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Biology: The lab report: resources by section



The Lab Report: 

Research and resources, by section

Before you begin

Before you can begin to write your lab report, you will need:

  • Your data, and be mindful that you can only use YOUR experiment's data for the lab report. 
  • Your results, calculated from YOUR data. 

You will also need: 

  • Your WatIAM credentials in order to login to the University of Waterloo's Library resources. If you are having trouble signing in ASK Us at the library. 
  • Access to a word processor to write the lab report, i.e.: Microsoft Word, iOS Keynote, etc. University of Waterloo faculty, staff, and students have anytime, anywhere access to Microsoft 365.
  • Plan accordingly to give yourself enough time to complete your lab report. The library has an excellent lab report planner to help you with this.
  • Access to a reference manager to organize, save, and use the citations for your sources. Popular reference managers on campus include RefWorks (free access provided as a UW student), Mendeley, Papers, Endnote, Zotero and more.
Compare reference managers and learn more  

Hello biology students!

My name is Brie McConnell and I am the Biology Research Librarian here at the University of Waterloo. I specialize in scientific data; from how to organize it, store it, read it, visualize it, and communicate that data into research and policy. 

This guide was designed to organize and enable access to key library resources by the sections of your lab report that they can support. The Introduction is a good place to begin, because it focuses your attention on the problem or phenomenon under investigation, and on the expected results.  However, if you have trouble getting started, you may want to start with the simplest section first, that being the Materials and Methods. Next up are the Results, and then the Discussion should be written last.  Each of these sections, together with the title page and list of references are discussed in more detail below, in the order in which they are assembled to make a complete report. 

As the Biology Librarian, I can help you find articles and use academic databases effectively. I can also help you with formatting issues, referencing questions, and accessing high-quality academic literature. Undergrad is actually the perfect time to start making meaningful connections with your campus Library, as we have the expertise and resources to help you with every level of your academic career! 

Have a question or need some help? Connect with me for office hours in-person or virtual OR ASK US anytime at the library - we are here for you!

All the best, 

Brie McConnell, MLIS

Locating Scholarly Sources

When writing a lab report, it is important to gather relevant sources to outline what other scientists have said about your topic. The UW library can help you to locate, and accurately cite sources for your lab report. You will use secondary sources, like peer reviewed scholarly articles, and tertiary sources, like encyclopaedias and dictionaries to investigate your topic within the Introduction and Discussion sections of your lab report. 

Do not forget, that all sources you use in these sections MUST be cited using in-text citations, as well as included in your reference list. See the Reference section of this guide for further information on accurately citing scholarly sources in the APA citation style. 

The UW Library has created various guides to help students understand how to search in scholarly databases, these include:

To find scholarly sources to include in your lab report, you can start on the University of Waterloo library database page. Then, you can limit further to only Biology subject databases using the drop down subject menu. Within this page, you can locate PubMedScopus, and Web of Science, which are all searchable to find relevant peer-reviewed sources to include in your lab report. 

The Library has created instructional guides on navigating both Scopus and Web of Science. If you need some help searching within these databases you can always AskUs at the Library, or contact your subject librarian, Brie for further assistance. 

Demonstration by librarian, Brie McConnell:

  • In this demonstration, Brie will search the PubMed database for articles on why apples brown, describing how to access full-text versions of these articles, and how to locate citation information through the RefWorks software, as well as manually through PubMed. WatIAM login required.

September 25, 2021. 

In addition scholarly databases, such as PubMed, Scopus, or Web of Science, you can also use the library catalogue (Omni) to search for academic sources. This catalogue uses the same process as databases, but the results will include e-books, book chapters, articles, conference proceedings, and more. Therefore, if you are using Omni to search for peer-reviewed articles, it is important to limit your search results. Follow these steps to search Omni:

  1. Start at
  2. Navigate to 'Advanced Search.'
  3. Search using key words relevant to your research question (more information on next tab).
  4. Limit your search results to 'peer reviewed journals' and document type 'articles.'

The Library has created guides on how to access and search the library catalogue (Omni). Additionally, always remember that the UW library is here for you, contact the library through the AskUs feature, or email Brie your librarian for further research help!

Google Scholar is a web search engine, not a research database. While Google Scholar can be great for large scans and "seeing what's out there," it should not be the only place you are searching because it is not actually a research database. 

