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Undergraduate lab report writing

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A overview of how to help undergraduate students write lab reports. Meant for writing consultants/tutors.

A overview of how to help undergraduate students write lab reports. Meant for writing consultants/tutors.

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  • Note: these are VERY GENERAL differences in style between writing in the humanities and writing in the sciences. The purpose of this slide is simply to help you grasp the general differences between scientific writing and writing in the humanities; these are NOT hard and fast rules!
  • While there are stark differences between scientific writing and writing in the humanities, the two disciplines do share a few common denominators.First, both disciplines require a critical reading of the prompt or assignment. Not all lab write-ups are created equal; oftentimes, they are tailored by each individual TA. Some TAs require figures and mechanisms while others do not. Make sure to read—very carefully—your TA’s specific instructions!Second, audience identification is important no matter what you’re writing. In most scientific papers, your audience is considered one of your peers (someone who has the same level of knowledge on the material as you do). With that in mind, think that you’re writing your lab report for one of your classmates—they should be able to follow along. Third, no matter what your discipline is, you can always use others’ papers as examples. For scientific writing, the best way to find an example is to retrieve an article from your discipline’s flagship journal. (This can be done through the library’s database library.tamu.edu, by searching under “e-databases” for your journal.) Pay attention to organization, verb tense, sentence length, sentence complexity. Look at several different articles to get a good feel for the discipline (and not just that particular author).
  • Make yourself a checklist of everything your paper needs to include before you turn it in. Highlight each specific direction in the prompt (“12-point font,” “double-spaced,” etc.)Make sure you know what citation style you’re expected to use! There are tons of different citation styles, from APA to MLA to ASA, not to mention each individual journal’s different style. Give yourself enough time to at least complete one rough draft.
  • The TA is NOT, I repeat, NOT your audience! The entire purpose of a lab report is so that knowledgeable peers are able to take your lab report, know why you did what you did, how you did it, what results you got, and what those results mean, as well as the implications of the experiment as a whole.Basically, your report, particularly your methods section, should be detailed enough so that your experiment can be replicated STEP BY STEP. That means even if you messed up your procedure, report exactly what you did! Whoever is replicating your experiment should be able to come to the exact same results.
  • Some lab manuals have directions and sometimes even examples in the back of the lab manual. Use published works as examples for tone, verb tense, sentence length, etc. While verbosity (wordiness) is acceptable and even encouraged in the humanities, it might be frowned on a little more in scientific writing. Again, the use of examples can be very valuable.
  • How formal is the example you’re using?Does it use headings? Subheadings? Are there transitions between paragraphs? Are there topic sentences?Does the paper use active or passive voice (I poured 0.2 mL vs. 0.2 mL was poured)? Very similarly, does the paper use first-person (I), second-person (you), or third-person (one)?
  • IMRAD is the basic foundation of most scientific writing organization. Not all TAs will require each section, just as the length of each section might vary based on TA.
  • Think of the abstract as a paragraph in which the most important parts of each of the IMRaD sections are displayed. It’s like a “snapshot” of the entire lab report.
  • Remember, one of your peers should be able to replicate your experimentexactly. In the case of a lab report, this is why keeping detailed notes in your lab book is so important.
  • Confusing the results section for the discussion section is a common mistake. Think of it this way:The result is what happened in the experiment (the solution turned blue, a precipitate formed, gas was produced, the test was positive, etc.)The discussion is what the results means (the solution turned blue, indicating the presence of X; a precipitate formed, which means that…; the test was positive, proving that…; etc.) See how easy it is to stray into the discussion in the results section? This is why sometimes the two sections are grouped together. If your TA or professor requires you to write a separate results and a separate discussion section, sometimes I find it helpful to write them as if they were one section. Then, I can cut and copy the “discussion” sentences out, and add them to my discussion section. Sometimes differentiating between the two sections is difficult while writing, and this tactic might help with that.
