Standard Lab Report

A standard lab report is one in which you describe how you developed and tested a hypothesis. The report is typically in nine parts: title page, abstract, introduction, methods and materials, results, discussion, conclusion, references, and appendices. A lab report involves both documenting the experimental findings and communicating what they mean.

PURPOSE. The purpose of a standard lab report is to do work and prepare a report to demonstrate your ability to apply a theory or test a certain hypothesis, and to express the process clearly, in the standard format. Lab reports are the most common writing assignment in Applied & Life Sciences, so it’s important to learn the content requirements and stylistic conventions!

NOTE. There is a standard format for a lab report, but it also varies by discipline and individual expectations. When in doubt, or if something conflicts, check with your professor or TA.

Plan your assignment now:

Add your assignment plan to your calendar or download a PDF copy:



Begin by reviewing the lab protocol; make sure you understand what you are expected to do.

Understand your assignment

This should take about 3% of your time

Some of the most common errors students make happen because they either didn’t pay attention to details of the lab or didn’t ask questions when they had them. Start off by

  • carefully reading through your entire lab protocol! It tells you what your professor expects, what you’re being marked on, and everything else you need to know. Make note of keywords and important instructions/points.
  • reading the necessary background course material (and conduct research as required) so you’re prepared to conduct the experiment in the lab.


These key questions can help you think about the important concepts, the purpose or objective, and your own hypotheses and reasoning prior to the lab.


During lab

The in-class portion of the assignment.

Attend class, complete lab

This should take about 12% of your time

This step will be completed during class/lab time. Remember to

  • follow the lab protocol carefully.
  • take good notes (in your lab notebook) and pay close attention to detail. Both will help later during the write-up.
  • make sure you have a clear understanding of the variables and purpose (e.g., the hypothesis you are testing, control and treatment groups, units of measurement).
  • have a spreadsheet or a raw data table set up and ready for data entry .

If you have questions for your prof or TA, now’s the time to ask!

Materials (equipment) & methods (procedure)

This should take about 10% of your time

In this part of a lab report you’ll describe the materials, equipment, procedures, and methods for analyzing the data you collected. Be detailed but efficient. Write so that someone else, who has the same skill level as you, could use your report as a guide to repeat your experiment. Use descriptive, not prescriptive, language.

KEY: It’s not about what you were supposed to do, it’s about what you did. Describe things in your own words and include any factors or changes to procedure (e.g., missed an observation, dropped some of the solution on the floor) that might influence results.

Record results (observations)

This should take about 10% of your time

In this section, you are to record the results of your experiment without any interpretation. Don’t say what it means, just say what the data and information are. Never make up or modify data; that’s cheating and a violation of academic integrity.

Results should include

  • a summary of overall findings (1-2 sentences) and
  • visuals (graphs, tables, figures) with written descriptions of all relevant observations.


Use subheadings and organize information in a logical way that supports the objectives of the experiment (e.g., comparisons between data sets). How does it all come together? Check out this annotated example of a Results section.

The visual display of quantitative information (text is in the Queen’s Library). Check with your prof or TA whether and how raw data should be incorporated (e.g., in an appendix).



Want to see what a completed lab report looks like? has section-by-section information and a worked example of an annotated lab report.

Conduct research

This should take about 10% of your time

What you do here might depend on how much work you did in pre-lab. If you didn’t do any research in pre-lab, do it now. If you did then, you might need to do a little more for the required context. Make sure to also read the relevant course material(s) and background information, if you haven’t already done so.

Evaluate the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of research with the CRAAP test.

Want some guidance to make sure you’re doing quality research? Get help from a liaison librarian with expertise in your field (e.g., Engineering & Science, Health Sciences, and Social Sciences).

Develop introduction (purpose, objectives)

This should take about 12% of your time

When writing your introduction, think about what background information and context is required for the experiment. Then, make sure to include information that will relate directly to your conclusions.

Think about

  • describing the background and context for experiment,
  • giving the required background on materials (e.g., organisms, chemicals, etc.) used, and
  • explaining the theory behind the techniques.


Be sure to include both

  • the objective (the main action/activity in the lab) and the purpose (what you expect to learn from doing it) for the experiment, as well as
  • your hypothesis (answer(s) you expect to find) and the reason(s) behind it.


Here are some methods for integrating sources in writing. Make sure you’re citing your research properly to avoid violating academic integrity. You can read more about documenting in the sciences and check the course syllabus or ask your prof/TA what system to use.

Formulate discussion (analysis)

This should take about 20% of your time

In the Results section, you reported your data and information. In the Discussion, the focus is on interpretation, synthesis, and explanation of the data and information.

  • Did they uphold your hypothesis (yes, no, yes but…)?
  • What were the data that led you to support or reject your hypothesis?
  • What can and can’t you conclude?
  • WHY were the results what they were? Use your understanding of the concepts and fit your study into a broader context.
  • Discuss anything else as appropriate (e.g., problems, areas of uncertainty, how findings compare to X, explanation for differences) and suggestions for improvement.

Need a little more detail? Here’s a step-by-step guide to interpreting the results of a lab.

One of your goals in a lab report is to show you understand the concepts well enough to identify what could have caused errors. Consider all three broad categories of experimental errors (i.e., systematic, random, blunders) but spend the most time on errors that clearly relate to methodology, instrumentation, or the environment.

Write the conclusion

This should take about 5% of your time

Time to sum it all up: what have you learned in this lab? Focus on the scientific concept(s) of the lab and back up your statement with details from your lab experience. Use the lab’s purpose and objective to keep you on track.

If you’ve learned something about procedures or analyses, include these, too. The conclusion should be pretty short—aim for a paragraph or two.

Revise and edit

This should take about 10% of your time

Now that you’ve written each part of the body of your lab report, check it over as an entire document, in order. Have you provided sufficient detail? Communicated outcomes clearly? Anything missing?

Tips for improving your lab report, section by section, or use this self-evaluation checklist for Biology lab reports. Make sure you’ve followed the types and conventions of scientific writing and that you’re on target for appropriate sentence style in scientific writing.

KEY: Review the lab protocol to make sure you met the expectations of the assignment and haven’t missed anything.

Abstract and appendices

This should take about 5% of your time

Write the abstract (usually 100-200 words; summary of the purpose, key findings, significance, and major conclusions; may also include a brief reference to theory/methodology) and create the title page (which will need a “descriptive and engaging” title).

Format appendices (e.g., table(s) of raw data, graphs or figures) & references (be sure to include your lab protocol/manual plus any/all outside and background reading you’ve done).

Finalize report

This should take about 2% of your time

Leave a bit of time to proofread your lab report. Double check your calculations, citations, formatting, and adherence to academic integrity. Try to catch any careless mistakes that could cost you marks!


This should take about 1% of your time

Congratulations—you did it!

You’re going to have a lot of labs to conduct and write this year. Take a minute to reflect:

  • What worked well for you?
  • What took longer than you anticipated?
  • What can you improve for next time?
  • Is there something you should check in with the prof/TA about?