How to Write a Lab Report

This web page was last updated on Monday, October 1, 2001 (8:15pm)

Lecture on the Format (APA) and Content of the Lab Report

  1. Page 1 - Title Page
    1. Title (centred, double spaced)
    2. Name (centred)
    3. McMaster University (centred)
    4. Running head (centred, block letters), should be no more than 4 words
    5. Due date (bottom left corner)
    6. Course number (bottom left corner)
    7. Student number (bottom left corner)
    8. Instructor/TA name (bottom left corner)
  2. Page 2 - Abstract
    1. Format
      1. Title ("Abstract", centred)
      2. Body - single paragraph, not indented
    2. Purpose: briefly summarizes entire study
    3. Length: approximately 150 words - no more than 1 page
    4. Include: purpose, hypothesis, brief method (subjects, key apparatus), brief procedure, results (general - no stats, just whether or not the experiment "worked"), concluding remark.
    5. Hint: write last, after rest of report has been completed
  3. Page 3 - Introduction (approximately 2.5 - 3 pages in length)
    1. Format
      1. Title (centred)
      2. Pagination begins on this page (START NUMBERING AT Page 3) (numbering goes in top right hand page under last 2 letters in page heater - see title page about headers). Header begins at 1" from top of page, page number is placed on the next line (single spaced), then blank line, title, blank line, body of text
    2. Body of text - introduce the reader to the issues to be examined (largely a literature review)
      1. point out the research question, general introduction to the research field, definitions of key terms and ideas
      2. literature review
        1. acquaint readers with previous research and relevant background information
        2. describe the purpose, method, results of relevant studies
        3. "discuss" the closely related previous research
          1. what are the shortcomings of the previous research
          2. questions that have not been pointed out or answered
          3. experiment design problems
        4. Pay close attention to proper referencing of others' work (see notes on reference section)
      3. purpose of this experiment (related to the previous research discussed)
      4. variables measured (defined)
      5. general prediction of the result (the theory need to verify or disprove), detailed hypothesis
      6. application to the this experiment (significance of this experiment)
  4. Page ? - Method (approximately 1.5 - 2 pages in length)
    1. Purpose of the method section is to provide the readers with a detailed description of how study was done
      1. provide enough information to evaluate how well you conducted your study,
      2. provide enough information to allow readers to carry out functional replications of your study,
      3. Choose appropriate level of detail on how the study was conducted (not two much and not too little), only include the information essential to comprehend and replicate the study.
    2. Title ("Method", centred, NOT ON A NEW PAGE)
    3. Subjects (left justified, underlined)
      1. description of participants
        1. for animals; species, strain, sex, age, etc.
        2. for humans; gender, mean or range of the age of group, number of different groups, bow subjects were placed in groups, etc.
    4. Apparatus (left justified, underlined)
      1. description of materials used; NO POINT FORM;
      2. if diagrams included, put in Appendix (follows references - last thing in the report);
      3. describe everything in words, even if using diagrams
    5. Procedure (left justified, underlined)
      1. step-by-step description of how the study was done (DETAILED)
      2. statistics calculated (which statistics, how were variables calculated, etc.)
  5. Page ? - Results
    1. Title ("Results", centred, NOT A NEW PAGE)
    2. Content
      1. Begin with a statement of what your results are about
      2. restatement of hypothesis
      3. Provide a description of the results, e.g., mean, standard deviation and comparisons between groups
        1. e.g., the mean for group A (M = x, SD = y) was higher than the mean for group B (M = p, SD = q)
      4. Describe the next level of analysis which is dealing with the main question, e.g. t-test. If necessary, justify the reason for the statistical tests performed.
      5. Present the analysis result
        1. e.g., the results of the t-test show that there was a significant difference between the mem scores for groups A and B (t(df) = z, p<.05, one-tailed).
      6. Present any supplementary analyses if appropriate
      7. State a brief conclusion (following each test that you report). Conclusion should be based upon the results of statistical analyses
      8. Mention some conditions for the result if appropriate.
    3. Use tables or figures
      1. for data in figures
        1. X-axis: levels of independent variable
        2. Y-axis: levels of dependent variable
        3. Clear label: parallel to the corresponding axis
        4. Grid label: horizontal
        5. Figure caption in separate page
        6. Figures are referred to in the text by number
    4. The results section should be a summary of the collected data, under most circumstance, raw data (individual scores) is not required.
    5. The description should be a clear, unbiased description of your data
    6. describe, comment, but do not try to interpret
  6. Page ? - Discussion (approximately 3-4 pages in length)
    1. Title ("Discussion", centred, NEW PAGE)
    2. Content
      1. restatement of purpose and hypothesis
      2. Briefly summarise your major findings
      3. general conclusion regarding support for the hypothesis (to what extent the hypothesis supported/not supported)
      4. implication/impact of the study
      5. Similarities or differences with studies reviewed in the literature review
        1. Discuss the methodology difference
        2. Discuss the relationship between your data and the related research
      6. Attempt to explain why your results did not turn out the way you thought that they would
        1. sources of errors
          1. possible problems with the study/methodology, especially if hypothesis is not supported, but should be included regardless of outcome
          2. How such sources of error may have influenced the results
      7. Suggest directions for future research
        1. the possible improvement if this research were to be replicated
        2. the possible research to extend or complement the current study
        3. include personal opinions (Without resorting to personal pronouns!)
  7. Page ? - References
    1. Title ("References", centred, NEW PAGE)
    3. In general
      1. reference for each article cited in the paper
      2. In alphabetical order
      3. For each reference, last name first, ...
      4. E.g., Rioult-Pedotti, M., Friedman, D., Hess, G., & Donoghue, J. P. (1998). Strengthening of horizontal cortical connections following skill learning. Nature Neuroscience, 1, 230 - 234
  8. Page ? - Others
    1. Tables, figures, etc. FOLLOW references


  1. Supplementary reading (reserved in Health Science Library):
    1. Martin, D. W. (2000). How to report experimental results. In Doing psychology experiments (5th ed., pp. 271-310), Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  2. Web resources:
    1. Appendix in Methods in Behavioral Research, by Paul C. Cozby
    2. APA Style Resources (from Psych Web home page)
    3. APA Style Referencing linked from a web page on writing (part of Dr. Shedden's 3J03 course web page)