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How To Write A Lab Report | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

Published on May 20, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment. The main purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method by performing and evaluating a hands-on lab experiment. This type of assignment is usually shorter than a research paper .

Lab reports are commonly used in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This article focuses on how to structure and write a lab report.

Table of contents

Structuring a lab report, introduction, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about lab reports.

The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but they usually contain the purpose, methods, and findings of a lab experiment .

Each section of a lab report has its own purpose.

  • Title: expresses the topic of your study
  • Abstract : summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
  • Introduction: establishes the context needed to understand the topic
  • Method: describes the materials and procedures used in the experiment
  • Results: reports all descriptive and inferential statistical analyses
  • Discussion: interprets and evaluates results and identifies limitations
  • Conclusion: sums up the main findings of your experiment
  • References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA )
  • Appendices : contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures

Although most lab reports contain these sections, some sections can be omitted or combined with others. For example, some lab reports contain a brief section on research aims instead of an introduction, and a separate conclusion is not always required.

If you’re not sure, it’s best to check your lab report requirements with your instructor.

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Your title provides the first impression of your lab report – effective titles communicate the topic and/or the findings of your study in specific terms.

Create a title that directly conveys the main focus or purpose of your study. It doesn’t need to be creative or thought-provoking, but it should be informative.

  • The effects of varying nitrogen levels on tomato plant height.
  • Testing the universality of the McGurk effect.
  • Comparing the viscosity of common liquids found in kitchens.

An abstract condenses a lab report into a brief overview of about 150–300 words. It should provide readers with a compact version of the research aims, the methods and materials used, the main results, and the final conclusion.

Think of it as a way of giving readers a preview of your full lab report. Write the abstract last, in the past tense, after you’ve drafted all the other sections of your report, so you’ll be able to succinctly summarize each section.

To write a lab report abstract, use these guiding questions:

  • What is the wider context of your study?
  • What research question were you trying to answer?
  • How did you perform the experiment?
  • What did your results show?
  • How did you interpret your results?
  • What is the importance of your findings?

Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for high quality plants. Tomatoes, one of the most consumed fruits worldwide, rely on nitrogen for healthy leaves and stems to grow fruit. This experiment tested whether nitrogen levels affected tomato plant height in a controlled setting. It was expected that higher levels of nitrogen fertilizer would yield taller tomato plants.

Levels of nitrogen fertilizer were varied between three groups of tomato plants. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer, while one experimental group received low levels of nitrogen fertilizer, and a second experimental group received high levels of nitrogen fertilizer. All plants were grown from seeds, and heights were measured 50 days into the experiment.

The effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were tested between groups using an ANOVA. The plants with the highest level of nitrogen fertilizer were the tallest, while the plants with low levels of nitrogen exceeded the control group plants in height. In line with expectations and previous findings, the effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were statistically significant. This study strengthens the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants.

Your lab report introduction should set the scene for your experiment. One way to write your introduction is with a funnel (an inverted triangle) structure:

  • Start with the broad, general research topic
  • Narrow your topic down your specific study focus
  • End with a clear research question

Begin by providing background information on your research topic and explaining why it’s important in a broad real-world or theoretical context. Describe relevant previous research on your topic and note how your study may confirm it or expand it, or fill a gap in the research field.

This lab experiment builds on previous research from Haque, Paul, and Sarker (2011), who demonstrated that tomato plant yield increased at higher levels of nitrogen. However, the present research focuses on plant height as a growth indicator and uses a lab-controlled setting instead.

Next, go into detail on the theoretical basis for your study and describe any directly relevant laws or equations that you’ll be using. State your main research aims and expectations by outlining your hypotheses .

Based on the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants, the primary hypothesis was that the plants with the high levels of nitrogen would grow the tallest. The secondary hypothesis was that plants with low levels of nitrogen would grow taller than plants with no nitrogen.

Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, but you may need to organize it into a few paragraphs or with subheadings such as “Research Context” or “Research Aims.”

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A lab report Method section details the steps you took to gather and analyze data. Give enough detail so that others can follow or evaluate your procedures. Write this section in the past tense. If you need to include any long lists of procedural steps or materials, place them in the Appendices section but refer to them in the text here.

You should describe your experimental design, your subjects, materials, and specific procedures used for data collection and analysis.

Experimental design

Briefly note whether your experiment is a within-subjects  or between-subjects design, and describe how your sample units were assigned to conditions if relevant.

A between-subjects design with three groups of tomato plants was used. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer. The first experimental group received a low level of nitrogen fertilizer, while the second experimental group received a high level of nitrogen fertilizer.

Describe human subjects in terms of demographic characteristics, and animal or plant subjects in terms of genetic background. Note the total number of subjects as well as the number of subjects per condition or per group. You should also state how you recruited subjects for your study.

List the equipment or materials you used to gather data and state the model names for any specialized equipment.

List of materials

35 Tomato seeds

15 plant pots (15 cm tall)

Light lamps (50,000 lux)

Nitrogen fertilizer

Measuring tape

Describe your experimental settings and conditions in detail. You can provide labelled diagrams or images of the exact set-up necessary for experimental equipment. State how extraneous variables were controlled through restriction or by fixing them at a certain level (e.g., keeping the lab at room temperature).

Light levels were fixed throughout the experiment, and the plants were exposed to 12 hours of light a day. Temperature was restricted to between 23 and 25℃. The pH and carbon levels of the soil were also held constant throughout the experiment as these variables could influence plant height. The plants were grown in rooms free of insects or other pests, and they were spaced out adequately.

Your experimental procedure should describe the exact steps you took to gather data in chronological order. You’ll need to provide enough information so that someone else can replicate your procedure, but you should also be concise. Place detailed information in the appendices where appropriate.

In a lab experiment, you’ll often closely follow a lab manual to gather data. Some instructors will allow you to simply reference the manual and state whether you changed any steps based on practical considerations. Other instructors may want you to rewrite the lab manual procedures as complete sentences in coherent paragraphs, while noting any changes to the steps that you applied in practice.

If you’re performing extensive data analysis, be sure to state your planned analysis methods as well. This includes the types of tests you’ll perform and any programs or software you’ll use for calculations (if relevant).

First, tomato seeds were sown in wooden flats containing soil about 2 cm below the surface. Each seed was kept 3-5 cm apart. The flats were covered to keep the soil moist until germination. The seedlings were removed and transplanted to pots 8 days later, with a maximum of 2 plants to a pot. Each pot was watered once a day to keep the soil moist.

The nitrogen fertilizer treatment was applied to the plant pots 12 days after transplantation. The control group received no treatment, while the first experimental group received a low concentration, and the second experimental group received a high concentration. There were 5 pots in each group, and each plant pot was labelled to indicate the group the plants belonged to.

50 days after the start of the experiment, plant height was measured for all plants. A measuring tape was used to record the length of the plant from ground level to the top of the tallest leaf.

In your results section, you should report the results of any statistical analysis procedures that you undertook. You should clearly state how the results of statistical tests support or refute your initial hypotheses.

The main results to report include:

  • any descriptive statistics
  • statistical test results
  • the significance of the test results
  • estimates of standard error or confidence intervals

The mean heights of the plants in the control group, low nitrogen group, and high nitrogen groups were 20.3, 25.1, and 29.6 cm respectively. A one-way ANOVA was applied to calculate the effect of nitrogen fertilizer level on plant height. The results demonstrated statistically significant ( p = .03) height differences between groups.

Next, post-hoc tests were performed to assess the primary and secondary hypotheses. In support of the primary hypothesis, the high nitrogen group plants were significantly taller than the low nitrogen group and the control group plants. Similarly, the results supported the secondary hypothesis: the low nitrogen plants were taller than the control group plants.

These results can be reported in the text or in tables and figures. Use text for highlighting a few key results, but present large sets of numbers in tables, or show relationships between variables with graphs.

You should also include sample calculations in the Results section for complex experiments. For each sample calculation, provide a brief description of what it does and use clear symbols. Present your raw data in the Appendices section and refer to it to highlight any outliers or trends.

The Discussion section will help demonstrate your understanding of the experimental process and your critical thinking skills.

In this section, you can:

  • Interpret your results
  • Compare your findings with your expectations
  • Identify any sources of experimental error
  • Explain any unexpected results
  • Suggest possible improvements for further studies

Interpreting your results involves clarifying how your results help you answer your main research question. Report whether your results support your hypotheses.

  • Did you measure what you sought out to measure?
  • Were your analysis procedures appropriate for this type of data?

Compare your findings with other research and explain any key differences in findings.

  • Are your results in line with those from previous studies or your classmates’ results? Why or why not?

An effective Discussion section will also highlight the strengths and limitations of a study.

  • Did you have high internal validity or reliability?
  • How did you establish these aspects of your study?

When describing limitations, use specific examples. For example, if random error contributed substantially to the measurements in your study, state the particular sources of error (e.g., imprecise apparatus) and explain ways to improve them.

The results support the hypothesis that nitrogen levels affect plant height, with increasing levels producing taller plants. These statistically significant results are taken together with previous research to support the importance of nitrogen as a nutrient for tomato plant growth.

However, unlike previous studies, this study focused on plant height as an indicator of plant growth in the present experiment. Importantly, plant height may not always reflect plant health or fruit yield, so measuring other indicators would have strengthened the study findings.

Another limitation of the study is the plant height measurement technique, as the measuring tape was not suitable for plants with extreme curvature. Future studies may focus on measuring plant height in different ways.

The main strengths of this study were the controls for extraneous variables, such as pH and carbon levels of the soil. All other factors that could affect plant height were tightly controlled to isolate the effects of nitrogen levels, resulting in high internal validity for this study.

Your conclusion should be the final section of your lab report. Here, you’ll summarize the findings of your experiment, with a brief overview of the strengths and limitations, and implications of your study for further research.

Some lab reports may omit a Conclusion section because it overlaps with the Discussion section, but you should check with your instructor before doing so.

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A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment . Lab reports are commonly assigned in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method with a hands-on lab experiment. Course instructors will often provide you with an experimental design and procedure. Your task is to write up how you actually performed the experiment and evaluate the outcome.

In contrast, a research paper requires you to independently develop an original argument. It involves more in-depth research and interpretation of sources and data.

A lab report is usually shorter than a research paper.

The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but it usually contains the following:

  • Abstract: summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
  • References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA)
  • Appendices: contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures

The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

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The Laboratory Report

The Laboratory Report 1,2

Authors: M. C. Nagan and J. M. McCormick

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The research paper is the primary means of communication in science. The research paper presents the results of the experiment and interpretation of the data, describes the rationale and design of the experiment, provides a context for the results in terms of previous findings and assesses the overall success of the experiment(s). Scientists working in industrial laboratories do not write as many journal articles as their colleagues in academia, but they routinely write progress reports, which take the same form as a journal article. So no matter what your career goals are, it is important that you become familiar with this style of writing.