  • The reason why you include any errors made and how the experiment might be improved in the future is because, remember, a lab report’s ultimate purpose is to allow someone else to replicate the experiment.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Undergraduatelab reportwritingBy Jenni & Caitlin
    • 2. “Remember kids, the onlydifference between screwingaround and science is writingit down.”—Adam Savage, MythBusters
    • 3. This presentation’s “procedure”▪ Discuss the general differences/commonalities between writing in the humanities and writing in the life sciences▪ Delve into IMRaD – The general format almost all scientific writing follows, in one way or another
    • 4. General style differencesThe Humanities The Life Sciences• Expressing thoughts/ideas • Informing others of hypotheses/results• General information • Very specific• Focus is on individual • Focus is on the material• General audience (a lay person) • Audience of knowledgeable peers (“scientists” in the same field)• Expressive, eloquent, sometimes open to • Factual, concise, no ambiguity (almost “blunt”) interpretation• Organization can vary • Organization tends to be formulaic (some variation of IMRaD, usually)• Creative license (metaphors, analogies, rhetorical • Very, very, very rarely, if ever, will you use any sort questions, etc.) of creative license in scientific writing
    • 5. Common denominators▪ Critical reading of prompt/assignment▪ Audience identification▪ Use of models (examples)
    • 6. Critical reading of prompt/assignment ▪ Highlight or circle key words/phrases ▪ Identify citation style ▪ Note the due date(!)
    • 7. Audience identification▪ Undergraduate lab report – TA is NOT the audience!!!!! – Audience is your peers – Peers should be able to replicate the experiment using your report
    • 8. Use of examples ▪ Sample lab reports – Sometimes in the back of the lab manual ▪ Journal articles – Find a flagship journal for the discipline at library.tamu.edu – Search under “e-Journals” or “e-databases”
    • 9. Use of examples:tone identification▪ Identify subjective/informal language in your paper – Compare/contrast to model▪ Highlight key words in the model – Subheadings, transition words, etc.▪ Identify emphasis on actor or action in the model – Active or passive voice – First-/second- or third-person
    • 10. IMRaD▪ Introduction ▪ Basic, fundamental organization for scientific paper or lab report▪ Methods/Materials – Can vary based on discipline, type (procedure) of scientific paper, etc. ▪ Sometimes results and▪ Results discussion are grouped together (and) ▪ Sometimes an abstract is included before the▪ Discussion introduction
    • 11. The abstract(See Ch. 14 in Scientific Writing and Communication, Angelika H. Hofmann) ▪ At undergraduate level, usually not required ▪ Will vary based on prof, TA, discipline, assignment, alignment of the planets, etc. ▪ However, usually includes: – Question/purpose – Methods/materials (experimental approach) – Results/Discussion – Conclusion (answer)/Implication
    • 12. The introductionquestions to ask yourself while writing/revising ▪ What is the purpose/hypothesis of the experiment? ▪ Background of the concept? ▪ Why is this experiment important? ▪ What principle theory/concept is the experiment exploring? ▪ Verb tense?
    • 13. The methods/materials (procedure)questions to ask ▪ Is it chronological? ▪ Is it specific enough that it can be replicated step-by- step? – Ex. “poured some” vs. “slowly poured 3.0 mL” ▪ Verb tense?
    • 14. The resultsquestions to ask ▪ Is it concise/pertinent? ▪ Is it only the results of the experiment? (Save the discussion for the Discussion section.) ▪ Do you need tables/figures? – Are they labeled/referenced? – Ex. “See Figure 1,” “As shown in Figure 1,” “(Figure 1),” etc.
    • 15. The discussion questions to ask▪ Was the purpose achieved? Hypothesis supported/disproven?▪ What do the results mean?▪ Did you discuss errors/possible errors and sources?▪ How do you avoid those errors in the future?▪ What would you do differently? (Hints to help the experiment go more smoothly if repeated.)
    • 16. Recap▪ Critically examine the prompt, syllabus, or rubric▪ Identify the audience▪ Use models/examples▪ Look for appropriate/consistent formatting▪ Check verb tense
    • 17. REMEMBER…▪ Lab report standards vary by discipline and TA▪ Style guidelines differ▪ Professors’ requirements differ▪ In other words, this presentation is over general guidelines!
    • 18. Image references▪ www.mentalfloss.com▪ Sciencejokes.tumblr.com

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