Describing the lab procedure

Using your lab manual, handouts, and notes taken during the lab as a guide, describe in paragraph form the experimental procedure you followed. Be sure to include enough detail about the materials and methods you used so that someone else could repeat your procedure.

The Methods section is a concise chronological description of the laboratory procedure you used in the lab. It's important to remember that even though the teacher who reads your lab report already knows the lab procedure, you should write it as if he or she did not. The point is to demonstrate that you have a solid grasp of the procedure you followed. Describing it clearly and in detail allows the teacher to see that you understand the procedure.

  • Begin by reviewing the directions in the lab manual and any notes you took as you did the lab. If it is a complex procedure, make a rough outline of what you did.
  • Write the procedure in paragraph form. For relatively simple labs, one paragraph will do; more complex labs will take multiple paragraphs. Keep the paragraphs relatively short because it's hard for readers to process detailed information like this without sufficient breaks.
  • Describe what you actually did in your own experiment, even though it may be somewhat different from the ideal procedure in the manual. The Methods section should be an accurate reflection of what you did.
  • Avoid putting any results of the lab in the Methods. Just describe what you did, not what you found.
  • Use the proper past tense and passive voice. Methods are usually written in past tense because you are describing what you have already done. They are also typically written in passive voice ("Two ml. were pipetted into a test tube"). However, your lab instructor may permit you to use active voice, which uses first person, "I" or"we" ("We pipetted 2 ml. of the solution into the test tube").

More Helpful Hints:

  • To make your description of the experimental procedure clear, use appropriate transitional or "sign post" words that indicate a sequence and help the reader follow the sequence: step 1, step 2, step 3; first, then, finally; first, second, third; after, next, later, following; etc.
  • Include the methods you used for both gathering data and analyzing the data.

For more advanced labs:

  • If your lab is complicated, perhaps consisting of more than one experimental procedure, then consider dividing your Methods into sections with subheadings.
  • If you used what is considered a standard procedure (one that competent scientists in the field are likely to be familiar with) then there is no need to describe it in detail. Simply state that you used that procedure, being sure to give its common name. (If you are not sure about what standard procedures are in your field, ask your lab instructor.)
  • When describing an apparatus or instrument, it's better to include a sketch of it rather than to try to describe it fully in words. This is especially useful in cases where the apparatus is complex or designed by you. All you need is a couple of sentences that give a general sense of the apparatus, and then refer the reader to the figure that contains the sketch, the same way you would refer the reader to tables or graphs.





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Materials and Methods Results Introduction Discussion Conclusion Abstract Title References