Working in the Science Lab

The HKC provides some tips for working in a science laboratory.

  • Don't trust your memory. Write down everything you think might be pertinent. If you don't have time to take notes during lab, write down the most important information immediately after class.
  • Make a permanent record of your observations. Use your own words and descriptions so you will remember exactly what you observed. Keep the lab record in a notebook separate from the lecture notebook. Start your record of each lab session on a new page, headed with the date.
  • Organize the recorded data. Arrange the data so that it will be clear and fully labeled for later reference.
  • Don't trust yourself or the apparatus too much. Do at least an approximate analysis (including rough graphs) of the data while they are being taken so you can detect anything that is going wrong in time to do something about it. Don't wait until after lab is over.
  • Baby the apparatus. Make notes of its limitations and watch it for signs of strange behavior.
  • Don't start the experiment or analysis until you clearly understand the objectives and procedures. Keep the purpose of the experiment in mind.
  • Write up your reports clearly, legibly, and concisely in the proper format. Illustrations should be rendered clearly and labeled. Do the write-up as soon after the lab as possible, while the information is fresh in your mind. It is customary to use the passive voice in a lab report. Include such things as: purpose, background theory, apparatus, procedure, results, and conclusions. The latter usually includes an assessment of accuracy and possible sources of error.