A simple outline method for lab reports
Face it, writing lab reports is difficult for beginners. With this method, your lab report will come easier at the beginning and will end up better, all in 10 steps.
- Start the word processor on your computer and open a new document.
- Write the section headings of the paper on separate lines:
Materials and methods
You can even copy & paste the text above to make it easier. Make sure they stay bold to distinguish them from other text. Put lots of carriage returns (hit Enter key) between these sections so that you have space to write.
- Start with the materials and methods section first. Why? Because it is the easiest. Simply write phrases that summarize what you did: weighed fish, measured starting [O2], waited 1 h, etc. No order, organization, grammar or spelling are required here. You are just brainstorming. Any aspect of the methods you can simply jot down now, and reorganize later into the proper place.
- Outline the results section. Again, things do not have to be complete or in any particular order. Jot down any observations you made. What figures or tables do you want to include? You can write that down here without having done them yet. These are just reminders.
- Now that you have an idea of what's in the results, outline the introduction. What background would be most relevant to provide, giving what you did and the results you got? What would make a very clear and accurate statement of purpose?
- Outline the discussion. What do your results mean? What processes led to the results you got? What do they mean for real organisms in the real world? Major brainstorming here. If at any time you remember something that should go in another section, you can go there and write a reminder phrase, then get back to what you were doing.
- Note the references you think you will be using. As you revise and fill out other sections of the paper, you may need to add more. They don't have to be complete yet. Later you can make sure they are all formatted correctly.
- Revise, revise, revise. Start by organizing your thoughts in a particular section. Get them into logical order. Try to avoid becoming attached to all things you wrote earlier. You may have to delete some and start over in order to say what you mean. Flesh out your initial thoughts into whole sentences. Make the sentences flow, and attend to grammar and punctuation. Get your figures and tables done. Make sure they are cited properly. Follow the Guide to Lab Reports to see if your paper conforms to the standards. Go back over each section of the paper repeatedly--you will catch more errors.
- Write a title to the paper.
- Have a classmate, or, better yet, the instructor, read a draft of the paper. They may be able to spot a big problem that you are blind to.