There are set rules for preparing a journal article (or a laboratory report). The style requirements vary only slightly from journal to journal, but there are far more similarities than differences in the scientific writing style.  If you are writing an article for publication in a particular journal (or preparing a laboratory report in the style of a particular journal) you should consult the Instructions to Authors section of the journal’s website (this information is also included in the journal’s first issue of each year).

There are several style guides 3, 4   and articles 5 to help scientists and students prepare their manuscripts.  The most useful of these to chemists is the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) ACS Style Guide, which may be found in the Truman library or may be purchased from the ACS web site . Because of the variation in journal styles, and the requirements for a specific course, your instructor will inform you of specific style requirements for his or her class. This guide is based on the Journal of the American Chemical Society style, 6 and is meant to provide a good starting point for writing a laboratory report.  It is not meant to be the definitive style guide; you must adjust your style to your audience and the journal in which your results will be published.

General Editorial Issues

Although we shouldn’t, all of us are swayed by first impressions.  How your paper appears to the journal editor or reviewer is their first impression of your science, and it will color their impression of your results, if you let it.  Nothing is worse than a sloppily prepared paper with no page numbers, a font that can’t be read or which is full of grammatical errors.  Remember that everyone will assume that if you did not take the time to write your paper carefully, you did not take the time to do your science carefully.

The following are some general editorial guidelines to follow that will leave a good first impression with your readers.

General Stylistic Issues

Uniformity of style is the key to scientific communication. The journal editors, the referees who review a manuscript, and the journal readers who are interested in the results presented in a paper all expect certain things to be present in a manuscript and that they are in a certain order.  Just like the sloppy-looking paper, a paper that does not adhere to the expected style reflects poorly on the author, no matter how good the science is.


Sections should appear in your paper in the order described below. All sections but the title have the section explicitly labeled, usually in bold letters to differentiate it from the rest of the text, and left aligned on the page. A blank line should appear after the last word of the section to separate the various sections, but a line should not be placed after the section title.

Please note that you should not physically assemble your paper in this order. Instead, it is suggested that you compose: a) Materials and Methods, b) Figures, Figure Legends and Tables, c) Results, d) Discussion, e) Conclusions, f) Introduction and Schemes, g) Abstract, and h) Title. Then put all the sections together in the final paper in the order outlined above.

A template is available to help you organize your report.  Click here to learn more about it.


It may be helpful to organize sections further into subsections. These subsections should have their own titles that are italicized and followed by a period.

Description of Paper Components

Title/Title Page

A title reflects the emphasis and contents of the paper. It tells the reader the paper’s topic and it also entices the reader to continue reading further. Therefore, it is not uncommon for the title to reveal the results or major conclusions of the experiment. Examples are given below. The title should be on its own page (the title page), left-aligned at the top of the page, in bold letters.  Note that in some journals the title’s font size is 2 points larger than the text (i. e., 14-point, if the rest of the paper is in a standard 12-point font).  However, this is not standardized and you should check with your instructor for which format he/she wants you to follow.

The title must be brief (2 lines maximum) and grammatically correct. Under the title, write your name and your professional address in italics ( Department of Chemistry, Truman State University, 100 East Normal, Kirksville, MO 63501 ).

The abstract is a one-paragraph summary of the paper that is written in the present tense. As the abstract is the only part of the paper that is entered into article databases, it should be able to stand alone, separate from the paper. The first one to three sentences of the abstract should briefly introduce the reader to the problem studied. Next, the scientific approach, major results and primary significance of the findings should be presented. The abstract is generally 150-200 words (less for shorter papers). This section is normally written after the body of the paper. Because the abstract is separate from the paper, all abbreviations should be written out, or defined, and any references should be written out in full.  An example of how a reference might appear in an abstract is

Note that in some journals that inclusion of the title in a reference is not required ( vide infra ).

The introduction should present the scientific problem at hand to the reader. Explain to the reader why the experiment was conducted, how it was designed and perhaps, if appropriate, what was found. Literature that is relevant should be incorporated and will help the reader understand the context of your study. A good rule of thumb is to start at the most general topic and progressively move towards the specific. Here is a general outline for an introduction:

In this section, consider including figures, schemes and equations that complement the text.

While this is similar to the information that you should have written your notebook, the introduction to a paper is different than the background that you included for an experiment (or experiments) in your notebook.  Remember that you are trying to reach a larger, more general audience with your paper, and the introduction must be structured to draw the reader in and help them focus on your important results.


The experimental section of your paper should be a logical, coherent recount of the experiment(s) conducted. This section should be complete enough for a trained scientist to pick up your report and replicate your experiment. The experimental section in a laboratory report is more concise than the corresponding section in the laboratory notebook. It should not be a step-by-step procedure of the activities carried out during the laboratory period.

The first paragraph of the experimental section contains information on key chemicals used in the procedure.  When the chemicals are used as received, there will usually be a statement to that effect and further details are not usually necessary.   You will list the chemical supplier’s name and the substance’s purity will be noted in cases where the chemical is hard to find, it is of a special purity or if there is only one supplier.  Do not list lot numbers. If a starting material was synthesized according to a literature procedure, then state this in the opening paragraph and reference the procedure. If purification or drying of the compounds is required, it is described here, also.

The first paragraph often will also list the instruments used to characterize the newly synthesized substances. All instruments and equipment should be specified including the model number of the instrument and the name of the manufacturer (serial numbers are not included). When a spectroscopic or physical method is the focus of the report, it will be described in its own subsection. You are not required to write the experimental in this fashion. 

For common techniques, laboratory textbooks should be referenced. However, if a previously published procedure was modified, then this is stated and only the modifications performed are included. If the procedure is your own, then outline the procedure with the main points, including details that are critical to replicating the experiment. These might include the type and size of your HPLC column, the buffer or the concentrations of chemicals.

When the syntheses of substances are reported, the synthetic procedure used to make each substance is described in its own separate paragraph. The paragraph begins with the name of substance, or its abbreviation (if the abbreviation was defined earlier in the paper), in bold face. If numbers are assigned to the compounds, these are also included (in parentheses). Often the synthesis will be written out, even when a literature procedure was followed. The mass and percent yields must be reported. Some of the new compound’s characteristics are included at the end of the paragraph describing its synthesis. These include: melting point range (and literature value, if known), elemental analysis (both calculated and found), selected peaks from the mass spectrum (with assignments), selected IR peaks (also with assignments), and any NMR peaks with their chemical shift, multiplicity and integration (you will often find the observed coupling quoted and the assignment of the peaks).  The following is an example of how to report a compound’s synthesis.

The experimental section has two quirky wrinkles on the general scientific style.  These are:

In the Results section, the results are presented and summarized in a reader-friendly form. Raw data are not presented here. For instance, it is appropriate to include the average calculated concentration of a solution but not the original absorbance values that were collected from the spectrophotometer; that information is best left in your laboratory notebook.

Graphs and tables often make the data easier to interpret and more understandable (click here to review graph preparation). A graph is presented in the paper as a figure . In general, a graph or table is an appropriate representation of the data when more than 2 or 3 numbers are presented. Data that are presented in the form of a graph or table should be referred to but should not be repeated verbatim in the text as this defeats the purpose of a graph. More information on figures and  tables is presented later.

The Results section also reports comparable literature values for the properties obtained and/or calculated in the paper. Observation of trends in the numerical data is acceptable. However, interpretation of the trend should be saved for the Discussion section.

Remember, do not simply report your numerical results.  The Results section must have a narrative that describes your results.  This narrative can include a description of the data (such as spectra or data in graphs), what problems were encountered during data acquisition (and how they were resolved, or not) and a general description of how the raw data were processed to give the final results ( not a step-by-step description of everything you did).  The reader wants to know what you did, how you did it, what problems you encountered and finally what your results were.  Each of these topics must be addressed in the Results section in a way that is clear, yet concise.

This is the section where the results are interpreted. This section of the paper is analogous to a debate. You need to present your data, convince the reader of your data’s reliability and present evidence for your convictions. First, evaluate your data. Do you have good, mediocre, terrible, or un-interpretable data? Evaluate your results by comparing to literature values or other precedents. Explain what results should have been obtained and whether you obtained these expected values. Note that even if expected results were not obtained, you did not fail. Unexpected results are often the most interesting. Perhaps your hypothesis was not correct. Why is this? What new hypothesis do your data suggest? If you feel that your results are not reliable, you need to explain why. Use statistical analysis or chemical principles to support your claims. Was there a systematic error? Is the error due to the limitations of your apparatus? Does your data look the same to within a standard deviation? Evaluate the statistical significance of your data (click here to review the statistical treatment of data). After validating your data, you should interpret your results; state what you believe your results mean. How do your results help us understand the scientific problem? What do your results mean in the context of the bigger picture of chemistry, or of science? How do your results relate to the concepts outlined in the introduction? Do not assume that your experiment failed or was successful. You need to prove to the reader, with logical arguments and supporting evidence, the value of your study.

The conclusions that you wrote in your laboratory notebook are a good starting point from which to organize your thoughts.  Your paper’s discussion section is structured very similarly to the conclusions section in your notebook, and it might be good idea to review that now (click here to review the structure of the conclusions in the laboratory notebook).


The Conclusions section is typically a one-paragraph summary of your laboratory report. Here you summarize the goal(s) of your experiment, state whether you reached that goal, and describe briefly the implications of your study. Note that in some chemistry sub-disciplines it is acceptable to combine the Discussion and Conclusions sections. Consult your course syllabus or check with your instructor on the specific format to be used in your class.


The Acknowledgements section is where you thank anyone who helped you significantly with the project or with the manuscript. For instance, you would thank your laboratory partners if they’re not authors on the paper, anyone who helped with the design of the experiment or the preparation of the paper. You might also include funding sources such as a Truman State University summer scholarship or a National Institutes of Health grant.

Most of the ideas presented in your paper are probably not exclusively yours. Therefore, you should cite other people’s work wherever appropriate. However, you do not need to cite information that is common knowledge or is exclusively your idea. The References section is a compilation of all citations made within the paper. It is not a bibliography and therefore should not list sources that are not directly referred to in the text.

