How to write a formal chemistry lab report

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How to write a formal chemistry lab report
Explain your findings in a chemistry lab report. (glass beakers image by Mark Aplet from Fotolia.com)

After students complete a chemistry experiment, teachers often ask them to write a lab report to document their procedures and findings. While some reports take the form of an informal classroom discussion, other lab reports are more formal, offering information in a well-written and professional format. According to Pomona College, formal chemistry lab reports include six distinct sections that answer a variety of questions about your experiment. Use this kind of report to explain why you did the experiment, how you did it and what you found.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Offer an introduction. The introduction begins your chemistry lab report and should explain the "what" and "why" of the experiment, according to DePaul University. The "what" represents the experimental objective, and the "why" explains the method you used---and why you chose that method. For example, if you conducted an experiment on how different substances like salt and sugar affect the freezing point of water, your introduction would hypothesise that sugar and salt will reduce water's freezing point, and you will test this by monitoring the temperature of a sugar-water and a sugar-salt mixture.

  2. 2

    Provide an abstract of the experiment. Warren D. Dolphin of Iowa State University says that an abstract gives readers a "concise summary" of your experiment, allowing them to decide if they want to continue reading. Summarise the purpose and your methods and conclusions, keeping the abstract to fewer than 200 words. Using the chemistry example from Step 1, you would include in your abstract that you dissolved various substances in water to determine their effect on water's freezing point and found that these substances do, in fact, lower the freezing point of water.

  3. 3

    Identify the materials and methods used. This section explains the basic information for the experiment---what tools you used and what procedures you followed. Materials for the water freezing point experiment would include water, sugar, salt, beakers, a freezer and a thermometer.

  4. 4

    Explain your results. Collect and analyse your data before you write this section. Here, you should describe your findings. According to DePaul University, you should write this section in the past tense, and avoid using first-person pronouns. For example, you should list the freezing point for each water-substance mixture. Use this information to conclude whether sugar-water or saltwater mixtures lowered water's freezing point.

  5. 5

    Include a discussion of the experiment. The discussion (or analysis) section takes your results from the previous section and interprets the data. DePaul suggests that you relate your results to the objective and explain how they did (or did not) meet those objectives. If your objective stated that salt and sugar mixed in water would lower its freezing point, then confirm that your experiment met that objective. Then, research why this occurred, and explain your findings in this section.

  6. 6

    Cite your sources. List all of the articles or books you used for your report. Be sure to refer to the appropriate style guide, such as American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA) style, as you write your citations.

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