There are various different formats for laboratory reports in use. These vary according to the type of work being reported, the purpose of the work or the report and the recipients for which the report is intended. Reports of original research conducted to further scientific knowledge in a specific area require a different format from reports of quality control experiments conducted in a company laboratory and yet other formats may be required for student reports on experiments. A student may be expected to follow one format for recording experiments in a laboratory record book as they are being performed and a different format when writing up the information from the record book for a formal laboratory report later in the term. The format may also vary due to differences in the type of laboratory work which is done for the different subjects. Where the purpose of the experiment is to confirm or reject a hypothesis, the format of the report will differ from that of an investigation of the quality, composition or properties of a product. The purpose of most student laboratory reports is to indicate the students’ understanding of aim, theory, laboratory procedures, etc., so would be emphasized in a format prescribed for these reports.
Finally, if the report is to be submitted to a lecturer, the format may be substantially different from that of a report submitted for publication in a professional journal, while a different format might be expected in a report to a government, an agency or private company. An obvious way in which laboratory report formats differ is the division of the report into sections. Whereas all laboratory reports can be thought of as consisting of four main parts (introduction, procedure, results and conclusion), there is considerable variation in the headings under which the information in each section of the report is to be written. Some of these headings may have an equivalent meaning: apparatus = materials, procedure = methods, data = results. In other cases, more specific headings are added where there is a need to draw attention to specific information in the report.
Example of the Form of a Report
1. Title needs to emphasize the nature of the work / investigation briefly (in less than 10 words) and accurately. This may also be called the Heading in a laboratory record book. State the date of performing the experiment.
2. Aim or Objective. This may be used in the place of the heading: Introduction. It is used to state clearly and concisely the purpose of the work.
3. Theory emphasizes the need to identify the background theory leading up to the experiment or the theory which the experiment is designed to illustrate or prove. This may also include a brief literature review to provide the status of current knowledge in the field.
4. Hypothesis – The hypothesis should be identified where the work is based on previous findings or involves the application of established theory to new situations. Note, however, that not all laboratory work is necessarily concerned with the testing of hypothesis.
5. Apparatus or Materials emphasize the need of the apparatus to be used and the way it is set up. It states the order of all steps to be taken.
6. Procedure or Methods emphasize the need to provide a step-by-step account of how the work was done, a separate heading may be used. This could be important to assess later a quality of investigation. It may include reference to a specific ISO or internationally accepted laboratory standard procedure.
7. Diagrams. A separate heading in the Procedure section devoted to diagrams or photographs emphasises the importance of presenting this information in a clear, concise form rather than written form.
8. Measurements or Results emphasize the importance of reporting specific readings or other observations as they were taken and to record results or outcomes with dates and signatures in order to provide evidence for possible future filing of a patent or intellectual property protection. In this step you take measurements, produce tables and give a relevant sample calculation of how you obtained the final results.
9. Graphs emphasize the need to present an overall summary of the results in a visual form. Data would be presented in tables whereas Graphs would show the relationships between the data and possible trends in a clear, easily read form.
10. Discussion or Results – It is one of the most important parts of the report as here you explain, analyse and interpret the results leading to conclusion. It shows the writer’s understanding of the concepts behind the data. If any differences with the Hypothesis or Objectives occurred explain the reason.
11. Conclusion – The purpose of the Conclusion is to discuss questions arising from the report and make suggestions for further work.
12. References – Here you state the information that has been obtained from textbooks, reference books, articles, investigations, etc. and where these sources of information are mentioned in the text. These references are used as a source of information for background theory, previous findings on which this work is based, laboratory procedures, etc. The References are listed numerically at the end of the report to enable a reader to consult these works for further details.