References Format

The format of references varies amongst journals. For your chemistry laboratory reports, you should follow, by default, the ACS guidelines as outlined in The ACS Style Guide and Journal of the American Chemical Society , JACS (all examples given in this handout conform to JACS format). If your professor requires you to conform to a specific journal’s format, look at articles from that journal or refer to the journal’s “Instructions to Authors.” The specifications for most ACS journals are:

Types of References

Articles . Journal articles are the primary source found in laboratory reports. An example is given below. Notice that the authors’ initials are given instead of the first and middle names. Also, there is no “and” before the last author’s name. Some journals require that the article’s title be included in the reference (check with your instructor to see if he/she wants you to use this style).  When included, the article’s title should start with a capital letter but the other words in the title, unless they are proper nouns, should not be capitalized (see below). The journal title is abbreviated (click here for a list of the ACS abbreviations for common journals). Also, the year and the comma after the year are in bold. Lastly, the reference has inclusive pagination (first and last pages are given)

The following are examples of the same journal article with the first given in style where the article’s title is included in the reference, while the second is in the style where the article’s title is omitted.

Books. Books should be cited in the following manner:

Computer Programs. Citations for computer programs vary. If a person in academia wrote the program, there is often a journal-article source. In other cases, the program is simply distributed by a company.

Websites. Journal articles are much preferred over websites. Websites are dynamic and are usually not peer reviewed. One of the only instances when a website is an acceptable reference is when it is referring to a database (however, an article is usually associated with the creation of the database). If you must use a website, the reference should include a title for the site, the author(s), year of last update and URL. It is unacceptable to use a website as a reference for scientific data or explanations of chemical processes.

Tables, Schemes and Figures

Tables, schemes and figures are all concise ways to convey your message.  As you prepare these items for your report, remember to think of your reader.  You want them to derive the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of work. Pretend to be the reader and ask yourself, “Does this enhance my understanding?”, “Can I find everything?”, “Can I read it without being distracted?” Poorly prepared tables, schemes and figures will reflect badly on your science, and you as a scientist, so think carefully about these items as you prepare your report.

A table is a way to summarize data or ideas in a coherent, grid-like fashion. This is not simply output from a spreadsheet! You should prepare the table in a word-processor so that its formatting matches the rest of your report.  In general, tables have no more than ten rows and columns to avoid overwhelming the reader.  One common exception is in review articles (such as in Chemical Reviews ) where an author is attempting to summarize results from an entire field.  Another common exception is in the reporting of X-ray crystallography data.  These tables have their own special formatting rules, and will not be discussed here.

Tables are referred to in the text as “Table #”. Tables, schemes and figures are labeled separately, with Arabic numbers, in the order they are referred to in the paper. Tables have a table caption, which in some journals appears above the table, while in others it appears below.  In either case, the table caption is always on the same page as the table.

Don’t use lines or boxes in your table except where absolutely necessary. Use spaces between your columns instead (helpful hint: it is better to use your word processor’s table formatting tools than trying to get the columns to line up using tabs or spaces). All column or row headings should have clear subtitles and units if needed (usually in parentheses). Any numbers that are presented should have proper significant figures, and an indication of the error should be shown (click here to review how to report uncertainty in one’s data). An example table is given below.

A scheme is usually a sequence of two or more chemical reactions that together summarize a synthesis. A scheme may also show the steps in a purification with each step or reaction giving the reactants, products, catalysts, and yields.  A scheme that shows a chemical reaction may also show possible intermediates. Note that mechanisms are not usually conveyed using a scheme because they are more complicated and illustrate where electrons are proposed to move.  Mechanisms are most often placed in a figure.

It is a common convention in a scheme to write a bold number underneath chemical species referred to in the text.  Note that for the first occurrence of the bold number in the text, the chemical’s name is given, but after that only the bold number is used to identify it. This method of defining abbreviations for compounds can also be done in the experimental section, if there is no scheme.  This is very useful when a compound’s name is long or complicated.

The one-step yield is usually written to the right of the equation, although it is also proper to write the yield under the arrow.  Note also how the reaction conditions can be summarized (i. e., the first step below), which saves the reader from flipping to the experimental section for these details.

Each scheme also has a caption, which is included under the scheme.  The caption should briefly  summarize what is in the scheme.  If the scheme is from another source, the reference to this source should appear at the end of the caption.

The following is an example of a scheme that might appear in a synthetic paper.  The text below it shows how the scheme could be referred to in the body of the paper.  

Benzamide (1) was refluxed under aqueous acidic conditions for 1 hour to yield benzoic acid (2) . Acid (2) was then refluxed with SOCl 2 to yield benzoyl chloride (3) .

Sometimes a scheme may be used to illustrate a non-chemical process or how an instrument’s components are connected.  These could also be presented as figures, and there is no definitive rule that will tell you when to use a scheme and when to use a figure.  When in doubt, think of the reader and use the method that conveys the most information in the most easily understood format

Figures fall into two broad categories; those that are pictorial representations of concepts that are presented in the text, and those which summarize data. Again, it is critical to your report that your figures are clear, concise and readable, and that they support the arguments that you are making.  Remember that you must refer to and discuss every figure in the text!  If a figure is not mentioned, you don’t need it!

Figures that are pictorial representations of concepts usually appear in the Introduction , but it is also appropriate to include them in the Discussion . Use this type of figure to make your writing more concise (remember the conversion factor: 1 picture = 1 kword).  Remember, humans are very visually oriented and we can grasp complex concepts presented as picture more easily then when they are presented in words or as mathematical formulae.  Some examples of concept figures include:

Graphs are figures that present data.  You use a graph when you have more data than will fit in a table.  The general rules for preparing good figures for your notebook also apply in a laboratory report (click here to review graph preparation).  Formatting tips: do not use colored backgrounds or gridlines, and do not draw a box around the graph.

You may find it more concise to combine all your data into one graph. For example, it may be appropriate to put six lines with absorbance as a function of time, with varying concentrations of a reactant on the same graph rather than constructing six different graphs. However, when doing this, be careful not to over-clutter the graph.

Standard curves should not be included in this section unless that was the primary goal of the experiment. They should be put in the Supporting Information .

Figures have figure captions compiled in the Figure Legend section, located on a separate page at the end of the paper. Journals chose this format because of typographical issues, and it has been retained despite its inconvenience to the reader.  Each figure should appear on its own page in the order is it is discussed in the text. Figure captions appear in the Figure Legends section and do not appear on the same page as the figure. However, in the bottom, right-hand corner of the page the following identifying text appears:

Figure Legends

All figure legends (captions) should be found in the section entitled “Figure Legends”. The format for a figure legend is usually: “Figure number” (italics and bold), a short title (followed by a period) and then a description of what is in the figure. All figure legends are compiled on the same page separated by a blank line. Be sure to define in the caption any symbols used in the figure, and note whether lines that pass through data points are fits, or “guides to the eye”.

Supporting Information

This section (also known as Supplemental Material ) is where you can include information that may be helpful, but not essential, for evaluation of your data. Items in this section may include calibration curves, and spectra (from which you extracted only one absorbance value for your analysis).  Figures or tables of data whose contents were summarized in the text, or which were not critical to the conclusions, are also to be placed in the supporting information.  An example of this type of material is the table of atom positions generated in an X-ray crystal structure.

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Engineering: Lab report

how to write a chemical engineering lab report

Whatever branch of engineering you are studying, many of your labs and lab based assignments will require a written report. The purpose is to report what you did and what you learned from an experiment.

Lab reports can vary in length and format. These range from a form to fill in and submit before leaving the lab, to a formal written report. However, they all usually follow a similar basic structure.

Example: Typical Lab report structure

Structure of a lab report.

A lab report in engineering generally contains the following sections:

The title precisely describes the purpose of the practical work.

The majority of your practical work will involve measurements, observations or the creation of some object of interest.

It is clear from the title of this lab report that it describes a procedure called a ‘chromatographic separation’ and the objects of interest are ‘protein molecules’.

Test your understanding View

The abstract provides a brief overview of the practical work, including key results and conclusions.

Keep your abstract short, about one paragraph or 250 to 500 words. It must be clear enough that the reader can understand the key points of the report without needing to read the rest of it. In general the abstract should answer six questions. Addressing each question should only require one to two sentences:

  • Why was the experiment conducted? (Big-picture/real-world view.)
  • What specific problem/research question was being addressed?
  • What methods were used to solve the problem/answer the question?
  • What results were obtained?
  • What do these results mean?
  • How do the results answer the overall question or improve our understanding of the problem?

Note that there is no need to include background information such as motivation or theory. Shorter lab reports may not require an abstract so check you report guidelines first.

The example abstract below clearly states what the student did, how the student did it, what they found and what it means in relation to their aim. Notice how brief each of these points is.

In any experiment, you aim to do something. For example, to verify, to investigate, to measure, to compare or to test a hypothesis.

  • Each aim should have a specific goal. Think about how you will know when you have achieved your aim. This should be apparent from your aim statement.
  • Write your aim using verbs (e.g. 'to investigate').
  • Where there is a goal-and-means relationship, make sure this is clear. (E.g. to investigate molecular forces via atomic force microscopy. )
  • Each aim in your experiment should be written in a complete sentence.
  • In the aim statement below, it is clear that the aim will be achieved when a value is obtained for the resistivity of iron.

If an experiment has more than one aim, list them in the logical order and make sure the relationship between the aims is made clear The example below has two aims:

1. To measure the pressure distribution around a cylinder in a wind tunnel

2. To calculate the forces on the cylinder based on the data obtained

Note the use of ‘ and use the results ’ in the example provided.

Check your understanding of how to write an effective aim View

Compare the following two aims, and then answer the question below.

AIM A To conduct lift and drag measurements on a model aeroplane in a wind tunnel.

AIM B To measure the lift and drag forces on a model aeroplane in a wind tunnel.

Introduction or background

The introduction or background section is where you introduce the topic and purpose of your practical work and narrow down to your hypothesis, aims or the research question you intend to address.To write an introduction section you need to succinctly explain relevant theory and discuss any relevant laws, equations or theorems. This is also where you should indicate the method/s you will use for analysis, such as nodal analysis, numerical modelling or microscopy. In longer reports you may need to support your choice of method with academic literature. You can include any figures, tables or equations necessary to explain the relevant theory. It should also set out any assumptions, and indicate how the data will be processed.

Below is an example of an introduction defining the formula and associated terms for the calculation of thermal efficiency.

The method section is where you describe what you actually did during the practical work. You need to describe the actions you took during your practical work in a way that someone from your field has enough information to replicate the process and achieve a similar result.

You must also include any unplanned changes to the original process which occurred during the execution of the experiment. A great way to keep track of this is to use a lab notebook during the practical work to note any changes you make.

