How to write a lab report: A hands-on approach to improve chemistry undergraduate writing skills

Doménech, Natalia Garcia, Arjona, Adrian Sanz, O'Donoghue, John and Scully, P. Noelle (2020) How to write a lab report: A hands-on approach to improve chemistry undergraduate writing skills.


Writing a scientific lab report is an important skill that students develop during their undergraduate course. However, first year science students struggle significantly with this task. There usually isn’t a clear guide to follow when writing a lab report for the first time and this skill is also not developed fully in high/secondary school. There are several examples where implementing a course or guide for students to improve their scientific writing skills has resulted in better lab reports 1–3. However, to the best of our knowledge, this hasn’t been implemented in most universities. Prior to this study, the School of Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin did not have any guide for undergrad students on how to write a lab report. Students were mainly learning on a trial and error basis, where they implemented the corrections from demonstrators into their lab reports after submission. However, the level of feedback and requirements varied significantly from one demonstrator to another, resulting in a lot of confusion for the students. Nonetheless, this study identified a few common mistakes that could be avoided by providing students with a guide and/or some tips on writing lab reports. This created a common ground to build on report writing skills later.
For this purpose, a tutorial on “How to write a scientific lab report” was prepared and delivered. The tutorial was developed to give tips and explain the structure of a lab report. The material was broad and not specific to chemistry, as we wanted to focus on the general aspects of a lab report such as presenting data in a clear way or discussing results as a whole as well as understanding possible shortcomings. Attendance at the in-personal tutorial was voluntarily and the performance of the students that attended the tutorial was compared to those who did not attend.

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