THE FORMAL LABORATORY REPORT

Laboratory work may be reported in many different ways. In the CHE 341 course, the primary method of reporting results has been copies of the actual laboratory notebook. These "yellow sheets" provide a convenient form for correcting and grading. In the larger world of the professional scientist, the primary method by which advances are communicated is the research paper published in a scientific journal. Intermediate between these two, but borrowing heavily from the latter in terms of form, is the Formal Laboratory Report.

In some quarters the Formal Laboratory Report is regarded as a strangely special type of paper in which peculiar forms and formulas must be followed. The unique characteristics of this type of paper are actually very few when compared to the common requirements such reports share with other written material. All of the elements of writing a good paper such as grammar, sentence construction, clarity, conciseness, and development of a theme apply in the laboratory report. The reader is referred to The ACS Style Guide, 2nd Ed. Janet S. Dodd, Ed., American Chemical Society.

The organization of papers found in scientific journals has evolved into a relatively consistent format over the past 50 years. Certainly there are differences among disciplines, but these are relatively minor and general guidelines can be drawn. The general format for a research report which you will be expected to follow for any formal reports you prepare in this course can be summarized under the following headings.

ABSTRACT. In a journal article the abstract is usually a very concise statement justifying the work and presenting the key results. Close analogy can be made to thematic paragraphs in other types of research papers.

INTRODUCTION. This section presents the background concepts upon which the experiment is based. The reactions and equations involved in the procedure are explained in this section. Generally, references are made to outside sources to validate the explanations presented. As always, proper citation style must be employed, and one must be alert not to stumble into plagiarism.

EXPERIMENTAL. The purpose of this section is to describe briefly the equipment and methods employed so that the work can be duplicated and validated by others. Most journal editors strongly suggest referencing the source of the procedure rather than covering every detail. Any modifications to the procedure must be described here. You should report the melting point of your product, comparing it to the literature melting point. You should report the percent yield here. You should also list the important peaks in your infrared spectrum and summarize the information in your NMR spectrum.

RESULTS. You will have seen similar sections entitled Data, Calculations, Observations. These all mean the same here. The results of your experiments are presented at this point. The use of tables is very economical in terms of both the writer's and the reader's time. Student reports should provide a sample calculation. Recall that tables must have a title and a number and be referenced in the text as "Table 1...".

DISCUSSION. The significance of the results is interpreted here. Often times the writer will refer back to the Introduction section as illustration of the principles. The reliability of the results (precision, etc.) and the possible causes of error are discussed. The old phrase "human error" really doesn't mean much. Specific blunders can be acknowledged and the limitations of the measuring devices reported, but saying human error implies that you were not careful in the execution of the procedure.

REFERENCES. You should follow the citation format used in the Journal of Organic Chemistry. This method lists all references at the end of the paper in the order in which they are cited in the text and to identify each citation by a sequential number. It is important to note that when a reference is cited for the second time, the original reference number is used again rather than listing the reference twice. For example:

in the text:
Faraday's work with electrolysis led to the formulation of two laws.1

in the reference section:
(1) Smith, J., Fundamental Chemistry, 2nd Ed., Jones Press: New York, 1980, pp 100-105.

The brief description offered here cannot cover all situations. The student is referred to the following sources:

  1. any volume of the journals Journal of Organic Chemistry or Journal of the American Chemical Society
  2. The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors, Janet S. Dodd, Editor, American Chemical Society, 1986.