How to Write a Lab Report
How to Write a Physics Lab Report
If you've just finished an experiment in your physics class, you might have to write a report about it. This may sound intimidating, but it's actually a simple process that helps you explain your experiment and your results to your teacher and anyone else who is interested in learning about it. Once you know what sections to include in your report and what writing techniques to use, you'll be able to write a great physics lab report in no time.
Including the Proper Sections
Start with a cover sheet.For many lab reports, you will be required to start with a cover sheet. Check with your teacher to find out exactly what information should be included. Information that is typically found on the cover sheet includes:
- Your name and the name of your partner(s)
- The title of your experiment
- The date you conducted the experiment
- Your teacher's name
- Information that identifies which class you are in
Include an abstract.The abstract is the first part of your report that your readers will see, but it should be the last thing you actually write because it is a summary of everything else you have included in your report. The purpose of the abstract is to provide potential readers with basic information about the experiment you conducted and the results you got so they can determine whether or not they are interested in reading the full report.
- Keep your abstract brief and note the purpose of the experiment, the hypothesis, and any major findings.
Consider adding an introduction.Depending on the nature of your experiment and the requirements of your class, you may want to add an introduction section to your report. This should explain the underlying theory, provide background information regarding the research that has already been done, and describe your motivation for conducting this specific experiment.
State your objective.The objective section of your report should be a few sentences that describe the purpose of your experiment. If you wish, you can state your hypothesis.
Explain your procedure.The procedure or method section of your report should be a detailed explanation of exactly how you conducted your experiment. Go through each and every step you took, keeping in mind that a reader who is completely unfamiliar with your experiment should be able to read your procedure and repeat the experiment exactly the way you did it.
- If a diagram will help your audience understand your procedure, include it in this section.
- You may be tempted to write this as a list, but it's best to stick to paragraph form.
- Some teachers may require a separate section on the materials and apparatuses that were used to conduct the experiment.
- If you are following instructions from a lab book, do not just copy the steps from the book. Explain the procedure in your own words to demonstrate that you understand how and why you are collecting each piece of data.
Include your raw data.Present the raw data that you collected during your experiment in this section of the report, making sure that it is clearly organized and includes units of measurement. A table is usually helpful for organizing data.
- You may include graphs or charts that highlight the most important pieces of data here as well, but do not begin to analyze the data quite yet.
- Explain any reasonable uncertainties that may appear in your data. No experiment is completely free of uncertainties, so ask your teacher if you're not sure what to include.
- Always include uncertainty bars in your graphs if the uncertainties of the data are known.
- Also discuss any potential sources of error and how those errors may have affected your experiment.
Provide sample calculations.If you used any equations to analyze your data, include a list of them in your report, along with one example of how you used it to calculate your results. If you used the equation multiple times throughout the experiment, you only need to write out one example.
- Some teachers may allow you to include your calculations in the data section of our report.
Analyze your data and state your conclusion.The analysis is one of the most important parts of your report because it allows you to highlight your insights into what the data actually means and tell your teacher what you learned from it.
- Include information about how your results compare to your expectations or hypothesis, what implications these results have for the world of physics, and what further experiments could be conducted to learn more about your results.
- You can also include your own ideas for improving upon the experiment.
- Be sure to include any graphs that would be appropriate to illustrate your analysis of the data and help your readers better understand it.
- Some teachers may request that you create two separate analysis and conclusion sections.
Using the Correct Writing Techniques
Use full sentences and proper grammar.In addition to your scientific data, your lab report will be graded for writing mechanics, which includes grammar and spelling. While writing skills may not seem related to science, it is actually critical that scientists be able to clearly articulate their methods and conclusions. Without a well-written report, your lab results are useless.
- Bullet pointed lists are not appropriate for most sections of your report. You may be able to use them for short sections like your materials and apparatuses list.
- Keep in mind that one of the main objectives of your lab report is to guide others in recreating your experiment. If you can't clearly explain what you did and how you did it, no one will ever be able to reproduce your results.
Focus on clarity.Once you've made sure that your report doesn't contain any grammatical errors, you need to make sure your readers will actually be able to understand it. Read through it to look for sentences that are too long or unclear. Remember that if it doesn't make sense to you, it will be even more confusing for someone who is not familiar with your experiment.
- Active sentences are usually easier to understand than passive sentences, so try to minimize your use of the passive voice whenever possible. For example, if you wrote, "These results are easily reproducible by anyone who has the correct equipment," try changing it to "Anyone who has the correct equipment should be able to reproduce these results." The passive voice is not always wrong, so don't be afraid to leave a sentence in the passive voice if you think it makes more sense that way.
Stay on topic.In order for your report to be comprehensible, it's important that you organize your ideas by topic. Try to only include one main point in each sentence you write. Group sentences that are thematically related into paragraphs, and start a new paragraph whenever you change topics.
- Don't jump ahead and discuss the results of the experiment before you get to that section. Just because you understand everything that happened with your experiment, does not mean your readers will. You need to walk them through it step by step.
- Cut out any sentences that don't add anything of substance to your report. Your readers will only get frustrated if they have to read through a bunch of fluff in order to find your main point.
Stick to the third person.When writing a lab report, you should avoid using the pronouns "I," "we," "my," and "our" at all costs. The third person point of view sounds much more authoritative.
- For example, instead of writing, "I noticed that the data we gathered was not consistent with our previous results," write, "The data is not consistent with the previous results."
- It may be tricky to maintain active voice when writing in third person, so it’s okay to use passive voice if it makes more sense to do so.
Write in the present tense.For the most part, you should always write your lab report in the present tense. Instead of writing, "The data was consistent with the hypothesis" write, "The data is consistent with the hypothesis."
- The past tense is appropriate for discussing your procedure and the results of past experiments.
Include headings and labels.In order to help your readers understand your report and find the information they are looking for, be sure to clearly label each section. It is also important to label any charts, tables, or figures you include in your report so that you can refer back to them and your readers will know where to look.
Proofread.Always take the time to proofread your report before handing it in. Keep in mind that your word processor's spell checker will not pick up on misused words.
QuestionWhat is a discussion in a lab report?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe discussion outlines the goal of the experiment, it's methods and your conclusions.Thanks!
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To write a physics lab report, start by putting together a cover sheet with your name, and the title and date of the experiment. Then, include an abstract, or summary of your report, followed by your objective, procedures, and methods. After you’ve talked about how the experiment was conducted, present your raw data, and provide any important calculations used with the data. Next, write an analysis of your data, and a conclusion to explain what you've learned. Finally, complete the report by writing up your references.
- Try not to make your sentences too long or difficult. Even complex information can be written out in a way that is easy to understand.
- Your teacher may have a slightly different way of breaking up the sections, so it's always a good idea to ask. Be sure to include any additional sections that your teacher specifically requests.
- If there were multiple parts to your experiment, you might want to consider doing a mini report for each section so your readers can easily follow along with your data and results for each part before moving on to the next one.
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Video: Writing the Physics Lab Report
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