Turn lab instructions into a lab report method

A common mistake students make is copying the instructions their teachers provide directly into their method section. You will generally be provided with a set of instructions to complete your practical work. These instructions are NOT written in the style of a laboratory report. A typical set of instructions usually includes:

  • How apparatus and equipment were set up (e.g. experimental set-up), usually including a diagram,
  • A list of materials used,
  • Steps used to collect the data,
  • Any experimental difficulties encountered and how they were resolved or worked around.

Below is an example of instructions provided to a student to carry out a first year chemical engineering experiment.

  • Example: Lab instructions Initiate the bicarbonate feed pump and adjust the flow rate to 230mL/min. Wait until the flow rate has stabilised before proceeding.

Phrases are used here to specifically instruct the student who may be performing the technique for the first time. For example:

  • “Wait until the flow rate has stabilised before proceeding.”

Also note that language used is in the present tense in bullet points. The method section should be written in the past tense as a cohesive paragraph.

Below is an example of how these lab instructions can be successfully paraphrased into a method in a laboratory report.

Writing about materials and/or experimental setup

  • Describe the materials used and/or the apparatus setup.
  • Include an image showing the relevant features of any object or material under investigation
  • Include a diagram of the experimental setup, with each component clearly labelled

In the example below, the experiment required a particular apparatus setup. Notice how there is a small amount of text describing the setup and two well labelled figures illustrating the apparatus setup.

  • Note In the method section you should use the past tense when you are reporting on something you did. While most engineering units require that you report in the passive voice , some require the active voice . In the example below, the first person is used e.g. "we initiated". This is accepted in some disciplines, but not others. Check your unit information or talk to your teacher. the past tense because you are reporting on a past activity

Evaluate student lab reports View

Read the lab instructions and student reports below, then answer the questions that follow:

The effects of surface roughness on drag force

Cylinder - 2408mm high, 80mm diameter

Wind tunnel working area: 304.8mm x 304.8mm x 812.8mm

  • Choose a way to apply temporary rough surfaces to the cylinder. Your chosen method must be able to simulate at least two noticeable variations in surface roughness.
  • Calibrate the strain gauge and record a zero reading. You can find the calibration coefficient by applying known masses to the model. The results can then be plotted to determine the calibration factor.

Group A Method

Group b method.

Answer the three questions about the reports below. Scroll down and use the blue dots or arrows to move to the next question.

The results section is where you present a summary of the data collected during your experiments. These results are not just a copy of the raw data from your lab notebook. Rather, it may involve calculation, analysis and the drawing up of tables and figures to present your data.


When you take your raw data and perform some sort of mathematical operation to change it, it is good practice to show the equations you used in your analysis as well as one worked example using each equation. Very long calculations or calculations that you repeat multiple times are usually included in an appendix (see below).

In some disciplines, if formulae are used, it is common to number them as equations:

how to write a chemical engineering lab report

Error analysis

Error analysis is a type of calculation that indicates the accuracy of your results, usually done through determining the level of uncertainty. The sources of error that you need to consider will vary between experiments and disciplines, but you will usually need to factor in both random and systematic errors.

Any analysis and calculations of the errors or uncertainties in the experiment are included in the results section unless otherwise specified. In some disciplines the analysis and uncertainty calculations are presented under its own heading. Check the requirements given in your unit information or lab manual, or ask your tutor if you are unsure where to place calculations.

Tables and figures

Most numerical data are presented using tables or figures. These need to be clearly labelled following the standard conventions for captions, and titles must tell the reader precisely what data is being presented.

If a measurement is stated in the title, in a column of a table or on the axis of a graph and it has units associated with it, these must be included (usually in brackets).

The table below presents a series of measurements collected during an experiment. Notice the units in every column with the brackets. Some measurements such as pH or C p do not have units.

how to write a chemical engineering lab report

The figure below is a graphical representation of aerodynamic measurements. Notice the axes are labelled with appropriate units and the caption at the bottom of the figure clearly describes what the figure is about.

how to write a chemical engineering lab report

Figures can also be a wide variety of images. The figure below is an image taken from a type of molecular microscope. Notice the caption at the bottom of the figure clearly describing the figure and the specification of the magnification of the microscope.

how to write a chemical engineering lab report

If you must use figures from another source, indicate in the citation whether you have modified it in any way to avoid collusion or plagiarism.

You must refer to every figure and table in your text, so that the reader understands the content and purpose of each. Explain clearly how you obtained final values, and tell the reader where to find raw data and sample calculations.

The discussion section is where you interpret and evaluate your results. To do this you need to summarise your key results, summarise unexpected results, and explain how your results relate to your aims, hypotheses or literature as stated at the start of the report. Here are some tips on writing discussion sections:

  • Identify and describe any trends or patterns you have observed. If these are numerical trends simply saying phrases such as ‘higher, lower, increase or decreased’ is vague. Instead give a numeric value in addition to describing an increase or decrease. For example, “an average increase of 510 mL/min”.
  • Compare the experimental results with any predictions you made.
  • Interpret what the results mean in relation to the aims, research question(s) or hypothesis.
  • Describe any results which were unexpected or didn’t match any predictions.
  • Suggest explanations for unexpected results based on the theory and procedures within the experiment.
  • Evaluate how any sources of error might impact on the interpretation of your results in relation to the aims, research question(s) or hypothesis.
  • Clarify how the limitations of the study might affect the accuracy and precision of the answers to your aim, research question or hypothesis.
  • Suggest how the experiment or analysis could have been improved.
  • Explain how your results do or do not address your aim, research question or hypothesis, and indicate future directions in research.
  • Note When discussing your results, begin by directing the reader to the relevant table or graph. Direct the reader to the relevant figure, table or graph. This is called a location statement . It tells the reader where to look and what to focus on.

Below are several examples of sentences that are appropriate for a discussion section. Examples 1 and 2 show you sentences which can be used to compare your data to the literature and then explain unusual data. Example 3 shows you how to use these sentences to draw your reader's attention to your results and provide a recommendation.

Check you understanding; Identify features of a discussion View

The paragraph below contains some, but not all, of the functions of a Discussion. Read the paragraph then answer the five questions that follow. For each sentence, you need to select the appropriate function or functions it is performing.


The conclusion section is where you summarise your report. A conclusion is usually one paragraph or 200 to 300 words. In this way a conclusion is very similar to an abstract but with more emphasis on the results and discussion.

Students often make the mistake of thinking a conclusion section is identical to a discussion section. Your conclusion should answer the question: So what? Focus on the significance and relevance of your results in relation to the aim of your experiment.

A conclusion never introduces any new ideas or results. Rather, it provides a concise summary of those which have already been presented in the report. When writing a conclusion you should:

  • Briefly restate the purpose of the experiment (the question it was seeking to answer).
  • Indicate to what extent the aims of the experiment were achieved.
  • Summarise the main points of your findings including key values.
  • Summarise important limitations and the cause of unexpected results.
  • Recommend improvements to overcome experimental limitations.

When in-text citations are incorporated into your lab report (typically in the introduction or discussion) you must always have the full citations included in a separate reference list. The reference list is a separate section that comes after your conclusion (and before any appendices).

Check your lab manual or unit information to determine which referencing style is preferred. Carefully follow that referencing style for your in-text references and reference list. You can find examples and information about common referencing styles in the Citing and referencing Library guide .

An appendix (plural = appendices) contains material that is too detailed to include in the main report, such as tables of raw data or detailed calculations.

Each appendix must be:

  • given a number (or letter) and title
  • referred to by number (or letter) at the relevant point in the text.

Check your understanding of the sections of a lab report View

The typical structure of a lab report is shown in the left-hand column below. Can you match the sections with their description? Drag and drop the descriptions from the right-hand column to the section it matches.

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Writing Lab Reports

Writing lab reports follows a straightforward and structured procedure. It is important to recognize that each part of a lab report is important, so take the time to complete each carefully. A lab report is broken down into eight sections: title, abstract, introduction, methods and materials, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. 

  • Ex: "Determining the Free Chlorine Content of Pool Water"
  • Abstracts are a summary of the experiment as a whole and should familiarize the reader with the purpose of the research. 
  • Abstracts will always be written last, even though they are the first paragraph of a lab report. 
  • Not all lab reports will require an abstract. However, they are often included in upper-level lab reports and should be studied carefully. 
  • Why was the research done or experiment conducted?
  • What problem is being addressed?
  • What results were found?
  • What are the meaning of the results?
  • How is the problem better understood now than before, if at all?


  • The introduction of a lab report discusses the problem being studied and other theory that is relevant to understanding the findings. 
  • The hypothesis of the experiment and the motivation for the research are stated in this section. 
  • Write the introduction in your own words. Try not to copy from a lab manual or other guidelines. Instead, show comprehension of the experiment by briefly explaining the problem.

Methods and Materials

  • Ex: pipette, graduated cylinder, 1.13mg of Na, 0.67mg Ag
  • List the steps taken as they actually happened during the experiment, not as they were supposed to happen. 
  • If written correctly, another researcher should be able to duplicate the experiment and get the same or very similar results. 
  • The results show the data that was collected or found during the experiment. 
  • Explain in words the data that was collected.
  • Tables should be labeled numerically, as "Table 1", "Table 2", etc. Other figures should be labeled numerically as "Figure 1", "Figure 2", etc. 
  • Calculations to understand the data can also be presented in the results. 
  • The discussion section is one of the most important parts of the lab report. It analyzes the results of the experiment and is a discussion of the data. 
  • If any results are unexpected, explain why they are unexpected and how they did or did not effect the data obtained. 
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the design of the experiment and compare your results to other similar experiments.
  • If there are any experimental errors, analyze them.
  • Explain your results and discuss them using relevant terms and theories.
  • What do the results indicate?
  • What is the significance of the results?
  • Are there any gaps in knowledge?
  • Are there any new questions that have been raised?
  • The conclusion is a summation of the experiment. It should clearly and concisely state what was learned and its importance.
  • If there is future work that needs to be done, it can be explained in the conclusion.
  • If using any outside sources to support a claim or explain background information, those sources must be cited in the references section of the lab report. 
  • In the event that no outside sources are used, the references section may be left out. 

Other Useful Sources

  • The Lab Report
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  • Some Tips on Writing Lab Reports
  • Writing a Science Lab Report
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Engineering Communication Program

Lab Reports

This document describes a general format for Lab Reports that you can adapt as needed. Lab reports are the most frequent kind of document written in engineering and can count for as much as 25% of a course – yet little time or attention is devoted to how to write them well. Worse yet, each professor wants something a little different. Regardless of variations, however, the goal of lab reports remains the same: document your findings and communicate their significance. With that in mind, we can describe the report’s format and basic components. Knowing the pieces and purpose, you can adapt to the particular needs of a course or professor.

