There are three steps to follow:
gather all the documents and information you need
Find the photocopy which
given out for the experiment (if there was one).
Find all your notes taken
in class and during the
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
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 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”.
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
or re-read your ideas from your notes (or if you designed the investigation, re-read
Then look at your data and observations – how
can you use them to prove or show what was outlined in the aim or research
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.)
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
Write a clear, concise introduction for
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
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
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
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!