SECTION ONE : Methods
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,
- Include the methods you used for both gathering data and analyzing
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.