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Bio 103, Lab Reports

Paul Grobstein's picture
Biology 103
Fall 2009, Bryn Mawr College

Lab Paper Assignment

I haven't written a lab report for about 5 years now, and I assume what you expect is a bit different than my high school chemistry teacher who gave me extra credit for drawing chemistry-inspired illustrations. How many paragraphs in each section? What do I do in the discussion? Do I quote the book?

There is no set format/paragraph number for the lab report (though see below), no "extra credit" for "chemistry inspired illustrations". The length should be appropriate to the objective (see next), generally three or four pages. There is no requirement to quote the book, or provide other references (though these would be needed in a professional research publication).

Motivate some "new" observations (adding to those currently summarized by some existing interpretation/story)

Describe the new observations, as distinct from interpretations/stories

Provide interpretations/stories that

  • are adequate to account for older observations as well as the added
  • give motivation for particular new observations
The aim is to represent the "spirit" of what actually goes on in scientific exploration:

  • An Introduction should explain why the observations being reported are significant. It should be thoughtful, interest the reader and include an hypothesis if one has one. The latter may be something developed after seeing what one's observations are (think about what the question is to which one's observations provide an answer).
  • A brief Methods section should give a reader an understanding of how the observations were made so their adequacy to the purpose can be evaluated.
  • Observations should then be clearly and succinctly described insofar as they bear on the issues of the Introduction, or raise new, unexpected questions.
  • The report should end with a Discussion indicating how the observations speak to to the questions/hypotheses in the Introduction. This should include an evaluation of any uncertainties in the findings and their interpretation and, perhaps, a description of new questions which have arisen in the course of the research.

Additional notes (November 2005)

Write about what was observed rather than assignment and thought processes related to it

Introduction to paper should be written AFTER and in light of your observations and what you make of them

Further clarification (December 2006)

Break lab report up into sections

  • Introduction

    Should motivate observations, in terms of question/hypothesis of yours, not in terms of what was "assigned"

  • Methods

    Adequate so reader can imagine how you were observing, evaluate appropriateness (and, in principle, replicate)

  • Observations

    What you actually saw. Period. Insofar as it relates to Introduction. Plus any surprises.

  • Discussion

    Your intepretation/story to make sense of what you saw. Following from your observations. With critique/defense of how observations made, alternate interpretations/stories. And new questions that are raised by observations/interpretations/stories.