INSTRUCTIONS FOR WRITING LAB REPORTS
1. All lab reports must be typed. They must be written for a non-scientist to read. So you need to explain a lot about what you are doing! You can test it out on a friend or family member that are not scientists.
2. All lab reports must include Introduction, Observation, and Results sections, in that order. These sections should be clearly labeled as such.
3. You should attach answers to the questions for the lab at the end of the lab report.
Suggestion 1: Read these instructions completely before writing your lab report.
Suggestion 2: Write the last section first, and work forward. Write the Introduction last.
Suggestion 3: Use a spell-checker!
Step 1 - Answer the questions for the lab. As you answer these questions, try to keep in mind what they have to do with what YOU saw through the telescope.
Step 2 - Write the Results section. This will appear at the end of the report. Here is some help with the Results section:
Are you staring at your computer screen wondering what to write? That is okay. It takes some practice at this. That is why you are taking this class! I provided you with some useful hints to help with the Results section. The hints are the questions that you answered in Step 1. Go back and read those questions. They are there to get you to think about what your observations really mean. So read the questions, and then try discussing the answers to them in the Results section. Use complete sentences and proper grammar of course. These questions are just starting points. Often you will be able to include a lot of other stuff in your Results section. When grading your lab report, I do look for the material covered in the questions to be included in your Results section though. Tell me what your observations mean. If you are discussing the rings of Saturn or colors of binary stars, refer the reader to which of YOUR sketches you are talking about. You can go back and label something in your sketch that will help the reader find it when they look at your sketch.
You can include diagrams or figures to help describe what is going on and your interpretation of what you found or saw. Discuss what YOUR observations mean. For example, there is no need to discuss the internal structure of Jupiter if that is not relevant to what you saw through the telescope. You can discuss theories or knowledge that we have learned through other telescope or spacecraft, but only as it pertains to something that YOU saw through the telescope. Each idea should refer to at least one of your sketches and you should tie your sketch into the idea that you are trying to convey. What do your observations mean?
Step 3 - write the observation section. This is the easiest section to write. It goes before the Results section (even though you are writing it after the Results section).
Just present the experiment, the measurements and the observations. Your observation sketch sheets appear in this section. You should include a table of information that lists what you saw, when you saw them, magnifications used, etc. Also describe how you performed the work (in our case, the size and type of telescope used, where you were, partners in your group, etc).
Donít discuss or interpret what your observations mean in this section. That belongs in the results section. The following is an example of how to begin an Observation section:
"Observations of Jupiter were performed on November 29, and December 6, 2000 from 8-10:10 PM. An eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope was used on both occasions. Sketches of the planet were performed while viewing it through a high-power eyepiece from El Camino College. Figures 1 and 2 show the sketches of the planet that were made during this project." etc, etc, etc.
Notice that I only described how the project was done, and I present the measurements and observations. I do not describe what they mean in this section. I also do not define terms in this section - that is done in the Introduction section.
Step 4 - write the Introduction section. This section appears at the beginning of your lab report, obviously.
Okay. So by now you already know what you have written in the Results and Observation sections. So that means that you know what needs introducing. Now do the following:
1. Begin your lab report with an opening sentence like: "This is a report and interpretation of my observations of star clusters for my astronomy laboratory class", or something similar. You need to tell the reader what they are holding. Don't be shy or clever, just tell them what this document is.
2. Remember who your audience is. Do you still remember? If not, go back to the very first item on these instructions, at the very top.
3. Now think of the person that will be reading this (not your teacher!). What will they need to know in order to understand your Results and Observation sections? Make a list on some scratch paper of terms that need defining for them. For the Lunar Geology lab, they might include, impact crater, rays, mare, rille, basalt, the phases of the Moon and the lighting changes on the Moon that occur during them, and perhaps a brief description of what the Moon really is. Ideas need introducing just as much as single terms. For example, in the clusters lab, you not only need to introduce what an H-R diagram is, but how they are used to determine the ages of the clusters. Now order these terms and ideas in a way that makes sense. Don't just leave them in random order!
4. Now you are ready to introduce the subject. For the Jupiter lab, you would start off with a brief description of Jupiter and what it looks like through the telescope (or even with just the naked eye!), and then launch into a description of all of the ideas and terms that they will need to know in order to understand the words and ideas that you use in your observation and results sections (that you have already written!).
Step 5 Proof read! Here is a checklist to go over before you are done:
1. Review the answers to the questions. Did you answer all parts of every question?
2. Correct grammatical and spelling errors. Have someone else read it also.
3. For the Introduction section - did you discuss your observations? You aren't supposed to! Do you discuss what your observations mean? You aren't supposed to! Does everything that you discuss have relevance to your lab exercise? Delete "fluff" - that is extra information that doesn't really help the reader. Fluff in your lab report can hurt your grade.
4. For the Observation section - do you only describe your observations and how you made them? Only the facts? Are your sketch sheets included as part of the observation section? No introductory material should be included. You should not discuss your observations. Just describe what you did.
5. For the Results sections - do you only describe what your observations mean? Go over the list of questions. Were you able to draw conclusions about your observations from each of the questions? Were you able to accurately convey what you mean in the results section?
Check the results section for flow. Are you jumping around a lot? Could you rearrange the paragraphs better so the subject slowly changes instead of jumping back and forth? Does each paragraph have a single major idea? If you have many ideas in a single paragraph, you will probably want to break it up into multiple paragraphs. Do you have a nice summary paragraph at the end that highlights your major results or do you let the reader run off the road and into nowhere?
If your report passes this checklist, and you have had someone else read it, then it is time to turn it in!