Guidelines for written assignments
Instructor pet peeves for written assignments


Full Experiments  include: Procedure, Annotated Figures, Report, Peer Review, and Report Revisions.

Short  Report Format— Contains fewer sections than a full report, but the same guidelines for content apply.  Short reports include: a Descriptive Title, Instrument Section, Annotated Figures, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, and References.

Procedure— Prior to performing an experiment, groups will write a detailed description of their plan in their lab notebook. It will detail how you intend to prepare and analyze your samples by including: a purpose, step by step instructions to a level of detail that another student could easily replicate your work, a list of all reagents and materials needed, a description of what you expect to find and/or how you will analyze the data, and include references to any outside sources consulted.

  1. Title— Exciting or boring, be descriptive
  2. Purpose— what are you trying to analyze and why?
  3. Background
    1. Give a brief overview of the procedure and what you are analyzing for. What are the likely compounds you are looking for? Make a figure of their structures.
    2. What are the anticipated results? Include literature spectra, chromatograms, etc have you found as examples. If applicable, make a table of physical properties (lamda max, molar absorptivity, etc) that will be useful or help you distinguish between the possible compounds.
    3. Suggest alternate procedures that might work if this doesn’t.
  4. Safety-  Print MSDS for all compounds used in your procedure.
    1. List hazards associated with your procedure- either chemical or procedural
    2. What engineering controls and PPE will be used to mitigate hazards?
    3. What are the most likely things to go wrong? How will you react if they happen?
  5. Sample prep— How will you prepare your sample? Go from the product to getting your sample into the instrument.
  6. Instrument parameters-What conditions/ parameters are you going to use to run the instrument?
  7. Data tables-  What information will you record during the course of the experiment? Be sure you  SPEND SOME TIME  thinking though your experiment! And leave space in case things change during the experiment.
  8. Data Analysis-  Plan for statistical analysis of data, estimation of error, propagation of error.
  9. What do you need?  If you want what you need to be available, be sure to ask for it ahead of time! List what materials you will need: solvents, standards, glassware, etc. State the expected results are (retention time, etc).
  10. References— Where’d you get your information and inspiration?
  11. Appendices-  Attach MSDS and key references or methods if applicable.

Annotated Figures— Print out copies of your figures and tables on individual pages. In addition to figures and tables of data you have generated, think of other materials you will need to include in your report. Examples: summary tables, structures of possible and identified molecules, spectra or other reference materials from literature.

On the print-outs, add a title and descriptive caption to figures and tables. Record observations (to go into the results section of your report), interpretations (to go into the discussion), and a sentence conclusion. These will be checked off in class and provide a starting point for group discussion and very helpful in writing the lab report.


Full Report Format— All reports will be  written in a consistent journal format in a professional tone!

  1. Descriptive title— “Report 3’ won’t cut it.
  2. Abstract— (250 words max)
  3. Introduction-  (2-3 paragraphs) Give some background on your question. Feel free to recycle from the project definition, but make it concise and coherent.
  4. Instrument Diagram— (1-3 paragraphs) Diagram the instruments used and explain how the measurements are made.
  5. Materials and Methods— (1-3 paragraphs) This is a paired down version your procedure. Include sample preparation procedures and instrument parameters and conditions.
  6. Results— (1-3 paragraphs) Follows directly from annotated figures and include at least a paragraph for each figure and table. Reference figures in the text.
  7. Discussion— (1-3 manageable paragraphs) Follows directly from annotated figures.
  8. Conclusions— (2-5 sentences) saying what you found and what that means.
  9. Acknowledgments: Research projects are collaborative and substantial contributions have been made by mentors, peers, postdocs, faculty, etc. Any person that significantly contributed to your work and their specific contribution should be mentioned.
  10. References— If you used anything other than your brains (websites, text books, another group’s procedure, instrument instructions), cite these resources appropriately!
  11. Figures and tables— Each figure and table is to be numbered and on it’s own page with a figure title and caption. All measurements should have an error estimate and graphs should have error bars.

Refer to the experiment text for additional instructions.

On the due date,  bring 2 copies of the reports (3 copies for group reports) to classfor peer review. These reviews will help you revise each report and for the final report.

Refer to the Experiment Introductions  for additional, experiment specific  instructions and suggestions.

Peer review— Most writing assignments will be peer-reviewed by your classmates. Learning to write a good review is an essential skill for a scientist and will help you improve your own writing through reflection and revision. Reviews are to be written professionally and give both positive and constructive feedback.  It is expected that a peer review will take you about 1 hour to complete.
Peer Review Worksheet


Report Revisions— Students will have an opportunity to revise their written work based on feedback from instructor and peers.


  • Final report (50 pts, group)—  Bring it all reports together into the final report. Mostly this will be revised versions of the reports you have been generating all semester that have been revised as a result of the reviews you have been receiving.
  1. Introduction-  (1-2 pages) Tell me generally about your product based on lit searches.
  2. Revised reports 1-6
  3. Conclusions— (<1 page) Tell me what you learned about the product