Writing Lab Reports for BIO 1654

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You will be expected to prepare lab reports for BIO 1654 lab. Most first year biology majors find that writing a proper scientific lab report very difficult. This is usually not because it is hard to write a lab report but students do not know what to put into (or leave out of) the report not do they know how to properly organize their report.

Laboratory courses usually have two very different purposes. One of the goals of the lab exercise is to teach the student how to use the instrumentation to perform an experiment. For example, the first lab in Bio 1654 will teach you how to use different types of pipettes common in laboratories. While this is an important part of the lab, it is a part that should NOT be included in the lab report. The other goal of most of our labs is experimental, that is, you will be trying to answer a particular biological question by using the scientific process. It is the purpose of the lab report to communicate the experimental information clearly and concisely. There are a couple of labs that will not have an experimental component, we will discuss these in class. The experimental goals of each lab are not necessarily listed as such in the lab manual and it is the responsibility of the student to deduce these goals.

The examples given in these sections will be based on the first lab in this course, "How do Scientists Measure Weight and Volume?"

Purpose of Lab Report

The purpose of a scientific paper is to covey information to the reader. You should keep in mind when writing a lab report that the reader is NOT your instructor (even if he/she is!) but is instead is a scientifically literate individual who is interested in your research. A well written report will include broad review of the subject under examination, a concise description of the experimental protocol and rationale (not a description of how to use the equipment!!), a discussion on the significance of the results as well as the results of the experiment. A common mistake made by students when writing lab reports is to think that the report is prepared for their instructor to show that they (the student) did the work of the lab. Thus the report is written hastily (at the last minute) with little or no thinking. This will almost always result in a badly written report.

When a report is written correctly, the student will have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their experiment, the relationship of the experimental results to science and the student will be able to suggest procedures to make the results more accurate and reliable. This is a time consuming process and cannot be done in a few minutes.

Organization

Scientific papers are written in with a special format. Lab reports in this class will be written in this format (with a few additions). Lab reports must include:

Title Page
First page of the report, must include your name, the name of all lab partners, date of experiment and experiment number. This is the only page that should include your name. This should be on a separate page
Title
You need to give a descriptive title to your report. The title should be a concise description of the experiment. This is the first item that readers will encounter and must accurately describe the report. Since you are to concentrate on the experimental aspect of the lab in these reports, the title should not be either the title in the lab book or a description of what you should learn in the lab. It should be a description of what the lab was about. The following are all possible titles for the lab report from the first lab. Which one do you feel is the best title?

1. How do Scientists Measure Weight and Volume?
2. Learning How to Pipette Properly
3. Pipetting for Fun and Profit
4. Accuracy of Liquid Measuring Devices for Transporting Different Volumes

While not perfect, title 4 gives the best description of what was done in the lab. The first title is the title from the lab book but gives no indication of what was done in lab. The second describes one of the teaching goals of the lab, however, it does not describe the experimental aspect of the lab. The third is a poor attempt at humor and has no relevance to the lab at all.

Abstract or Summary
This is a short (< 200 words) description of the entire report. Although it is one of the first items of the report, it must be the last one written. It is not possible to summarize a report that does not exist. In many cases, the abstract is all that many scientists will read of your report so it is important that it accurately reflects the report. The abstract should include the purpose of the experiment, a summary of the methods employed, brief (one sentence or so) description of the results and finally a description of the significance of the results. Be precise and accurate, make sure that what you say in the abstract appears in the text of the report. The abstract should be on the same page as the title. Once again, you must remember that the lab report should not include references to the learning objectives of the lab exercise (that is, it should not include sentences such as "In this lab, I learned how to pipette.") but instead should emphasize the experimental side of the lab. A better description of the purpose of the lab exercise would be "We measured the accuracy of various liquid measure devices by weighing the volume of fluid transported by the devices.").

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