Helpful hints and links for using Google Scholar:

When using scholarly databases (such as PubMed, Scopus, or Web of Science), you will need to identify key words of your research question to create a "search string." As an example, if my research question was "why are carrots orange?" I would want to start by breaking down some key words that will lead to relevant scholarly sources. These key words may include: 

  • Carrot
  • Pigment

picture of orange carrotsNote: If you add a wildcard (*) at the end of a search term, the search will include all variations of that term. For example:

  • Adding a wildcard (*) after the word "carrot" will yield results containing the word "carrot" or "carrots."
  • Adding a wildcard (*) after the word "pigment" will yield results containing the word "pigment" or "pigments" or "pigmentation.

After searching these terms in Scopus, I found a peer-reviewed article, which was published in 2021, titled "Functional relationship of vegetable colors and bioactive compounds: Implications in human health." 

  • From this article, I was able to identify that carrots are orange because of a compound called beta-carotene, which is also present in tomatoes (Sharma et al., 2021, p. 13). 


Sharma, S., Katoch, V., Kumar, S., & Chatterjee, S. (2021). Functional relationship of vegetable colors and bioactive compounds: Implications in human healthThe Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry92


This is where you will introduce the purpose and objectives of your experiment. The introduction is also where you provide the reader with critical background information such as definitions of principles, as well as display your understanding of the phenomenon you are investigating within your experiment.

Common sources of information to support your Introduction, include:

  • Science encyclopaedias and dictionaries. In the library, these resources and books will be in the reference section. The library has online access to a ton of great online encyclopaedias and dictionaries that allows for quick searching, and easy citation. 
  • Your textbooks. Textbooks are great resources to understand key concepts, and can also be a good starting point to understand a phenomenon that may be relevant to your lab report. 
  • Scholarly articles. Use the Find Scholarly Sources tab of this guide to help you further with this task.

In-text example: 

When mushrooms are cut, monophenol oxidase causes the browning of the surface that is exposed to air (Bender, 2014). 


Bender, D. (2014). Phenol oxidases. In D.A. Bender (ed.), A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition (4th edition). Oxford University Press.

In text:

The citric acid in lemon juice inhibits the enzymatic browning in fruits (Singh, 2018).


Singh B., Suri K., Shevkani K., Kaur A., Kaur A., Singh N. (2018). Enzymatic browning of fruit and vegetables: A review. In M. Kuddus (ed.), Enzymes in Food Technology. Springer, Singapore.

In text:

Benedict's test was named after the biochemical tests's creator, US chemist Stanley Rossiter Benedict (Benedict's test, 2016).


Rennie, R., & Law, J. (2016). Benedict’s test. In A Dictionary of Chemistry (7th edition). Oxford University Press. 

In text:

Since 3000 BC, humans have been using salt to preserve meat and fish (Shahidi, 2014). 


Shahidi, F., Samaranayaka, A.F.G., & Pegg, R.B. (2014). Curing: Brine curing of meat. In M. Dikeman & C. Devine (eds).The encyclopedia of meat sciences (2nd edition). Elsevier.

Materials and Methods

A successful Materials and Methods section will outline succinct and accurate instructions for experimental procedures and protocols, so that using these instructions anyone can conduct the experiment.

  • To cite your lab manual, refer to the appropriate section in the manual, giving the course number, the year in which the manual was printed, and the page numbers. 
  • This is the only section of the lab report where you are supposed to refer to (and cite) the lab manual. 

At some point of your academic career, you may need to write more expansive Materials and Methods sections for your lab reports. Note these excellent databases to help in writing lab protocols in your future lab reports.

Note: You will NOT need to use these databases for your introductory course lab reports as your lab manuals will include all relevant information.


The heart of the report is the results section. This section synthesizes the results of your experiment within four forms of data, the form(s) of data depends on what provides the most clarity to the reader.     

  1. Tables are appropriate for data derived from repeated trials.  Title and number each table at the top, and arrange similar elements in columns without vertical lines between them. 
  2. Figures such as line graphs or histograms can best present data that show a trend or relationship. Give each figure a number and title at the bottom.  Label the graph axes so that the dependent variable (that which you measured) is on the vertical axis or ordinate, and the independent variable (that which you manipulated) is on the horizontal axis or abscissa. 
  3. Diagrams and illustrations can be presented as figures.  
  4. Descriptive text is necessary for reporting data that cannot be presented in a figure, table or graph (such as the appearance of cells). Sometimes called "linker text," this text should contain a description of your results through referring to tables and figures, without simply repeating the data.

Note: In this section you should note if you had any problems in obtaining your results. If your experiment produced no results consult your TA as soon as possible.  

