The Do's & Don'ts of Lab Reports (McGill SUS Peer Tutoring)


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The Do's & Don'ts of Lab Reports (McGill SUS Peer Tutoring)

  1. 1. 0
  2. 2. The Elements Of A Good Lab Report 1) Abstract 2) Introduction 3) Materials and Methods 4) Results 5) Discussion 6) References 7) Supporting Information 1
  3. 3. What is the purpose of a lab report?  Enhance understanding of the material being taught  Ensure that all aspects of the lab were done with ultimate precision  Communicate scientific results and ideas in a standard way  Prepare for research paper writing 2
  4. 4. How does this apply to CHEM110?  You are being taught to write a lab report without you realizing!  Each piece of information you write for this lab corresponds to a section of a formal lab report.  You will most certainly have to write a formal lab report in your academic career. 3
  5. 5. What is a good title?  Make the title specific  A good title tells the reader what the report will be about  Does not necessarily give the conclusions  Keep the title short: <10 words  Can be written last 4
  6. 6. What is a good title? DON’T: ✗ Use “Lab Report 1” ✗ Use abbreviations ✗ Don’t be wordy “The soda’s effect on the height of explosion on the addition of a Mentos” ✔ “The effect of Mentos on soda” ✗ 5
  7. 7. Abstract  BRIEF summary of what experiments were performed, the main results and conclusions. “A mini version of your lab report”  Should contain one sentence for each section of your lab report  Shorter than 200 words. 6
  8. 8. Abstract ✗ Don’t make it too detailed ✗ Don’t have more than one paragraph ✗ Don’t use too many technical words  Anyone with a background in this field must be able to understand it 7
  9. 9. Introduction Four main sections:  Background information  Purpose and objectives  Hypothesis  Significance of the performed experiment Enough background information to understand the report Write this section first  It simplifies writing the rest of the report 8
  10. 10. Introduction DON’T: ✗ Explain materials and methods ✗ State any results or conclusions ✗ Leave out important background information, even if it’s the lab manual. 9
  11. 11. What is a good hypothesis?  Not a guess: it’s an educated guess!  Tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon or scientific problem.  It can be tested experimentally  Do use the “If … then…” format “If the type of soda is changed to Dr. Pepper, then the height of the reaction between the soda and mint Mentos will increase.” “I think that Dr. Pepper will have the highest fountain.”  Don’t write it at the end 10
  12. 12. Materials and Methods  Provide enough information for another scientist to repeat your work  Describe the following in a general manner:  How solutions/samples were obtained or prepared  How were they used in analysis  Amount(s) of substance(s) (including molar quantity)  Volume and concentrations of solutions  Measurement process  Refer to your lab notebook to write this section 11
  13. 13. Materials and Methods DON’T: ✗ Be overly detailed “We measured the mass of the test tube by first calibrating the scale by pressing the zero button and then placing the tube on the round metal part.” ✗ “The test tube was weighed” ✔ ✗ Copy the procedure given in the lab manual ✗ Don’t include your results ✗ Don’t forget to write the method in past tense! 12
  14. 14. In the Lab - Data Collection  Your data is collected and signed by your TA during the lab, you CANNOT change it later on 1. Be prepared: you should know what is a “reasonable” value to obtain and how to obtain them with proper techniques. 1. Be alert: if you see something is off by a magnitude, you know you need to do something. Good data = easy discussion = easy lab report!  Remember to hand a copy of your data before you leave the lab! 13
  15. 15. Results  Present your data here  Present everything in a logical order  Follow your Methods section  There are 2 main elements for this section: 1) Figures/Diagrams/Plots 2) Tables  Number all tables and figures! ✗ Do not discuss the results 14
  16. 16. Results – Hints on Writing Style  Explain every table and graph with proper title and explanations under it if necessary  Use past tense  Be objective and impersonal: passive voice is dominant, but use active voice as much as possible for clarity  Make sure to organize your results in relevancy of how you will discuss them 15
