Genre Guide

You are here


Genre Guide

Laboratory Report Writing in Science


1.     What is a laboratory report?


A laboratory report (lab report) is constructed to explain your major observations and findings of a lab exercise. It is different to a scientific paper, which is written to fellow scientists to present and discuss new information and ideas. In short, a lab report is written to address these three questions:

  • What did you do in the lab experience?
  • What did you find from it?
  • What do your results mean?


2.     Why should we write lab reports?


Lab report is a major type of writing in the science field which helps communicate about an investigation or research. It is also a common assignment task in most biology and chemistry courses at the university level. Usually your lab reports are written to your professor to show that you understand the process and significance of a lab exercise.


As a student, writing lab reports presents you with an opportunity to practice and develop your skills at a writing task that is essential to success in a scientific career. Preparing such reports also develops the ability to organize ideas logically, think clearly, and express yourself accurately and concisely.



3.     How to write a lab report


(a) Read instructions from your teacher


There is no organization pattern that fits all experiments. Therefore, before writing a lab report for a course, you should read carefully any instructions given by your teacher. While section 3(c) below presents a commonly adopted organization for lab reports, please check with your teacher for the preferred organization that best serves your experiments.


(b)  Study a few short papers


A good way to learn how to write a report is to read one (or a few) in your field. It would be wise to start by looking briefly at articles in a relevant journal. While doing so, pay attention to the language style used, and the way different sections are constructed. You will then have a better idea of how to organize your report.


(c)  Understand the components of a lab report


A lab report is typically divided into 6 major sections (Pechenik, 2013, pp. 156-157):

(i)              Abstract

(ii)             Introduction

(iii)            Materials and Methods

(iv)           Results

(v)            Discussion

(vi)           Literature Cited

While this broad structure is generally followed, there are variations in assignment requirements in different subjects. For instance, a lab report in Applied Biology and Chemical Technology (ABCT) would include no abstract, whereas “Introduction” and “Materials and Method” (shaded below), are only required in senior year courses. The table below shows the expected structure of an ABCT lab report assignment.




I. Title


A title should specifically summarize the subject of the lab. Here is an example title from student scripts: “Lab Report: Use of Selective and Differential Media and Biochemistry Test”

II. Introduction

(No need if an introduction is provided in the lab manual)

The Introduction, often only 1 or 2 paragraphs long, tells why the study was undertaken and provides a brief summary of relevant background facts. This section should include:


i) Purpose: A single, concise statement of the major objective of the lab, i.e. what are the questions you are trying to answer.

ii) Background: A brief summary of the topic being investigated, including any information that may be necessary in order to understand your stated purpose of the lab. The background information must be relevant to the experiment as it helps the reader understand the rest of the report.



III. Materials and Methods

(only required in senior year classes)

This section is your reminder of what you did, and it also serves as a set of instructions for anyone wishing to repeat your study in the future.

Remarks: In junior years, there is no need to include Materials and Methods as the instructions are often given in a lab manual. However, as students advance to later years of their study, the instructions in the lab manual or handout become less detailed, as students are expected to know the method and write their own Materials and Methods section.


IV. Results

This is the centrepiece of your report. It gives the major findings of the study. Objectively present your key results, without discussion or interpretation, in a clear and logical sequence, using tables, figures and text. This section should be organised around a series of tables and/or figures sequenced to present your key findings in a logical order.

V. Discussion

  • Discussion is the most important part of the lab report, which answers these questions:


-           How do your results relate to the goals of the study, as stated in your Introduction, and how do they relate to the results that might have been expected from background information obtained in lectures, textbooks, or outside reading?


-           Do your results support or argue against the hypotheses presented in your Introduction?


-           What new hypotheses might now be formulated, and how might these hypotheses be tested?



  • The section can be organized in two parts:


-             Part 1:  Your interpretation of the data

             (NOT a reinstatement of your data)


-             Part 2:  Relevance of your data to existing theory and knowledge

Explain the logic that allows you to accept or reject your original hypotheses. Support your ideas with specific, quantitative references to the results of your analyses. Explain how your observations lead to the conclusions you reached.

VI. References

This section includes the full citations for any references (e.g. books / journal articles) that you have cited in your report.




4.   Language, vocabulary and register


(a) Express yourself concisely.

In scientific writing, you should avoid repetition and wordiness but make sure that each sentence is unambiguous.


(b) Write in the past tense.

Most of the report should be in the past tense because the experiment is over. However, when citing a published result which still is a fact, use the present tense. When citing about a discovery, use the past tense.


(c) Use formal language.

The following links on the CILL website provide useful guidance in relation to academic language and vocabulary:



5. Citing sources


When writing lab reports, you are expected to cite a wide range of published work from sources such as journal articles, books and respectable websites (e.g. other academic/educational websites, governments websites, well-known pharmaceutical sites) to support your arguments. As you reach senior years, you should rely more on books and journal articles instead of websites. For example, in a final year ABCT thesis, 95% of the references should be from scientific journals and books.


6. Useful Resources


  • Referencing guide (ELC, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.)

This guide provides useful information for four referencing styles: APA, Harvard, IEEE, and Vancouver style. You are advised to check with your teacher which style you should follow for an assignment.


  • A guide on using figures, tables and graphs (Monash University)






Davis, H. B., Tyson, J. F., & Pechenik, J. A. (2010). A Short Guide to Writing about Chemistry. Hong Kong: Pearson Longman.


Lobban, C. S. & Schefter, M. (1992). Successful Lab Reports: A Manual for Science Students. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Pechenik, J. A. (2013). A Short Guide to Writing about Biology. Hong Kong: Pearson.


The English Language Centre, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. (2007). Profession Related Language Training: ELC 3101 English for Technical Writing FAST.  Hong Kong: The English Language Centre, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.


Further reading:


Council of Science Editors. (2006). Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Knisely, K. (2009). A Student Handbook for Writing in Biology. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates and W.H. Freeman.




About this website

This website has been developed as part of the UGC funded project, "Supporting and developing students’ English literacy practices in the disciplines” which is funded by the University Grants Committee’s Competitive Funding Scheme on Teaching and Learning for the 2012-2015 triennium. This inter-institutional literacy project aims to examine the provision of English literacy across three broad disciplines in Hong Kong tertiary institutes, namely Social Science, Science and Engineering in the participating institutions that include the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Baptist University. The website consists of a comprehensive support system to help provide a stimulating learning environment for students, content and language teachers. It also aims to help teachers become conversant with disciplinary genres and the linguistic and pedagogical resources suitable in a second language learning environment. The resources on this website will be open to and shared by all tertiary institutions in Hong Kong and beyond.