A good lab report does more than present data; it demonstrates the writer’s comprehension of the concepts behind the data. Merely recording the expected and observed results is not sufficient; you should also identify how and why differences occurred, explain how they affected your experiment, and show your understanding of the principles the experiment was designed to examine. Bear in mind that a format, however helpful, cannot replace clear thinking and organized writing. You still need to organize your ideas carefully and express them coherently.

Typical Components:

  • Methods and Materials
  • Experimental Procedure

1. The Title Page: needs to contain the name of the experiment, the names of lab partners, and the date. Titles should be straightforward, informative, and less than ten words (i.e. Not “Lab #4” but “Lab #4: Sample Analysis using the Debye-Sherrer Method”).

2. The Abstract: summarizes four essential aspects of the report: a) the purpose of the experiment (sometimes expressed as the purpose of the report) b) key findings, c) significance and d) major conclusions. The abstract often also includes a brief reference to theory or methodology. The information should clearly enable readers to decide whether they need to read your whole report. The abstract should be one paragraph of 100-200 words (the sample below is 191 words). (See also Components of Documents / Abstracts and Executive Summaries)

This experiment examined the effect of line orientation and arrowhead angle on a subject’s ability to perceive line length, thereby testing the Müller-Lyer illusion. The Müller-Lyer illusion is the classic visual illustration of the effect of the surrounding on the perceived length of a line. The test was to determine the point of subjective equality by having subjects adjust line segments to equal the length of a standard line. Twenty-three subjects were tested in a repeated measures design with four different arrowhead angles and four line orientations. Each condition was tested in six randomized trials. The lines to be adjusted were tipped with outward pointing arrows of varying degrees of pointedness, whereas the standard lines had inward pointing arrows of the same degree. Results showed that line lengths were overestimated in all cases. The size of error increased with decreasing arrowhead angles. For line orientation, overestimation was greatest when the lines were horizontal. This last is contrary to our expectations. Further, the two factors functioned independently in their effects on subjects’ point of subjective equality. These results have important implications for human factors design applications such as graphical display interfaces.

3. The Introduction: is more narrowly focused than the abstract. It states a) the objective of the experiment and b) provides the reader with background to the experiment. State the topic of your report clearly and concisely, in one or two sentences. When determining the objective, be sure to identify the end goal of the experiment itself, not the pedagogical goal of the experiment:

The objective of the experiment was to determine the composition of an unknown sample using Scanning Electron Microscopy. (This is your key result)

The purpose of this experiment was to identify the specific element in a metal powder sample by determining its crystal structure and atomic radius. These were determined using the Debye-Sherrer (powder camera) method of X-ray diffraction.

A good introduction also provides whatever background theory, previous research, or formulas the reader needs to know. Usually, an instructor does not want you to repeat the lab manual, but to show your own comprehension of the problem. For example, the introduction that followed the example above might describe the Debye-Sherrer method, and explain that from the diffraction angles the crystal structure can be found by applying Bragg’s law. If the amount of introductory material seems to be a lot, consider adding subheadings such as: Theoretical Principles or Background.

*Note on Verb Tense: Introductions often create difficulties for students who struggle with keeping verb tenses straight. These two points should help you navigate the introduction:

The experiment is already finished. Use the past tense when talking about the experiment.

  • “The objective of the experiment was …”

The report, the theory and permanent equipment still exist; therefore, these get the present tense:

  • “The purpose of this report is …”
  • “Bragg’s Law for diffraction is …”
  • “The scanning electron microscope produces micrographs …”

4. Methods and Materials (or Equipment): can usually be a simple list, but make sure it is accurate and complete. In some cases, you can simply direct the reader to a lab manual or standard procedure: “Equipment was set up as in CHE 276 manual.”

5. Experimental Procedure: describes the process in chronological order. Using clear paragraph structure, explain all steps in the order they actually happened, not as they were supposed to happen. If your professor says you can simply state that you followed the procedure in the manual, be sure you still document occasions when you did not follow that exactly (e.g. “At step 4 we performed four repetitions instead of three, and ignored the data from the second repetition”). If you’ve done it right, another researcher should be able to duplicate your experiment.

6. Results: are usually dominated by calculations, tables and figures; however, you still need to state all significant results explicitly in verbal form, for example:

Using the calculated lattice parameter gives, then, R = 0.1244 nm.

Graphics need to be clear, easily read, and well labeled (e.g. Figure 1: Input Frequency and Capacitor Value). An important strategy for making your results effective is to draw the reader’s attention to them with a sentence or two, so the reader has a focus when reading the graph.

In most cases, providing a sample calculation is sufficient in the report. Leave the remainder in an appendix. Likewise, your raw data can be placed in an appendix. Refer to appendices as necessary, pointing out trends and identifying special features.

7. The Discussion is the most important part of your report, because here, you show that you understand the experiment beyond the simple level of completing it. Explain. Analyse. Interpret. Some people like to think of this as the “subjective” part of the report. By that, they mean this is what is not readily observable. This part of the lab focuses on a question of understanding “What is the significance or meaning of the results?” To answer this question, use both aspects of discussion, a) Analysis and b) Interpretation.

Since none of the samples reacted to the Silver foil test, sulfide, if present at all, does not exceed a concentration of approximately 0.025 g/l. It is therefore unlikely that the water main pipe break was the result of sulfide-induced corrosion.

b) Interpretation: What is the significance of the results? What ambiguities exist? What questions might we raise? Find logical explanations for problems in the data:

Although the water samples were received on 14 August 2000, testing could not be started until 10 September 2000. It is normally desirably to test as quickly as possible after sampling in order to avoid potential sample contamination. The effect of the delay is unknown.

More particularly, focus your discussion with strategies like these:

i) Compare expected results with those obtained: If there were differences, how can you account for them? Saying “human error” implies you’re incompetent. Be specific; for example, the instruments could not measure precisely, the sample was not pure or was contaminated, or calculated values did not take account of friction.

ii) Analyze experimental error: Was it avoidable? Was it a result of equipment? If an experiment was within the tolerances, you can still account for the difference from the ideal. If the flaws result from the experimental design explain how the design might be improved.

iii) Explain your results in terms of theoretical issues: Often undergraduate labs are intended to illustrate important physical laws, such as Kirchhoff’s voltage law, or the Müller-Lyer illusion. Usually you will have discussed these in the introduction. In this section move from the results to the theory. How well has the theory been illustrated?

iv) Relate results to your experimental objective(s): If you set out to identify an unknown metal by finding its lattice parameter and its atomic structure, you’d better know the metal and its attributes.

v) Compare your results to similar investigations: In some cases, it is legitimate to compare outcomes with classmates, not to change your answer, but to look for any anomalies between the groups and discuss those.

vi) Analyze the strengths and limitations of your experimental design: This is particularly useful if you designed the thing you’re testing (e.g. a circuit).

8. The Conclusion: can be very short in most undergraduate laboratories. Simply state what you know now for sure, as a result of the lab:

Example: The Debye-Sherrer method identified the sample material as nickel due to the measured crystal structure (fcc) and atomic radius (approximately 0.124 nm).

Notice that, after the material is identified in the example above, the writer provides a justification. We know it is nickel because of its structure and size. This makes a sound and sufficient conclusion. Generally, this is enough; however, the conclusion might also be a place to discuss weaknesses of experimental design, what future work needs to be done to extend your conclusions, or what the implications of your conclusion are. (See also Components of Reports / Conclusions)

9. References: include your lab manual and any outside reading you have done. (See Online Handbook / Accurate Documentation for an appropriate way to reference in your field)

10. Appendices typically include such elements as raw data, calculations, graphs pictures or tables that have not been included in the report itself. Each kind of item should be contained in a separate appendix. Make sure you refer to each appendix at least once in your report. For example, the results section might begin by noting: “Micrographs printed from the Scanning Electron Microscope are contained in Appendix A.”

Useful Further Reading: Porush, D. A Short Guide to Writing About Science. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1995. Although this book uses the “scientific article” as the basic form for writing, it essentially views that as an extended lab report. Therefore, it has useful chapters on each of the sections of a lab report.

Our pages in the Online Handbook / Components of Documents section may also be useful.

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How to Write a Lab Report

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Lab reports are an essential part of all laboratory courses and usually a significant part of your grade. If your instructor gives you an outline for how to write a lab report, use that. Some instructors require a lab report to be included in a lab notebook , while others will request a separate report. Here's a format for a lab report you can use if you aren't sure what to write or need an explanation of what to include in the different parts of the report.

A lab report is how you explain what you did in ​your experiment, what you learned, and what the results meant.

Lab Report Essentials

Not all lab reports have title pages, but if your instructor wants one, it would be a single page that states:​

  • The title of the experiment.
  • Your name and the names of any lab partners.
  • Your instructor's name.
  • The date the lab was performed or the date the report was submitted.

The title says what you did. It should be brief (aim for ten words or less) and describe the main point of the experiment or investigation. An example of a title would be: "Effects of Ultraviolet Light on Borax Crystal Growth Rate". If you can, begin your title using a keyword rather than an article like "The" or "A".

Introduction or Purpose

Usually, the introduction is one paragraph that explains the objectives or purpose of the lab. In one sentence, state the hypothesis. Sometimes an introduction may contain background information, briefly summarize how the experiment was performed, state the findings of the experiment, and list the conclusions of the investigation. Even if you don't write a whole introduction, you need to state the purpose of the experiment, or why you did it. This would be where you state your hypothesis .

List everything needed to complete your experiment.

Describe the steps you completed during your investigation. This is your procedure. Be sufficiently detailed that anyone could read this section and duplicate your experiment. Write it as if you were giving direction for someone else to do the lab. It may be helpful to provide a figure to diagram your experimental setup.

Numerical data obtained from your procedure usually presented as a table. Data encompasses what you recorded when you conducted the experiment. It's just the facts, not any interpretation of what they mean.

Describe in words what the data means. Sometimes the Results section is combined with the Discussion.

Discussion or Analysis

The Data section contains numbers; the Analysis section contains any calculations you made based on those numbers. This is where you interpret the data and determine whether or not a hypothesis was accepted. This is also where you would discuss any mistakes you might have made while conducting the investigation. You may wish to describe ways the study might have been improved.


Most of the time the conclusion is a single paragraph that sums up what happened in the experiment, whether your hypothesis was accepted or rejected, and what this means.

