Lab Report Writing

Materials and Methods Section

Now that you've hooked your reader with a good introduction, you'll start getting into the details about how you performed your study or experiment. This section should be written with enough detail that anyone would be able to follow your procedures and repeat your experiment. But make sure you don't include so much detail that it becomes overwhelming!

The Materials and Methods section is often the easiest part of a lab report to write because the procedure is either written in your lab manual, or you took notes on your procedure as you performed the study. Just make sure you write it in paragraph form with complete sentences, rather than just a list of your methods. As with the other parts of the paper, this section should usually be written in past tense with no personal pronouns (I or we).

It's very important that in the Materials and Methods section you write only what you did, not what results you got. Save those for the next section.

Here's a short section of the Materials and Methods section from the bone fracture article. Scroll over the highlighted portions to identify the use of third-person past-tense language.

From 1970 to 1973, all 2,841 men born between 1920 and 1924 and living in the municipality of Uppsala, Sweden, were invited to participate in a health survey, the Uppsala Longitudinal Study of Adult Men (ULSAM). A total of 2,322 men (82% of those invited), aged between 49 and 51 years, agreed to participate. Information regarding recreational physical activity was obtained by a reliability-tested questionnaire, but only 2,205 men (95%) responded to these questions, and it is these men who form the study base for the present investigation. At 60 years of age, 1,860 men took part in a second evaluation, at 70 years 1,221 men took part in a third evaluation, at 77 years 839 men participated and, at the final evaluation, at age 82 years, there were 530 participants.

Test Yourself (Materials and Methods)

Imagine that you're writing a paper for a lab in which you isolated the caffeine from a cup of coffee.  Select the sentence that you would write in the Materials and Methods section of a lab report.

a. Coffee is a beverage enjoyed by millions of people around the world every day.
b. The second attempt resulted in the extraction of 73 mg of caffeine.
c. 200 mL coffee heated to 90°C.
d. 200 mL of coffee was placed in a flask and heated to 90°C.

Click on the question, to see the answer.