Hello science people :)
I have had my fair share of lab reports already not only in college but just this semester (so far) as well. Here are some myth busters for you to think about when it comes to writing those pesky lab reports!
- Statement: “You can write these reports quickly.”
- Myth buster: You can not write these quickly if you want a good grade, even if you are good and quick with writing essays. Science writing assignments at the college level analyze how well the material is resonating with you and how well you can connect your studies to real-world examples. It also depends on the project. In Foundations of Biology, my first lab report I wrote, took a break from and edited in a matter of two days. I received back a great score, so I thought I could follow that time management strategy again. That was my mistake. The next lab report had the same directions and elaboration requirements, but I did not acknowledge that there was more material and concepts to cover… and that’s the story of why I pulled my first college all-nighter! Thankfully I only made this mistake once, but it definitely emphasizes that the length of your project may not be easily seen by the directions. My papers with the same directions differed by almost ten pages!
- Statement: “If you follow the instructions, you are set for a good grade.”
- Myth Buster: Please, please, please follow the instructions, but you have to go beyond what you are told to write most of the time in order to get a good grade. You have to connect the dots between what you have learned and what you were expected to do in the lab. My first lab report was for Principles of Chemistry I, and I felt like it was super structured with what I needed to write. I wrote it right after my lab, answered all of the questions laid out for me, and did not get the grade I thought I would. Why? My report was shallow. I did not review the concepts that I was elaborating on, so I was not writing what my professors wanted to see. They do not want to see a regurgitation of the lab procedure or their slide deck, they want to see how you can connect a specific concept used in the lab to a broader scale phenomenon and why things work out the way they do. Write about that.
- Statement: “You will write more than the English and Creative Writing majors.”
- Myth Buster: Well you might… but it depends on the project! Like mentioned before, my first ever lab report was short and sweet, handwritten (and largely spaced out), no diagrams or figures needed, solid two pages. However, my most recent lab report was 24 pages. This was for Diversity of Form and Function. Now how on earth is that difference acceptable? My most recent lab report was over a cumulative project rather than a two-hour single lab. This means this report was acknowledging multiple weeks of being in the lab for three hours at a time. That is a lot of data collected to be reported and elaborated upon! This report was also required in a digital format because pictures and diagrams were expected. This was an easy couple of pages added to the report because in the event your report gets printed, these figures have to be huge (with captions and elaboration on them, too, which are easy points)!
- Statement: “Your professor skims the method and materials section because it is the same for everyone.”
- Myth Buster: News flash! Everyone is doing the same project, therefore everyone will have (or should have) the same material in their report. Your professor lives, sleeps, and breathes their profession. Many have assigned the same project for years and have read similar reports hundreds of times. They will read every word of your report, they are used to this. They want to know what you know. Even in the materials and methods section, they are checking that you can do more than just regurgitate your lab manual. Do you know how to put the procedure in your own words? Do you know what is most important to include in the report and what is more common sense?
Good luck with your lab report and future lab reports! Always reach out to your professors and teaching assistants for advice on what specific concepts they are looking for.