A common frustration among middle and high school teens, and even amongst college students, is the challenge of putting together a lab report. The standard procedures in science experiments are outlined for students and they conduct them, obtain results, and struggle to analyze them accordingly. In mind and orally, the student may know the material very well and be able to express it clearly and with enthusiasm. However, this rarely translates into the report, making students in the sciences fret and worry and guess at what they did wrong.
Why Are Lab Reports Hard to Write?
The problem is not the students’ really, but the unfortunate fact that the sciences and English are considered very separate within society. The problem is that it’s impossible to escape English; it touches every subject, a frustrating fact that handicaps science students. Adding to this misfortune, science teachers and professors frequently assume that their students know how to write these reports already and rarely indulge their confused, often shy wards.
The way around this is for the student to ask teacher or professor directly about the paper. Yet even this can fail. Science teachers may not be able to explain what they expect from a scientific paper because they are not educated in the craft of writing. They may have learned just as the student did, haphazardly and hobbled by disgust for the act of writing. Ultimately science students might find they actually have to go to an English professor or teacher for the proper guidance only to find that they are confused by the science.
Lab reports follow basic scientific method. The scientist, or writer, presents a background on their subject. The writer introduces the question and hypothesis they, usually as part of a group, hoped to arrive at. Then raw observations and results follow, reported by the writer without analysis. After this information has been laid out for the reader, the author must become both writer and scientist. This is the hardest part.
Analyze the results presented to give them meaning. Interpret them before reaching a conclusion where the experiment is decreed either a success or a failure, and the hypothesis is dismissed or supported. Aside from pitfalls in math calculations, lab reports suffer the most because students fail to understand this last portion of the paper. They understand what has happened in the experiment and know what it means, but they fail to explain it to the audience.
Students often fall into this slippery trap. Teachers and professors grade with more than just scientific accuracy in mind. They search also for a convincing argument. A paper can be very accurate, but the argument lacking entirely, and this will hurt its grade. Students must combine English skills with science and press their interpretation of their experiment for their teachers to receive the best grade. Don’t say something and not back it up. Pretend the teacher will doubt the findings and try to convince them. Students should ask themselves these questions:
Why did the group find the results they did?
What could the group have done differently?
Where did the group make mistakes?
Lab Reports Are Technical Writing
Few people actively enjoy technical writing. Even the name suggests unpleasantness, but they are undoubtedly important to society. Students should strive to learn all they can about the process from the beginning, rather than by trial and error over long years of education.