  17. 17. What is a good figure? 16 • Descriptive Title • Each figure should be numbered • Axis labeled -> Units!! • Easy to understand Volume NaOH added (mL) pH pH What’s wrong with this figure? 1. Scale missing on the x-axis 2. Very poor title 3. Figure not numbered What’s good about this figure? 1. The units are written out 2. The figure is easy to read
  18. 18. What is a good table? 17 Hint: keep your units consistent throughout the report It is important for easy understanding of calculations and later arguments in discussion • Data should be presented in tables • Should be numbered • Descriptive title • Each column should have a label and unit
  19. 19. 18 Moles of Water (mol) Mass 1 18.02 2 36.04 3 72.08 4 144.16 5 288.32 Table 1. Mass of Water What’s good about this table? 1. The figure is easy to read 2. The table is numbered What’s wrong with this table? 1. Missing some units 2. Non descriptive column identification 3. Very poor title
  20. 20. Discussion  The most interesting and important part of your lab report  Must be original  A good discussion should include:  How your data correlates to the greater concept in chemistry  What you did wrong/why your results may vary from a true value  SOME COURSES MAKE YOU MENTION EXPERIMENTAL ERROR! (% value) 19
  21. 21. Discussion – Logical Order  Your interpretation of results and degree of your experiment answered your questions  Alternatives of your design and mean source of error  Give your conclusion and it’s significance  Future improvements 20
  22. 22. Busts of Your Discussion Section Do NOT say the following, even if it happened: 1. I knocked over my flask and some of the material inside was lost. 2. Human error: I do not know how to use… 3. The machine is old 4. There was not enough time to carry out all parts properly 21
  23. 23. Something went wrong…  Mention it in your discussion!  People do not have perfect results all the time  These reasons can be considered: 1. Experimental design: Can the measurements be made differently to eliminate some of the error? 2. Mean source of error: These are things you cannot control (open environment, possible loss due to evaporation, etc) 3. If you had not made a mistake, what would be the error ? 22
  24. 24. Conclusion  Should be 2-3 sentences long  Indicate what the experiment was about  Outline the main method of the experiment was done (ie, was it done via titration?)  Technique for improving results for next experiment 23
  25. 25. Conclusion DON’Ts ✗ Do not summarize results, give implication of meaning of your results ✗ Do not deviate from your objective of experiments – i.e answer the question you asked! 24
  26. 26. Reference  Check what kind of style is required for lab reports  If you manage references manually, follow the guideline EXACTLY. (Not recommended)  Refworks, EndNote are both reference management software  Automatically handle the references for a lab report or a scientific paper,  McGill library offers seminars teaching how to use them workshop/33 25
  27. 27. Supplemental/Supporting information  Not normally required for a lab report  Anything that doesn’t belong in a specific place can be put as supporting information  Scientific related information ONLY, no personal notes to grader  Details of experiments for publishing in certain journals that have page limit for papers 26
  28. 28. …Some Final Words  Do not hesitate to contact you TA if the requirements are not clear!  Nothing worse than losing points for format or required samples calculations, figures etc.  DO NOT PLAGIARIZE!  You may feel you are smart enough to get away with it – DON’T DO IT!  Start writing the report EARLY!  Lab report writing is time-consuming: more than you expect usually. 27
  29. 29. 28 Happy lab report writing! Please do not be shy to ask us questions!
  30. 30. SUS Peer Tutoring  Check out our website for more info & to sign up!  Email:  Website:  Facebook:  Twitter: @SUSPeerTutoring 29
  31. 31. NEW: SUS Academic Blog!  Check out our blog for information on academic events, resources, and tips - including a copy of today’s presentation!   Contact: 30
  32. 32. Graduate & Professional Schools Fair  WHEN: Wednesday, November 13th, 10am-3pm  WHERE: SSMU Ballroom  WHAT: Reps for schools from around the world – medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, law, grad school, and more! 31
  33. 33. Get Involved with the SUS!  Several positions are available – including many in the Academic Portfolio!  Check out the listserv email for more info and the application form.  Deadline: Thursday, September 26th 32