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How to write a properly formatted lab report

A full lab report, including propagation of error, with instructions on what belongs in each section (abstract, introduction, experimental, results and discussion, acknowledgments, references, and appendices). This sample lab concerns the determination of the percent chloride in a soluble unknown, but has general notes for each section that are applicable to all lab reports and professional publications. Although there is no official American Chemical Society format, this sample follows general ACS publication standards.

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General notes regarding lab reports:

* Never use the words "I" "we" "our" "my" "the student" "the experimenter" or any other word referring to you directly (this includes the use of "one" which should ALSO never be used). Instead of writing "I added 5.0g NaCl to 50mL water" just write "5.0g NaCl was added to 50mL water." Whoever is reading your lab KNOWS you and/or your partner did it!
* Avoid the use of the word "it"- your goal is to be CLEAR and CONCISE.
* Samples are "prepared" and graphs are "generated" or "produced" in the lab- nothing is ever "created".
* Although it IS permissible to use the word "weight" instead of "mass," NEITHER should be used as a verb. Masses may be "taken" or "found" or "discovered", but chemicals should not be "massed" (used incorrectly more and more frequently) and absolutely never "weighted".
* "Moles" is like "dozen" in that it is a number. Thus, "the number of moles of chloride" or "the amount of chloride" can be determined, but "the moles of chloride" makes no sense gramatically or chemically.
* No colloquialisms. No contractions.
* Do not attempt to B.S. your way through a lab report...if you don't understand the material, seek help!
Confusing misuse of big words is NOT eloquent. Expressing yourself so that the reader "kinda gets what you mean" is not sufficient.
* PROOF READ!!! Read your lab OUT LOUD...if it makes no sense, re-write it!
Reading OUT LOUD is a lost art from which a great many of you could benefit.
* All data must be expressed with the correct number of significant figures.
* This is not the third grade, when you hopefully stopped writing "the subject of my book report is..." so NEVER use the phrase "in this experiment" ANYWHERE in your report.
* Spelling and grammar errors are not acceptable. This is the computer age. Watch especially the use of "affect/effect," "it's/its," "their/there," "passed/past," etc. Tests are not "done" and samples are not "determined." Whether or not English is your native language, it IS the internationally accepted language of science. USE the Cooper Union Writing Center! They'll proof read your paper for FREE!
* Are the words "previously prepared" or "aforementioned" in your report? Chances are they are unnecessary. Remove them.
* Sample calculations must include 1 complete set of calculations using real data from the lab. The set of calculations must also include the propagation of error, if required. Include all units. If the units of the answer don't match the calculation, the math can not possibly be correct.
* Express numbers in correct scientific notation (3.0x10-6 NOT 3.0E-6).
* Justify everything. If you say one method is better than another due to cost, the dollars involved had better be cited. All error must be explained.
* Be specific.
* Redundancy is not good. This includes repetition both within and between sections of your report.
* "Within" is correctly used above. Samples are not "within" a solution.
* Redundancy is not good. (annoying, isn't it?!?!)
* The states of matter (s), (aq), (g) are NOT subscripted. (You may italicize the letter if you are so inclined.) The numbers in formulas denoting multiple atoms or functional groups ARE subscripted. Ex: AgNO3(aq).
* Watch Out For Unnecessary Capitalization... This Is Really Not A Good Idea When Writing A Report Filled With Chemical Symbols. Chemical techniques, e.g.- mass spectroscopy, may use capital letters for their abbreviations (e.g.- MS), but are not capitalized when written out. The only exception to this rule is in the report title. Table captions are not an exception (see any JACS article). Be sure abbreviations are correct, too. mL, mol, etc.
* Every single one of these could be ALL CAPS, bold, italics. They are all critical to your development of superior scientific writing skills. Follow them or suffer the consequences. In cases where there is a discrepancy between this material and your lab manual (or what your teacher/professor has told you), you should consider the significance of the difference and who will be grading your report.

************ BEGIN SAMPLE LAB ************
(NOTE: Notes and instructions are written in parentheses. )

Determination of the Chloride Content in a Soluble Salt By Ion Exchange and Titration

(Don't just copy the title from the lab manual.)
(Also, note that "Determination of an Unknown Chloride" makes no sense, scientifically or grammatically. WHAT did you determine about it? Note the following appropriate definition of the word "determination:" The ascertaining or fixing of the quantity, quality, position, or character of something: a determination of the ship's longitude; a determination of the mass of the universe.)

BrainMass Student
BrianMass University
Ch111, Section E
Professor Goodwin
April 1, 2006

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Solution Summary

A full lab report, including propagation of error, with instructions on what belongs in each section (abstract, introduction, experimental, results and discussion, acknowledgments, references, and appendices).