Procedure for Writing a Physics Lab Report

The standard everyday lab report consists of the following sections. Note that all lab reports may not have every section, but it is a good idea to include all of these sections (even if you write no such-and-such required). Note also that certain things change from time to time. A truly formal lab report must have a separate title page, but in general this is wasteful. Formal lab reports in this class do not require a separate title page.

The use of either the formal or informal lab report is the decision of the instructor. Typically the informal lab report will be turned in before the end of the class period and does not have to be word-processed.

** Suggestion **

Make a template in your word processor: basically just a document that just contains the following headings. Doing so will help you to get all of the sections into your lab report, and will prevent you from making a careless, but costly, mistake.

Informal Lab Report

  1. Title of Lab

  1. Purpose
  2. Data
  3. Analysis and Graphs

  1. Conclusion

Formal Lab Report

  1. Title of Lab Activity

  1. Purpose
  2. Materials and Apparatus
  3. Procedure
  4. Data and Observations
  5. Analysis
  6. Graphs
  7. Sample Calculations
  8. Conclusion

  1. Post-Lab questions if required


The title should contain the name of the experiment performed, the date the experiment was performed, the names of all of the people who contributed to the lab report, and the name of the instructor of the lab. It is important that the names of all the people who contributed to the lab report be listed. Conversely, if a student did not contribute to the writing or analysis of the lab their name should not appear on the title page or in the title section.


The purpose is a short one or two sentence statement indicating why you are in the lab. State your goal in performing the lab and what you expect to learn from the lab. If your goal is to kill time in the lab then your purpose might read, "The purpose of this lab is to confuse and baffle me, lower my self esteem, and generally make me feel very bad about myself and my life-long goals. I in no way plan to get anything from the completion of this lab nor will I ever learn anything." This of course would be a very bad goal, but it is written as a purpose should be.

Materials and Apparatus:

This is a list of all of the materials that are required to perform the lab. This is both a list for yourself and for the reader of the lab report. This should provide enough information that the lab instructor can pull the materials from the shelf to set up the lab and provide you with the materials necessary. It is not necessary to indicate exact amounts as in "2.12323 meters twine" simply stating "twine" is sufficient.


The procedure is one of the top three important sections in the lab report. The procedure can be written in either paragraph style (preferable) or it can be written in bullet style (not-quite-so-preferable)-but either is considered correct. The procedure may include diagrams or other helpful information that will make the lab easier to perform. The procedure should be complete enough that an arbitrary person could read your procedure and could perform the lab as you did. DO NOT copy the procedure from the book or lab manual. Write the procedure in your own words and add notes and diagrams as necessary.

Data and Observations:

Typically, before the lab, you draw up the data table in which you will record your data. The lab report should contain a neater version of your actual data table but should reference the actual data table as an appendix.

Observations, on the other hand, are not usually as well preconceived. As you go through a lab make notes and observations that might prove to be important later when the report is being generated. If changes are made in the lab record them, if certain elements of the lab are not performed record the differences, or if you use a particular piece of equipment that is unique, make note of it. Observations are not required to be present in the final lab report, but they make the process of writing the lab much easier.


This is the meat of the lab report. This is where all of the science is. This is the heart of science-listen closely, you may hear it (thump.......thump.......thump). Quite simply the analysis is everything that you do between data collection and the writing of the conclusion. The analysis is the thought process that takes you from observation to brilliant insight. Most of the time the analysis is a lot of little steps that you go through mentally. It is important that you write these steps down. The analysis is not a list of numbers and calculations--I repeat the analysis is not a list of numbers and calculations. The analysis is the explaination of what you did, what you observed, possible sources of error (not just human-error, we all know your lab partner is a bumbling fool),explaination of meaningful statistics (don't include numbers if they don't mean anything). You can list final results in an analysis and include a description of what those numbers mean (you still have to report your findings and results in the Conclusion). Analysis of graphs belongs in this section, such as which graphs yielded straight line correlations and what the slope of such a line might have been, and what that slope (if it exists might mean. Remember this is the meat of your report. You should spend 80% of your time on this section of your report (even if you do the report 5 minutes before Lab starts--that means at least 4 of those minutes should be spent on the Analysis section).


Analysis and graphs are listed as two separate sections when in fact they are part of a larger whole, but many students loose sight of the fact that there are in fact two distinct steps. Graphs are not an analysis. Graphs are a tool, much as a calculator. They allow you represent a lot of data in a very short space. Graphs allow you to analyze data in interesting ways, but graphs do not an analysis make.

Sample Calculations:

This is a short section that shows a sample of every calculation that you carried out by hand. In essence this is a list of equations, but it goes one step further as it shows one example of every equation being used. Remember just one example of every equation used is to be shown.


This is the second most important part of the lab. This is where you sum it all up. This is the punch line of this huge and massive joke-it needs to be good. The conclusion will include your results, any relationships (or equations) that you have discovered. Indicate how accurate your results are and explain any discrepancies. Make the lab instructor believe that you understand.


Grading is in fact a very subjective process and as such everyone does it differently. One person may call it an A another may call it Yaba Daba Doo. Further, every lab has different requirements and different expectations, but in general the following weights apply to how the sections count.
Title Not much
PurposeA little
Materials and ApparatusA little
ProcedureA good bit
Data and ObservationsA good bit
AnalysisA Whole Whopping Huge Amount
GraphsA Whole Lot
Sample CalculationsA little
ConclusionA Whole Heaping Helping
Post-Lab QuestionsA little bit
Total Point WorthThe Whole Kit and Caboodle

Do keep in mind that these are only approximate values and could change for any given lab report or any given instructor.