The Lab Report:
Research and resources, by section
Before you can begin to write your lab report, you will need:
You will also need:
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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
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.
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 PubMed, Scopus, 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:
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:
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:
Note: If you add a wildcard (*) at the end of a search term, the search will include all variations of that term. For example:
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."
Sharma, S., Katoch, V., Kumar, S., & Chatterjee, S. (2021). Functional relationship of vegetable colors and bioactive compounds: Implications in human health. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 92.
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:
BIOL 130: Refer to your Lab Manual on LEARN for specific guidelines on writing an Introduction section of your lab report.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BIOL 130: Refer directly to your Lab Manual on LEARN for key instructions on writing your Materials and Methods section.
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.
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:
BIOL 130: Refer to your lab manual on LEARN for instructions on how to format Figures, Tables, and Diagrams in your results section.
Retrieved from APA Publication Manual, 2019 (APA 7).
Figure 1: A photographic comparison of apple slices in four conditions.
Note: Refer to the Fall 2022 BIOL 130 course guide on LEARN, which details format, style, and hints for writing BIOL 130 lab reports.
In this section, you will want to refer to the data from your experiment and offer analysis as to WHY the results occurred. Some relevant discussion topics suggested by the BIOL 130 Lab Manual are:
Commenting on your own results:
Commenting on the literature in the field:
BIOL 130: Refer to your Lab Manual on LEARN, which details format, style, and hints for writing successful Discussion sections.
Referencing has multiple purposes:
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.
BIOL 130: Refer to your Lab Manual on LEARN for detailed instructions for style, formatting, and submission of lab reports.
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:
UW subscribed databases, such as Web of Science, Scopus, and PubMed are all compatible with online reference managers such as RefWorks, Endnote, Zotero 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.
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JoVE video with no author listed:
Jove. (2021) Molecular cloning [video]. Jove. https://www-jove-com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/t/5074
JoVE video with author listed:
Smith J, Kemp A. (March 2019) Molecular cloning and ethics considerations [video]. Jove. https://www-jove-com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/t/5074
Note: The date should be the date that the video was uploaded.
All Lab Reports should start with a title page which contains all information needed to mark your report. BIOL 130 Lab Manual has key information on what EXACTLY should be included on a title page, however, it is likely that your title page may include:
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 (BIOL 130: Refer directly to your Lab Manual or instructors for guidance). Common sections of a lab report include:
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. BIOL 130, refer to your lab manual on LEARN, which details format, style, and hints for writing your lab report.
Note: APA Style guide is also a very helpful resource for accurately formatting and citing your lab report.
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.