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Scientific Papers and Lab Reports: Writing a Lab Report

Originally created for Agricultural Sciences courses, this guide will help you identify the parts of a scientific paper, lab reports, and some citing guidelines.

Writing a Lab Report

Lab reports are similar to scientific papers and might be the first step you take! There are eight sections to a lab report. Each are described below with tips. Thank you to Jennifer Simms of the Indiana University Bloomington Library, Renee Romero of the University of California, Los Angeles Library, and the book Writing in the Biological Sciences for providing source material!

Want to see a successful lab report? Check out this Sample Lab Report from Penn State University Park.


Titles should be succinct, clear, and complete. 

  • Good titles summarize the main topic in 10-15 words. 
    • Good title: Effect of testosterone and estradiol on the growth and morphology of rat epithelial tumor cells.
    • Not great title: Effects of hormones on tumor cells. 

Materials and Methods

The Materials and Methods describes the approach you took to conduct your experiment. A trained scientist should be able to repeat your experiment based on the information you provide. This section should include the following elements:

  • materials like drugs, culture media, buffers, gases, or apparatus used
  • subjects like patients, experimental materials, animals, microorganisms, plants
  • design including independent and dependent variables, experimental and control groups
  • procedures - the what, how, and why of your experiment


Results presents the results of your experiments. While this section describes experiment results in text, it can include:

  • data in the form of charts, graphs, or tables known as figures
    • Figures must be labeled numerically by type. Ex. Table 1, Table 2; Figure 1, Figure 2
  • calculations used so that others may replicate the experiment



Abstracts contain the following elements: question/purpose, experimental approach, results, conclusion answer/implication, may contain short background and significance.

  • Typically 50 to 150 words long. 
  • A mini version of the report - the highlights. 


The Discussion section is the most important part of the scientific paper. Here, the researcher discloses what works, what did not work, and other analysis of the experiment and its findings. The Discussion section is typically organized as follows: 

  • First paragraph:
    • interpretation/answer based on key findings
    • supporting evidence
  • Middle paragraphs:
    • secondary results
    • limitations of the study
    • unexpected findings
    • may include comparisons/constrasts to previous studies and/or hypotheses/models
  • Last paragraph: 
    • summary
    • significance/implication of the experiment to the scientific field

Stumped about what to write? Consider the following guiding questions:

  • what do the results indicate?
  • what is the significance of the results?
  • are there gaps in the knowledge?
  • any new questions raised?
  • what are the strengths/weaknesses of my experiment?

When it doubt, write it out! And ask for help :)  



The Introduction should interest your audience and provide context/background information. Should contain:

  • some background information 
  • the purpose of the experiment
  • approach taken to conduct the experiment


References are the external resources you used during your experiment. For example, if you used another paper to model your research, you need to cite that paper. Anything outside of your own research must be cited

  • For tips on citing in APA style, click on the Citing in APA tab of this Library Guide!


The Conclusion wraps everything up and provides a concise summary of the experiment.

  • The researcher may suggest future experiments/research in this area.

Optional Sections

Some lab reports include optional sections. They may include, but are not limited to:

  • Appendix: an appendix, or appendices if there is more than one, may include all the charts, figures, graphs, and tables that were discussed in the Discussion or Results sections. Ask your professor where they would like graphics included in the report. 

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