Writing Lab Reports for the IB


There are three steps to follow:

First Step, gather all the documents and information you need

  • Find the photocopy which was given out for the experiment (if there was one).

  • Find all your notes taken in class and during the lab work.  Although you did the work with other students, each person should have his or her own data.  In general, students cannot copy the data that others have gathered.  If you wish to compare your data with another student or another group, cite your source.  (Ex:  "Group 5's results were similar" or "the author's lab partner obtained similar results.")

  • Find (or print out) a copy of the pages in the IB Programme Guide for Biology which explain what the criteria are for internal assessment.  (DCP, CE, etc.)  Also, look over the sections in the Guide which say what theoretical information you need to know in this chapter.  Remember, every experiment we do in the lab has a connection to the syllabus.

  • Use the scientific investigations checklist used to write lab reports (see the The Open Door Web site).  This will tell you what you need to write in each section.

  • Although you do not have to, it is sometimes nice to include a photo or two of the work or the results.  Be sure to put a caption under a photo to explain what it is and it is polite to give the name of the person who took the photo.  If it is yours, say "Author's photo".  Also, it is best to have a reference to it in the text of your report such as “See Photo 1 on page 2”. 


Second Step, organize your ideas

  • Ask yourself, “What are we trying to prove or show in this investigation?”  In other words, what is the aim?  What is the research question?  If you do not know this, you will not be able to write a good lab report.  To get inspiration and guidance, reread the photocopy given to you about the experiment or re-read your ideas from your notes (or if you designed the investigation, re-read your design)

  • Then look at your data and observations – how can you use them to prove or show what was outlined in the aim or research question? 

  • Start thinking about how you will present the data – tables? graphs? prose?  Be careful of how many decimal places you use and always show units.  All measurements are approximations so show what degree of precision (+/-) you have.  If any calculations are involved, you must show your work

  • For some investigations, you may want to do some research.  Typing the technical terms into Google or Wikipedia is usually a very quick and easy way to obtain information about the things we are investigating.  However, do not inundate your report with countless facts and figures.  Also, cite your sources properly – give the addresses of the web sites you used. 

  • Think about the criteria which are being evaluated.  Obviously you have to write a full report for each experiment,* but you should spend extra time and energy following the instructions for the criteria which will be evaluated.  (DCP, CE, etc.)  Sometimes students write a fantastic introduction with a beautiful hypothesis and variable, etc.  However, they cannot get any marks for that if they are being evaluated on something else such as CE (Conclusion and Evaluation). 

* Note:  as will be stated below, in experiments where a photocopy was given, do not copy out the method, simply put "See sheet entitled . . . " and put the title of the photocopy. 

  • Before you start writing, think about who will be reading this report.  You should write it in such a way that anyone who picks it up will know exactly what you are talking about.  Do not think – “Oh, this is for my teacher and he knows what I mean.”  Your reports may be sent off to the IB for moderation and read by a person who has never been to this school and never seen the work we did. 

  • Remember that your report must be written in your own words.  This means you write all the text, you make all your own tables and graphs, and if you use someone else’s photos or if you use information from Internet, you give credit to the photographer or to the web site. (See the Academic Honesty Guide for the IB rules about this.)


Third Step, now you should be ready to start writing your lab reports:

  • Start with good record keeping.  Include the following vital information on the first page:  your name, date, “Biology Standard / Higher Level”,  and the title of the investigation.  Again, if you got a photocopy explaining this experiment, use the same title that is written on that page

  • Write a clear, concise introduction for the experiment.  For the method, write “See method sheet …” and include the title of the photocopy concerned.  Starting from the beginning and all through the write-up, you should use the vocabulary words you learned in class or in your research. If you have a hypothesis, put it next but be sure it has a justification, too. 

  • Identify the variables:  dependent, independent and controlled variables.

  • Be careful of how you present your data.  You need to present it in your own way but you need to follow the conventions of how to set up a table or a graph.  The Open Door Web site has some good explanations about how to make tables and graphs so that you do not lose any points for presentation.  See Knockonthedoor.com > Biology > IB Biology Web and look at the menu on the right for pages about drawings, tables, graphs, etc.

  • If a graph is appropriate, you should know how to make one using Excel.  To insert a graph into Word, click on the graph once to select it, copy and paste it into your report.  If you do not know how to make graphs in Excel, you can draw your own and scan it.  If you do not know how to scan, sometimes taking a photo with a digital camera in good light works reasonably well. 

  • In some cases, you will want a separate graph for each set of data.  However, if you are trying to find a connection or correlation between two factors, it is best to have one graph superposed on another or to plot one set of data against the other.  This would be necessary to show if a certain factor had any influence on something else…

  • Certain lab reports will require mathematical calculations.  For this, clearly show all your work step by step.  Some calculations will be for your group’s results alone.  Others will be for the all the groups’ results.  In some cases, you can do your own calculations and then compare with other groups.  This would allow for a comparison.  Remember, all calculations must be your own work. 

  • Little things to watch out for:  1) do not use “experience” for the word “experiment”, 2) try not to have a new section start at the bottom of a page (insert a page break or saut de page instead), 3) if a table is cut in two because the top is on one page and the bottom is on the other, either push the table onto the next page so it is not cut or copy the headings onto the second page, 4) write subscripts correctly: O2 and not O2 for oxygen, 5) do not use first person (“I” or “we”):  rather than “I measured the pH every 5 minutes”, you should write “The pH was measured every 5 minutes”. 6) It would be helpful to include page numbers on the reports.  7)  Remember to put Latin names for organisms in italics.   

  • Last but not least, do not “fudge” the data.  To fudge means to change the numbers in order to make them look good.  If some numbers seem “wrong”, do not ignore them or change them to look better.  In your report, you need to give reasons why you think the data is not accurate.   

Any questions?  Email me.  Best of luck!




© A.W. Damon 2011


Last modification: 2011-03-01

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