Figures and Graphs

Graphs and figures must both be labeled with a descriptive title. Label the axes on a graph, being sure to include units of measurement. The independent variable is on the X-axis, the dependent variable (the one you are measuring) is on the Y-axis. Be sure to refer to figures and graphs in the text of your report: the first figure is Figure 1, the second figure is Figure 2, etc.

If your research was based on someone else's work or if you cited facts that require documentation, then you should list these references.

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This guide is a collection of resources and links that will help you find the information you need to work effectively in the laboratories required for chemical engineers at the University of Arkansas.

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Chemistry writing resources, starting a lab report or research paper, general writing style information, parts of research paper or report.

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  • Return to Main Chemistry Guide

To get started writing a research paper or laboratory report, it is important to consider if you have enough data or enough information to compose a paper.  Additionally, it is also important to consider what you want you want to report and how to report it--clear communication of results is crucial when discussing the experiments. 

This American Chemical Society (ACS) blog post on  How to Write a Research Paper provides some general guidelines to determine when to write a paper and how to get started when it comes to reporting and communicating the results of an experiment or experiments.

Every discipline has a style and format that is used for scholarly communication, and chemistry as a field has a certain format for papers as well as a a style of writing that developed as the field itself grew and information was shared and published.

General Style and Writing Guidelines:

  • Chemistry is always written in the third person, in the past-tense and passive voice. 
  • Pronouns like "I", "We", and "Us" are not typically used
  • Be succinct when describing observations and processes
  • It is not necessary to provide detailed descriptions of standard practices or techniques. 

For information on specific sections that might appear in a scholarly article or laboratory report you may wish to go to the next section in this guide that provides a summary on all the different Parts of A Research Paper and provides links to articles that provide significant detail regarding the style and content for each major section.

Note: While the resources in the guide are meant to help, it is always important to follow the guidelines of the publication or course instructor that you are writing for.

Adapted from information found in Chapter 2 of the ACS Style Guide

Additional resources and information on each sections are also provided from the journal Clinical Chemistry from the section of their journal "Guide To Scientific Writing." Click on the title for a direct link to the PDF or use the corresponding citation for each article to view the online version. All articles are open access articles.

The title should be brief and specific enough to clearly communicate the contents of the paper/research, but should not be overly technical.

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: The Title Says it All

Thomas M Annesley, The Title Says It All, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 3, 1 March 2010, Pages 357–360, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2009.141523

The byline or list of authors includes all individuals that contributed in a substantial manner to the research being reported.

Generally, the person that did the research is listed as the first author of the paper and names are traditionally formatted as "first name, middle initial, and surname"

The abstract should provide an informative and brief summary of what is written in the paper, and should allow for a reader to quickly understand the nature/purpose of the research, the methods used, the results observed, and any major conclusions that came from the research.

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: The Abstract and the Elevator Talk: A Tale of Two Summaries

Thomas M Annesley, The Abstract and the Elevator Talk: A Tale of Two Summaries, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 4, 1 April 2010, Pages 521–524, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2009.142026

An introduction puts the experiment or research into context; it should provide background regarding the question or problem being explored and using applicable scientific literature and references help explain why the question being answered or the research being pursued is relevant and/or important.

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: It was a cold and rainy night”: Set the Scene with a Good Introduction

Thomas M Annesley, “It was a cold and rainy night”: Set the Scene with a Good Introduction, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 5, 1 May 2010, Pages 708–713, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.143628

Depending upon the publication or style, this section has many different possible names; chose the correct name for the section based upon the publication to which the research is being submitted or the laboratory report is meant to emulate. 

This section should provide information regarding the techniques used in answering your research question and should say HOW the research question was probed or answered with enough information that another practitioner in the field could reproduce the experiment and results.  In order to accomplish these goals, the experimental section should  identify the materials used and must also provide sufficient details about characterization methods, experimental procedures, or any apparatus used  that is not standard for the field.

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why: The Ingredients in the Recipe for a Successful Methods Section

Thomas M Annesley, Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why: The Ingredients in the Recipe for a Successful Methods Section, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 6, 1 June 2010, Pages 897–901, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.146589

The data collected or the results of the research/experiment are presented and summarized in this section often using graphs, tables, or equations.  When dealing with a large amount of data, the results section provides a summary while additional results or data can be included in a supporting information section. 

It is important to remember that in this section, the results are NOT put into context nor are the results or observations explained. 

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: Show Your Cards: The Results Section and the Poker Game

Thomas M Annesley, Show Your Cards: The Results Section and the Poker Game, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 7, 1 July 2010, Pages 1066–1070, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.148148

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: If an IRDAM Journal Is What You Choose, Then Sequential Results Are What You Use

              IRDAM = Introduction, Results, Discussion, Methods in terms of order of sections. Many ACS Journals follow this format!

              IMRAD = Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion in terms of order of sections

Pamela A Derish, Thomas M Annesley, If an IRDAM Journal Is What You Choose, Then Sequential Results Are What You Use, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 8, 1 August 2010, Pages 1226–1228, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.150961

The discussion section highlights and interprets the results or data obtained and explains how the resulting data relates to the original research question.  It explains how and why the results obtained  are significant.  It is appropriate to examine and explain why the results were observed and why the data was interpreted in a specific way. This is also the section where additional research or further work regarding the research question can be stated.

The results and the discussion can be presented as a combined "Results and Discussion" section if it makes sense to do so.

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: The Discussion Section: Your Closing Argument

Thomas M Annesley, The Discussion Section: Your Closing Argument, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 11, 1 November 2010, Pages 1671–1674, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.155358 '

Figures and tables should be included in the Results or the Results and discussion section and should support, clarify, and make your work more clear through a visual, organized, representation of the data collected.

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: Put Your Best Figure Forward: Line Graphs and Scattergrams

Thomas M Annesley, Put Your Best Figure Forward: Line Graphs and Scattergrams, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 8, 1 August 2010, Pages 1229–1233, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.150060

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: Bars and Pies Make Better Desserts than Figures

Thomas M Annesley, Bars and Pies Make Better Desserts than Figures, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 9, 1 September 2010, Pages 1394–1400, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.152298

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: Bring Your Best to the Table

Thomas M Annesley, Bring Your Best to the Table, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 56, Issue 10, 1 October 2010, Pages 1528–1534, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.153502

The conclusion provides a brief summary of what was accomplished in a manner similar to the abstract, but the conclusion should specifically address how the results of the research relate back to the original question or problem.

A list of the published works that were cited in the paper or report using the proper citation and reference format for the field and publication (e.g. citing and providing a reference list using the American Chemical Society guidelines).

  • Clinical Chemistry -Guide to Scientific Writing: Giving Credit: Citations and References

Thomas M Annesley, Giving Credit: Citations and References, Clinical Chemistry , Volume 57, Issue 1, 1 January 2011, Pages 14–17, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2010.158048

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5.2 Executive Summary and Abstract

An Executive Summary is a short document that details the results of a laboratory experiment. It may appear as a stand-alone document or included within a longer report. The reader should be able to quickly read it and obtain important results and conclusions from an experiment.

Individual sections of an Executive Summary are not divided by subheadings. As a stand-alone document, the length of text should not exceed one page with an additional 1-2 pages for figures or tables.

When included as part of a Lab Report, the summary should not include or reference tables and figures.

It is acceptable to repeat information from the rest of the lab report; however, the summary should not include any new information or conclusions that are not already stated elsewhere. For this reason, it is advisable to write the executive summary last , after all other sections of the document are drafted.

Many technical reports include a short abstract at the beginning of the report. Abstracts are typically written to enable the reader to determine if they want to read the report in its entirety. They are extremely concise version of the full report. They do not present any information that is not included in the full report.

An abstract is written in introduction–body–conclusion paragraph form and should not include subsections. Abstracts should not include any images, graphs, tables, or sample calculations. The parts of an abstract are related to their counterparts in the full lab report, but are abbreviated versions.

Executive Summary

Background & Purpose: The background should be a paragraph that contains the goals of the lab and briefly explains what significance it has to the scientific community.

  • State the objective of the lab exercise. Though this is provided in the lab documents, the purpose should be restated in your own words. The purpose should be specific and focus on scientific principles. Example: In this lab, four types of beams were tested to determine which has the greatest strength-to-weight ratio (grams-pounds).
  • In a sentence or two, explain why the purpose of the lab is important to the scientific community. What is the motivation behind performing this lab? Example: ABC Company wants to determine whether lighting is better in parallel or in series. The results of the lab will allow the team to make a recommendation for the company.

Results and Analysis: In 1-2 paragraphs, summarize the most important results and trends in the experiment. In a stand-alone document, figures and tables in an appendix can be referenced to support your analysis.

  • State results and content independent of your own influence. These observations should be relevant to the purpose of the lab experiment.
  • Describe trends and implications by referencing your results. What can you infer from your data? Example: Increasing wind speeds caused the turbine to produce more power, as shown in Table 4. To maximize power production, turbines should be placed where they will receive the strongest winds.
  • Briefly describe possible errors and discuss potential solutions.

Conclusion & Recommendations: The final paragraph should emphasize the conclusions drawn from the results and how the results can be used in your scenario.

  • State your conclusions based on the results of the lab.
  • Provide recommendations for the scenario posed at the beginning of the lab procedure, based on the lab results. Example: Based on the results of the procedure, the team recommends a tapered channel with a toothed check valve that leads to an oval detection well.

Appendices: Create a new appendix for each category of content.

  • Appendix A: Experimental Data
  • Appendix B: Equations and Sample Calculations
  • Arrange appendices in the order in which they are referenced within your summary. Every appendix must be referenced within the document.
  • Start figure and table labels at 1 in each appendix. Each numeric label will be preceded by the appendix letter and a period with no spaces (e.g., A.1, or B.3) . Labels should be formatted as described in Using Graphics and Visuals Effectively .
  • Organize and format each appendix neatly. Appendices should not be storage for messy or extraneous information.
  • Place any necessary figures and tables in an appendix. Executive summaries should not have figures and tables within the summary. It is acceptable to choose the most important content to limit the figures and tables to 1-2 pages.

Introduction: Briefly describe the goals of the lab and explain its significance to the scientific community.

Experimental Methodology: An abstract will typically be read by someone who is not familiar with the experiment. Mention the methods used in your experiment.

  • Include a brief description of the experiment. Example: The efficiency of each design was measured by retrieving data from the Arduino and analyzing the energy usage in MATLAB.
  • Discuss what data was collected and how you collected it.
  • Do not discuss specific equipment unless it is unique and vital to the purpose of the experiment.

Results: Provide a summary of the results of the experiment in a few sentences.

  • Present the final, processed results and observations of the experiment. Example: A circular check valve with tapered channels leading to an ovalur detection well required the smallest fluid sample to fill the detection well.
  • State any possible sources of error.
  • Do not include or reference any raw data, calculations, graphs, or tables.

