The thing is that it’s a very particular type of college writing assignments. That’s why its style, format and structure differ from those of your essay or even research paper for the same course.
We’re going to talk about some features of college lab reports to which you should pay great attention in order to avoid the most common mistakes connected with them. Let’s make out what can be really challenging about such assignment and how to set everything right.
Its Majesty the Deadline
Daniel Berger, current Professor of Chemistry at Bluffton University in Ohio, the U.S., notes that it’s actually very easy to identify the students who have finished writing their lab reports “10 minutes” before submitting them. Unfortunately, in most cases this is the reason why they get poor grades.
Professor claims that the brightest sings of the hurry are run-on sentences and paragraphs. Not to mention some other errors and just really funny flaws which students’ lab reports may sometimes feature, which we’re going to discuss below.
The moral is that you should always have at least one whole day and one whole night to complete your lab report and make it worth a good grade.
Why on Earth Am I Doing It?
That’s what you must understand in the very beginning. Every experiment you do in the lab has a particular purpose, and it should be covered in your paper.
What’s more, when you know the purpose of the work, you can easily come up with both an introductory part and even some (but not all) conclusions for your report. The purpose is a hint about what you’re expected to research and how you’re expected to do it. Without it the whole research lacks any sense actually.
Mixing the Structure Up
When you’re in a hurry and have no time to understand well what exactly you need to do, writing the whole report at a time, from the introduction through the body part to the conclusions, seems to be the most logical and thus correct approach. However, experience shows it’s not.
It’s widely recommended that the work on the lab report should start from describing and interpreting the results you’ve got. This can help you distinguish the methods applied as well as present appropriately both the discussion and introduction.
Still, if you decide to make a draft of your report that is started with the results but ends with the introduction, you need to make sure you don’t hand it in to your professor. Rewrite everything in the right order.
Quotes and Other Irrelevant Information
It’s not an essay, so you should avoid quoting the scientists whose achievements are somehow connected to your research. Even if your task is to repeat some famous experiment, you’d better not copy the article or book in which it’s described sentence by sentence. But you’re welcome to mention the author and his or her findings in a few words.
Also, you shouldn’t stuff your lab report with some general scientific info or verbose theories. It’s more about dry practice, so don’t turn into stream of scientific consciousness.
Some Language Issues
Check the list of the most frequently made mistakes and take one more look at your report. You still have time to fix something. By the way, some of these recommendations are taken from Daniel Berger’s guidelines.
- Use of the first person. Avoid using personal pronouns: I (my/me), we (us/our), etc.
- Confusion between tenses. When you’re writing about the experiment, you should use past tense. But if you’re inserting some widely known scientific facts, you should use present tense.
- Next + Then. There is no need to join your actions in one logical chain with the help of these two adverbs. Don’t hesitate you use “and”, put commas or just make separate sentences.
- Feel and Figure Out. Don’t use them as synonyms to “think/conclude” and “calculate/measure” respectively. In general, try not to use words whose meanings can be easily associated with some metaphors.
- Overall recommendation: always check spelling of the words you aren’t sure of and pay attention to singular and plural forms of nouns (the most common error is using data in the singular, so remember that your data ARE important, and datum IS important too).
Lack of Visuals
Don’t hesitate to use tables and graphs in the lab report, especially when there are a lot of numbers or formulas. By the way, it’s even recommended that your results should be presented in tabular form. Firstly, it’s more convenient for you to introduce your findings. Secondly, it’s more visually pleasant for a discerning reader who’s going to assess your work.
Confusions over Conclusions
Let’s check the most confusing things about laboratory report conclusions and learn how to deal with them.
- No interpretations. Describe and explain the results you’ve got.
- Different words for one result. Don’t try to rewrite one conclusion as many times as possible. That doesn’t work.
- No mentions of the purpose. It could be one of your conclusions, as you’re supposed to have achieved it.
- Considering “human error”. If you get the results you haven’t expected, it doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. So, describe this not as the error, but as the opportunity to proceed with the investigation and explore something new.