You need to know how to describe the science that you do in a way that convinces the reader that your work is worth taking seriously. The purpose of lab reports is not so much to see if you did bold, original work, as it is to give you practice in writing reports, so that you’ll be able to do it well when you do bold original work.
Good Writing Style
The mechanics of your presentation are arguably its least important aspect. Nevertheless, a sloppy presentation can add to your reader’s difficulty in getting through your report, and hence lower your credibility. You are presumably familiar with the need for correct spelling and punctuation; here are some mechanics of a presentation that may be less familiar.
- Set apart the different sections of your lab reports with blank lines.
- Avoid breaking a section between the heading and the first paragraph; that is, do not leave a section heading dangling at the bottom of a page with the text of the section beginning at the top of the next page.
You will be expected to use correct, clear English when you write a report, using correct grammar in complete sentences. Remember the point of any report is communicating with someone else. If you keep distracting your readers with grammatical mistakes or unclear prose, you will make it difficult for them to concentrate on the meaning. You will be graded partially on the quality and clarity of your writing.
You should also avoid certain words and expressions. Following are words and expressions often used incorrectly:
- Defined as, in the sense of “found to be” or “may be described empirically by.” You can define the length of a pendulum as “the distance from the pivot to the center of mass of the bob,” if that is the correct definition. However, you find or measure it to be 1 meter long.
- Calculated value, in the sense of “number we calculated from our measurements.” Usually the calculated value is one you derive from some theoretical calculation, and the measured value is the one you calculate from your measurements.
- Approximate for “estimate” (as a verb). Estimates (as nouns) usually are approximations, in the sense that you typically know them to be one significant figure. However, you estimate a number (the process) and end up with an approximation of its value.
- Prove meaning “support.” You cannot prove a theory with one experiment, although you can disprove a theory with one. Results can only support or be consistent with a theory.
A typical scientific journal article might be about ten pages long. Your full lab reports will probably be shorter; try to limit yourself to the equivalent of four or five single-spaced typewritten pages of text, not counting graphs or diagrams.
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