Conclusion: Summarize the conclusions and recommendations from the experiment in 1-2 sentences.

  • State the conclusions that can be drawn from the results of the experiment and connect these conclusions to the purpose as described in the introduction.
  • Briefly describe possible solutions to the limitations of the experiment and suggest any further studies that may be meaningful.

Additional Resources

University of Toronto Engineering Communication Program: Abstracts and Executive Summaries University of Waterloo: Executive Summaries USC Research Guides: Appendices

Fundamentals of Engineering Technical Communications Copyright © by Leah Wahlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Scientific writing and lab reports

Information on how to structure and format a lab report, also known as a scientific report.

Chemical and Biological Engineering postgraduate in lab wearing goggles

What is a lab report?

Lab reports, or scientific reports, are the primary vehicle used to disseminate and communicate scientific research methods across science and engineering disciplines.

They are structured and formulaic, to make it as easy as possible for a reader to understand the background, aims, methodology and findings of a particular experiment or technique.

Lab reports usually follow very closely prescribed formats. It's essential that you  pay very careful attention to the specific guidelines issued with your experimental brief.

Typically, a lab report is broken down into discrete sections, separated by subheadings. These will include the following:

  • an abstract, outlining in brief what was done and what was found
  • a point-by-point description of the experimental method followed (a bit like following a recipe)
  • a clear presentation of all of the results observed, some of which may be placed in an appendix to the main report
  • a discussion of those results
  • a brief conclusion and references

Lab reports are written in a neutral and objective tone and are kept as short, concise and to the point as possible.

They are not the place to experiment with elaborate language, which might impact on the clarity of their information.

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Our Scientific Writing and Lab Report workshop provides a practical guide to communicating your findings with a focus on the scientific lab report as a model. You will learn why it is important to record experiments in this way and gain a detailed understanding of how to structure your reports based on the IMRaD format (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion). This interactive session is packed with top tips and best practice to enhance your report writing skills.


Establish the reason or context for doing the experiment. It might help to think of your introduction as a funnel.

Start broad and focus down to the specifics of your research including the aims/objectives and hypothesis for testing.

Provides a descriptive protocol of your experiment so it could be replicated by another researcher.

Your methods section should be written avoiding the first person and using the passive voice where possible (ie a sample was taken...). Reproducibility of methods is the foundation for evidence-based science.

Present your data using tables or graphical representations as appropriate.

Interpret the results and explain their significance.

Reverse the funnel: put the specific results from your experiment back into a wider context, ie

  • what do they mean?
  • what applications do they have?
  • what recommendations can you make?
  • what are the limitations?
  • what gaps remain for further research?

Restate your main findings and key points from the discussion.

Strengthen your arguments with support from existing literature.

Summary of the entire report: Interesting, easy to read, concise. This will usually be the last part of the report that you write.

Title, appendix and acknowledgements

Guidance for Writing Lab Reports by Faculty of Engineering (pdf. 1677 kb)

Lab Reports Writing Template (pdf. 662 kb)

Proofreading Your Work

Writing numbers and presenting data

Consider the best way to present your data clearly. If this is best done using a table or chart, then consider what format makes things clearest.

Make sure all important aspects of the data are included in your chart or table, including units where relevant. Don't include charts just for the sake of it – data display should help the reader understand the data.

Report the results of any statistical tests using the appropriate conventions for your subject.

Data display

Displaying Data in Tables

Displaying Data in Graphs

Hypothesis tests

Writing Numbers in Standard Form

Library resources

Library workshops.

The  Come Together, Write Now  sessions are now open to all students. These virtual sessions for academic reading and writing will help you focus on your work, providing the time and space to come together as a reading and writing community and support each other.

You can  view our upcoming sessions and book a place here .

Online guidance

Reading other publications can help you to become familiar with the structure, tone and language of scientific writing.

Take a look at the Library resources on scientific literature:

Evaluating the Scientific Literature

Finding Scientific Journal Papers

Types of Scientific Paper

Always read the guidance notes

Methods • Use past tense • Write in the third person • Include detailed materials • State the study design • Cite/reference the lab protocol

Results • Organise your data in a logical order • Include tables and graphs • Label clearly and include units • Include figure legends and titles • State statistical tests and p-values • Refer to all tables and figures in the text

Leave it until the last minute

Methods • Copy the lab protocol • Forget to include statistics and calculation methods • Write a set of instructions (cookbook!) • Interpret your results

Results • Include raw data • Present same data in a graph and table • Overcomplicate the results section • Interpret your results • Copy other people’s data or exclude unexpected results

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Through this reflection, you will be able to identify changes and improvements to your academic skills that will lead to long-term benefits to your studies.

The 301 Academic Skills Certificate acknowledges your commitment to enhancing your academic and employability skills and personal development.

Related information

The conventions of academic writing

Dissertation planning

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This powerpoint presentation provides information about how to write reports in Engineering.

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This PowerPoint slide presentation covers major aspects of writing reports in Engineering. Click on the link above in the Media box to download the slides.

The presentation includes information about:

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  • Report format and organization
  • Headings and language
  • Visual design
  • Source documentation
  • Finishing touches

Check out the Purdue YouTube Channel for vidcasts on writing engineering reports.

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Technical Reports

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Technical Reports are documentation resulting from funded research (which is why they are sometimes called research reports).  Seldom commercially published and having limited distribution makes the report literature difficult both to identify and locate.  The following resources provide either the full text of reports or provide a means of identifying what reports existed at some point.   

United States:

  • Issuing Agency's website
  • FDsys (U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO)) 
  • Use Google or other web search engine  
  • Science.gov Science.gov searches over 60 databases and over 2200 selected websites from 15 federal agencies, offering 200 million pages of authoritative U.S. government science information including research and development results. Science.gov is governed by the interagency Science.gov Alliance.  
  • SciTech Connect SciTech Connect includes technical reports, bibliographic citations, journal articles, conference papers, books, multimedia, software, and data information sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through a grant, contract, cooperative agreement, or similar type of funding mechanism from the 1940s to today.  An online tutorial  about using the browse feature is available. ​
  • Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL)  This project identifies, acquires, catalogs, digitizes and provides unrestricted access to U.S. government agency technical reports.    
  • USA.gov    Find U.S. documents and information by agency and/or topic.   USA.gov searches across all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government websites.   


  • Open Grey   Index to over 700,000 items of gray literature produced in Europe in the areas of science, technology, biomedicine, economics, social sciences and humanities.  The full text of the documents are not in the database, rather the database will tell you where to find it.    
  • World Wide Science   This database permits a single query to search multiple scientific sources around the world.  The query is translated into the appropriate language for each source.  The search results are displayed in relevance order in the language of the original query.  For each entry a link is provided to the original site for the document where the searcher will find more information about the document, and in some cases, the full text of the document.  Ten languages are currently supported:  Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.  Contents varies depending on the source providing the information but gray literature such as technical reports and government publications are common.
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Chemistry Lab Resources (for CHM 1XX and 2XX Labs)

  • Organizing Your Lab Notebook
  • Parts of a Lab Report
  • Writing Your Lab Report/Worksheet
  • Graphs/Tables
  • Common Calculations
  • Citing Sources
  • Finding Chemical Properties
  • Lab techniques, instrumentation, and protocols
  • Chemical Safety

General tips

Whether you are filling out lab worksheets or writing up entire lab reports, there are a few tips that will help you to create more detailed and professional documents and to assist in grading:

  • Always label your units
  • Show all of your calculations (don’t leave out steps)
  • Use complete sentences
  • Write neatly
  • Strike out mistakes with a single line
  • Be aware of significant figures, noting the sensitivity of the device you are using for your measurements

Why do we write lab reports in passive voice?

It’s part of the scientific point of view.  We observe and record as objectively as possible, avoiding personal bias by removing ourselves.  Using the passive voice also clarifies procedures and descriptions so they can be easily reproduced and compared.

NOTE: DO NOT write reports as directions, such as those given in your lab manual. For example, do not write, "Heat the solution until it boils." Instead, write "The solution was heated to boiling."

Write in the third person - Scientific experiments demonstrate facts that do not depend on the observer, therefore, reports should avoid using the first and second person (I,me,my,we,our, OR us.)

Using the correct verb tense - Lab reports and research papers should be mainly written in the present tense. You should limit the use of the past tense to (1) describe specific experimental methods and observations, and (2) citing results published in the past.

Tables and Figures - Should be used when they are a more efficient ways to convey information than verbal description. They must be independent units, accompanied by explanatory captions that allow them to be understood by someone who has not read the text.

Writing in the passive voice

Examples of passive voice in lab reports.

200mL of distilled water was poured into a 500 mL beaker.

I poured 200mL of distilled water in a beaker. (active voice)

Pour 200mL water in a beaker. (direction/command)

The covered crucible was mounted on a ring stand.

We put the crucible on a ring stand. (active voice)

Set the crucible on a ring stand. (direction/command)

The temperature was initially measured at 75°C.

I measured the temperature at 75°C. (active voice)

Measure and write down the temperature. (direction/command)

It's understood that all actions were done by the experimenter.

Avoiding Plagiarism

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Chemical Engineering: Scientific Writing

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Chemical Engineering - Lab Experiments, Reports

There are lot of laboratory experiments if you are studying chemical engineering. We have summarized series of experiments and respective lab reports for different subjects in chemical engineering. You can study these experiments in detail to plan your experiment and write your lab report in a professional way.

List of laboratory experiments and lab reports in different subjects under chemical engineering

You can find the full detailed tutorial with comprehensive lab report with calculations for each practical.

  • Cooling tower experiment with lab report
  • Distillation column
  • Batch reactor
  • Batch reactor simulation using MATLAB
  • Continues stirred-tank reactor (CSTR)
  • CSTR reactor simulation using MATLAB
  • Thermodynamics
  • Heat exchanger equipment design
  • Air conditioning system design
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Instrumentation & Control Experimental Analyses

The instrumentation and the control laboratory experimentation provided a good outline for the dynamic behavior of equipment and the feedback controller.

The experiment was conducted on a surge tank control system which was equipped with a tank and installed level sensor, a pump, control vale and a digital flow meter in the outlet stream.

First the level sensor was calibrated using an Auto mode through progressively changing the set points (level %) and recording the measured signals (volts). The extent of hysteresis was also assessed using increasing and then decreasing liquid levels. The results showed that the sensor does not have a high hysteresis error and it responds well with a change in liquid level.

