, provide a logical explanation for why those species dominated on that site (i.e. was it climate, soils, topography, land use history, or chance?).
  • Include at least one pertinent reference. Any time you provide information that comes from someone else's research, ideas or writing, you must attribute it to that person. Here are a few examples of how to cite sources within your report:
    • The Fraser River Delta provides winter habitat for kangaroos (Belrose 1976).
    • Leopold (1943) implied that hunters who produced cripples were having a significant impact on the population.
    • Yeager and Rennels (1976) and Joe et al. (1979) concurred with previous findings on the ecological impacts of DDT.
  • When citing several sources, the oldest paper comes first and the most recent is last. Note that only a space separates the author and year within the parentheses. Also, if there are more than two authors, only the first is listed within the text (although all are listed in the Literature Cited section). The proper text citation in this case is (Joe et al. 1979). "Et al." means "and others."
Literature Cited

Anything that is cited in your paper must be recorded in the Literature Cited section. For help with citation, see UVM Libraries Tutorials and Tips. Remember to check the specific citation requirements of your assignment as there are many citations styles used in science.

Sample Lab Write-Up

This sample work can be used to get a sense of how these different sections work together and manifest in an actual write-up. It is meant only to help illustrate these different sections—labs will vary in complexity and expected amount of detail.