Diagrams, figures, and tables will be a large part of the results in your lab report, and therefore it is critical to clearly label results for easy identification. All figures, tables, and images should have:

  • Numbers: All figures should be accurately and numerically labelled, for example: Figure 1, Figure 2, . . . Table 1, Table 2, . . . Diagram 1, Diagram 2. . .).
  • Title: All titles should be accurate, descriptive, and concise.
  • Figure, Image, or Table: Should be clear, an accurate depiction of your results, and positioned under the number and title.
  • Legend: It is important, that if needed, you have a legend for your lab report (refer to your lab manual for further instruction). 
  • Notes: The notes or description section outlines what the figure, image, or title is.  

Retrieved from APA Publication Manual, 2019 (APA 7).

Example of an accurately labelled table depicting the browning apple experiment.

Figure 1: A photographic comparison of apple slices in four conditions.


In this section, you will want to refer to the data from your experiment and offer analysis as to WHY the results occurred. 

Commenting on your own results:

  • Present the principles, relationships, and generalizations shown by the results without restating the results section. 
  • Each result should be compared to expected values, a class average, or values of a control group. 
  • In some cases you may accept or reject a hypothesis, after examining your own results. 
  • In some cases you may end your discussion section with a clear statement on how your results support your conclusions. 

Commenting on the literature in the field:

  • How do the results integrate with principles given in the introduction. 
  • Compare your results and interpretations with expected results as found in the literature.
    • This may involve a discussion on different techniques between your experiment and the literature in the field. Or, suggestions on improving the accuracy or precision of the results. 
  • Remember to use in-text citations for any references to the literature, as well, as adding full references to your Lab Report's bibliography.


Referencing has multiple purposes:

  • It demonstrates academic integrity; by acknowledging all sources you have used, you will avoid committing potential academic offences and misconducts.
  • It demonstrates the depth of your reading.
  • It helps your reader (and your TA!) to check your statements for correctness.
  • It supports your own conclusions and ideas, which will make your work more credible.  

When writing a lab report, you must use scholarly sources to support your statements and/ or experimental results. ALWAYS refer to your lab manual for what types of sources are acceptable to use in your lab report. 

Note: References/sources used in writing Introduction and Discussion parts of a lab report must be listed in your Reference List, as well as cited directly in the body of your report through in-text citations. 

Key resources for citing using APA include, Owl Purdue Writing Lab and the University of Waterloo Guide to APA Style Citation which are both great resources for guidance on correctly using the APA citation style. 

APA Style citations guide

APA Style Citation Guide, Writing and Communications Centre, University of Waterloo

Did you know?

If you have found an article through Library catalogue, you can generate a citations directly from the catalogue, by navigating to the record of the article you wish to cite, and selecting "Citation," and choosing APA 7th edition:

  • Always be sure to double check your manually and automatically generated citations for errors!

Example of a suggested citation by Omni for a scholarly article.


UW subscribed databases, such as Web of Science, Scopus, and PubMed are all compatible with online reference managers such as RefWorksEndnoteZotero and Mendeley. Therefore, when you find an article that you would like to use, you can export the citation information to a reference manager, which will format (in most cases) an accurate citation for you to include in your lab report's bibliography. Remember, it is helpful to get to know an online reference manager as you will likely use it often throughout your educational career.

Reference managers (or citation management software) help you to organize, save, and use citations for your sources. Popular reference managers on campus include RefWorks (free access provided as a UW student), Mendeley, Papers, Endnote, Zotero and more. 

Compare reference managers and learn more

JoVE video with no author listed: 

Jove. (2021) Molecular cloning [video]. Jove.

JoVE video with author listed:

Smith J, Kemp A. (March 2019) Molecular cloning and ethics considerations [video]. Jove.

Note: The date should be the date that the video was uploaded.

How to Format a Lab Report

All Lab Reports should start with a title page which contains all information needed to mark your report. It is likely that your title page may include: 

  1. Title of the experiment (in your own words).
  2. Your name and student ID.
  3. The name(s) of your lab partner(s).
  4. TA's names and your section number.
  5. Course number, the day, time and room number of your laboratory section.
  6. Date the experiment was performed.

Your lab report should be organized to highlight the various sections of your lab report, all sections should be present in your lab report, even if some are longer than others. Common sections of a lab report include:

  1. Introduction
  2. Materials and Methods (sometimes just a note and a citation to refer to the lab book)
  3. Results
  4. Discussion 
  5. Conclusion (sometimes included in your discussion)

By the APA style guide, you can bold your titles to make them stand out from the rest of your paper. For headings in a lab report, you can also bold them so that they are distinct from the figure and image headings. 

Note: APA Style guide is also a very helpful resource for accurately formatting and citing your lab report.

Submit questions, problems, and feedback to library staff

Link to Ask Us service

Industry Standards

The format of your standard laboratory report is a variation of that used for research papers like those published in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology, the Canadian Journal of Zoology, and many other scientific journals.

Watch and Learn