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Lab Report Outline
The exact formatting of a lab report depends on the preferences of the instructor/research advisor.
In this class, we’ll focus on learning and improving the elements that are common to a vast majority
of well-written lab reports.
– Introduction: This section contains the research question (I will give this to you) and any
relevant background information needed to add context to the research question. You may
assume that the reader is somewhat familiar with the underlying theory, so there is no need
for long derivations or explanation of basic vocabulary. For this course, your introduction
should be around 1-2 paragraphs.
– Procedure and Data: This section tells the reader the steps you took to collect the necessary
data to answer your research question.
– It is not necessary to copy-and-paste the lab manual (this is actually very annoying to
read). Instead, explain how a specific step in your procedure, e.g., taking a measurement,
helps with answering the research question.
– Weave your data throughout your summarized procedure to tell a more coherent story,
e.g., “Table 2 shows the ten million measurements of the angle θwe took using the
science machine thing”.
– Analysis: You will use your data to answer the research question in this section. I will
provide some guiding questions that will give you a rough idea on how to use your data to
answer your research questions, but it is ultimately up to you to write up, in a paragraph or
two, this explanatory process.
– Avoid making vague claims such as: “we did not see the ring move, so this is an example
of Newton’s second law.” Explicitly refer to your data in the previous section as evidence.
– Try and limit “editorial phrases” such as “clearly”, “obviously”, “easily”, etc. Skepticism
is necessary in science, so we should not assume anything about how the physical world
behaves before conducting an experiment.
– Conclusion: This is a one to two paragraph summary of your research question and your
– This is meant to be read as a quick reminder of your main points brought up in your
analysis and thus quickly read. Be concise.
– Identify any possible sources of error in your experiment. If possible, classify your error
sources as random (non-removable errors due to the limitation of the measuring instru-
ment) or systematic (removable errors that bias your data). Examples of random errors
include the estimation of the last significant figure between the marks of a ruler and
the reaction time needed to stop a timer. Examples of systematic errors include a scale
that consistently reads .05 grams less or a straight track that is actually titled at 2 or 3
– Avoid statements such as: “I found this part of the experiment to be really fun”. You can
however give a sentence or two of conjecture about how you can potentially get better
data if you were to re-run this experiment.
Finally, some pet peeves of mine:
– Run your lab report through a grammar/spellchecker such as Grammerly (you can get a free
copy using your CSUF account).
– Clearly label your graphs and figures with numbers, e.g., “Figure 1”.
– Make sure all of your measurements have proper units.
– Don’t make a “materials” list for your procedure.
Technical writing usually takes time to get used to; hopefully, this course will give you some good
practice and development in this.
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