The control Valve was then calibrated using the Manual mode and changing the inlet variable (signal from the controller in %) progressively and recording the output variable (flow rate through the valve). The extent of hysteresis was also assessed. Plots of the valve characteristics showed that the valve could only work in a small range when set on Manual mode and the valve had a huge hysteresis error.

It needed to be reinstalled and/or replaced to get the desired results. From the practical observation it was also determined that the control valve was Fail open (FO) as it opens when no signal is obtained from the level sensor.

The feedback control loop, the importance of automatic tuning, and the effect of each term in a three-term controller on the control performance was analyzed. The performance of default control parameters by changing the three controller parameters was observed and it was concluded that the amount of effect each parameter on the system depends on various parameters and the characteristics of the system. Tuning set parameters gives stabilized P.I.D parameters.


Digital instrumentation and control have proven to be very useful in many industries and are beneficial in a wide range of applications. This usefulness is evidence of the trend of investment in digital instrumentation and control applications in the process Industry over the last 20 years (Astrom and Hagglund, 2005). Investment in automatic control systems is an important element in achieving optimal plant performance.

Instrumentation controls are the apparatuses that are used to measure physical variables such as level, density, pressure, flow current, voltage and chemical properties of a substance or a product (Alberto, 2005). The most important and basic function of function of instrumentation control is to measure and calculate the response of various device. The control systems ensure that the systems mechanism is running smoothly and the entire variables are controlled as per the process requirements.

The main objective of the laboratory experiment was to introduce our selves to the dynamic behaviour of the pilot-scale equipment and the operation of feedback controller. Understanding the role and operation of the feedback loop consisting of sensor, actuator, and controller was the principle aim.

Figure 1. Flow diagram of the level control system

Material and Methods

Apparatus and objectives.

The plant consisted of liquid surge tank with the control valve and a pump in the outlet stream. The flow into the tank was independent of the liquid in the tank and could be set by a traditional flow metre. The outlet flow was measured by a digital flow metre which was connected just before the control valve in the outlet stream. The flow from the tank was also independent of the liquid level in the tank ( to a certain approximation) resulting the tank acting as an integrator of the difference between the flow rates. Hence control action was needed to stabilize the liquid level (restricting it from over flowing) by making one of the flow rates dependent on the liquid level

Figure 2 . Process and Instrumentatio n Diagram of the System

The objectives of the laboratory were as follows: (1) Calibrate the level sensor in feedback loop . (2) Calibrate the control valve and studying the installed characteristics of a valve. ( 3) Study the effect of hystere sis in control valve and sensor. ( 4) Understand the dynamic behaviour of the system . 5) Evaluate manual control . 6) Evaluate the tuning of a PID control via manual and automatic tuning . 7) Evaluate the effect of positive or negative feedback on the closed loop system

Sensor Calibration (CS)

Level sensor is an electronic linear device which sends a signal which is usually electric, depending on the level in the storage tank Visioli, 2006 )). The calibration of the sensor was completed by correlating signal value (volts) to the real volume in the tank . First the range of operation of the sensor’s input variable (the liquid level in the tank) and the output signal sent to the controller was determined by setting the controller to auto mode and then changing the set point on the computer to a maximum and then minimum value s (10 and 90%).The values were noted after stabilising the system to reduce error. Then starting from the minimum value, the set points were changed progressively covering the complete range and the values of the level (in %) and the output valued from the sensor (in volts ) were The extent of hysteresis was calibrated through increasing liquid levels and then reversing the process using falling liquid levels.

Procedure for control valve calibration

The controller was set on the manual mode and the manual control input in the interface was set so that the valve was fully open. Then the inlet flow into tank was increased by adjusting the hand valve below the flow metre such that a steady state maximum level is achieved in the tank as the water was ov erflowing keeping the tank at maximum level). This step was completed to ensure that any effect of change in level of the tank on the flow rate through control valve is eliminated.

The range of the output variable (flow rate) was then determined by setting the input variable (signal from the controller) to a maximum and minimum value that is 0 and 100% and the values of the cor responding flow rates were determined.

Then the input variable was set at a number of points covering the range and the values of t he flow rate were determined form the electronic flow rate installed in output line. The extent of hysteresis was also analysed through calibrating the process by increasing the input signal and then decreasing sign

Procedure for feedback control loop analyses

The controller was set on auto mod e’ and the liquid was defined to a set point. After letting the system stabilised, the controller was set to manual mode and the set point was changed . With the action of buttons in the process diagram pane, the new level was maintained to a certain approximation, and it was repeated certa in times and the observation were analysed.

Automatic control with heuristic tuning

The Three term controller s Propo rtional Integral Derivative (PID) are mostly used in p rocess industries Skogestad , 2006 )). It calculates the difference between the measured signal and the set value and consequently changes the valve position to reduce the error . The three parameters are proportional gain (K c), integral time (T 1 ) and derivative time (T D The controller was set on auto mode and afte r letting it get stabilised to a desired set point, the three components were changed for different set points, and their performance s were tested. Over shoots, time to reach the set point, steady state errors and the speed of the control action together with the variation in the water level was also observed and analysed T he three PID parameters were modified one by one by one in the later stage . First the P only was tested by setting T i and T d equal to zero . Then K c was set as constant , T d was set to zero T i was varied. Finally K c and T i was set as constant and T d was varied to obtain the results.

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Automatic Tuning

After setting control mode on auto, and letting the system stabilise at desired set point, t he Automatic Tuning Wizard tool was started and the tuning procedure was completed . At the end of the the new parameters were automatically saved into the PID parameters tag in the controller pane l . The new controller parameters were recorded and the control performance was tested again. The P PI and PID control structures were tuned with fast , slow and normal actions.

Results and Discussion

Various sensor calibration methods were adopted to produce the results of sensor behaviour. Increasing tank level and decreasing tank level were used in the experiments . Hysteresis factor is an effective mean for the quantification of sensor behavior . Signal levels were determined from system processing and analy zed to obtain the system sensitivity .

Figure 3 . Sensor Calibration relationship curve of output signal and liquid level

The results in Figures 3 to 5 shows that level sensor starts responding from the value of 0.633 volts and reaches to a maximum value of 2 volts approximately. The level sensor is also more sensitive while increasing liquid level (hysteresis). The sensitivity of the sensor (or the gain) is 0.0135 volts per 1% increase in liquid level.

Figure 6. Hysteresis in sensor calibration for decreasing liquid level in the storage tank

The recorded values and the plots show that the control valve mal-functions in a certain range. When set on manual mode, it only operates in very narrow range; in between 80 to 100%. The control valve also behaves differently when operated with increasing and/or the decreasing the signal strength, which concludes that the system has a high hysteresis error. Different values were obtained for the flow rate through the control valve at the same input signal (as the procedure was repeated multiple times). The best values were used to calculate the plots shown above.

how to write a chemical engineering lab report

Figure 9 . The change in Tank level with respect to change in the Set point with manual control

To get the level of the tank close to that set value, a larger % change to the control valve had to be made as the level sensor was not very sensitive

Automatic control:

Figure 10 . Tank level with respect to change in the Set point

When Ti and Td are kept are 0 value and changing the values of K c , the volume i n the tank never touches the set point value. Increasing K c reduces error but it greatly increases the valve body vibration which might cause damage to the valve.

Figure 11 . Volume variation with changing control inputs

Volume variation with changing control inputs

Figure 12 . Volume variation with changing control inputs

Fixing K c and varying but keeping T d = 0 shows that the increase in T i does not does not considerably change the volume . It shows a steady state error with low % and it also reaches close to the set point at reasonable rate. By changing T i , the vibration in the Valve is not affected

Figure 13 . Volume response with changing control inputs

By fixing K c and Ti but varyin g T d increases the error. Reducing the T d value decreases the error and the vibration in the valve. Tuning the set parameters increases the vibration of the valve body without any change in % error and gives a stabilised P.I.D or P.I parameters. When the valve is fully open, the maximum flow rate through the valve is 0.532 m 3 / If the inlet flow rate exceeds this value, the system will never get stabilised because the tank will then act as an integral of the flow rate difference. Changing the sign of t he controller gain Kc completely alters the system as shown below in the diagram

Figure 14 . System response with negative input control

For the valve actuator x = a.u +b, where a and b are constants, x is the stem position and u is input signal

Digital instrumentation and control of fluid level system can be utilized through feedback control. The effluent flow and level in the tank can be controlled through adjustment in the control variables . A schematic Proportional, Integral an d derivative controls were applied on the level tank fluid transfer system. The results showed that the system performance can be optimized with the application of optimum control parameters and values. The experimental analyses on the system showed that t he level sensor starts respo nding from the output value of 0.633 volts and reaches to a maximum value of 2 volts during operations The sensitivity of the sensor was observed as 0.0135 volts for every one percent increase in liquid level under steady state conditions. The range of the control valve operation was determined to be between 80 to 100% when operating under manual mode.

Automatic fine t uning of the control parameters resulted in increased vibration of the valve body However, s tabilised P.I.D or P.I parameters can be obtained through both manual and automatic tuning of the system parameter

Alberto, L.

L., Auto tuning proces s controller with improved load disturbance re jection. J. Process Control , 15, 223−234

Astro m, K. J and Hagglund, T. T., 2005. Adva nced PID Control; International, Society of Automation: R esearch Triangle Park, NC.

Hagglund, T., 2005. Indus trial implementation of on line performance m onitoring tools. Co ntrol Eng. Pract.

Jain, M. and Lakshminarayanan, S. S., 2005. A filter based approach for performance assessment and enhancement of SISO con trol systems.Ind. Eng. Chem. Res.

Jelali, M. M., 2006. An overview of control performance assessment technology and industrial applications . Control Eng.

Pract, 14, 441−466 Ko, B. S. and Edgar, T. F. F., 2004. PID control performance assessment: The single loop case. AIChE J.

Michael, W. F., Julien, R. H. and Brian, R. C. C., A comparison of PID controller tuning methods. Can. J. Chem.

Eng , 83, 712 − Peter, K. and Alexan der, H. H., Detec tion of sluggish control loops: experiences and im provements. Control Eng.

Pract. 1029− 1025. Skogestad, S., 2006.

Tuning for smo oth PID control with acceptable disturbance reje ction. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res , 45, 7817−7822

Visioli, A.

A., Method for proporti onal integral controller tuning asses sment. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res , 45, 2741−2747

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    Process and Instrumentatio n Diagram of the System. The objectives of the laboratory were as follows: (1) Calibrate the level sensor in feedback loop . (2) Calibrate the control valve and studying the installed characteristics of a valve. ( 3) Study the effect of hystere sis in control valve and sensor. ( 4) Understand the dynamic behaviour of ...