A common practice in upper division college level chemistry and/or biochemistry laboratory courses is using written laboratory reports as the primary evaluation method. A common style for written laboratory reports is to model them after a standard American Chemical Society research or educational journal articles. A copy of ACS’s preparing a research report is provided below:
To help with a practical guide to using google docs for creating a laboratory or research report for students, I have created a google docs template with general information that is explicitly written for students in the physical chemistry laboratory course (ASU Online CHM 343, Physical Chemistry Laboratory) I developed and regularly teach. I have also provided a PDF copy below.
Assuming the primary evaluation method is a final written report for a laboratory exercise or course, my first suggestion to students is that you start editing and crafting the report in stages and starting at the pre-lab stage, where students can start working on the introduction, background material and references. It is common for students to only use a laboratory handout or laboratory manual (textbook) as a source of background information and introduction. I strongly suggest acquiring more background and introductory material such as books, journal articles, review articles and citations from the laboratory handout or manual. One critical component that is often omitted is to start with a literature search and compiling of references/citations to assist with the laboratory and will also serve to generate a more complete report with adequate referencing and/or citations.
- Scientific database search and research engine, that will list publication and citation data for confident discovery, access and assessment.
- Citation or bibliography manager that allows integration with word processor.
- ZoTero (Google Docs, Libre Office, MS-Word) (freely available)
- PaperPile (Google Docs, free trail, paid software)
- Mendeley (MS-Word, freely available software)
- EndNotes (MS-Word, paid software)
- BibTex (LaTeX bibliography, Overleaf is a good online LaTeX service for writing scientific reports)
Besides traditional literature searching, using AI based programs to assist with background material and framing scientific material can be really useful. For example, using chatGPT to provide a concise summary of background material and help to immediately address questions that students have with regards to the laboratory project or exercise.
After focusing on background material, which should result in your report having a tentative title, authors, introduction and several citations/references, it is recommended that you start ‘Storyboarding’ your report will placeholders for figures and/or tables. This can be continually updated during the lab and data analysis phase. The objective is to work on a report in stages and not wait until all data collection and analysis is complete before starting work on the report.
During the time period that data is being collected and analyzed, students can be working one by one on storyboarding their reports with visualizations, schematics, plots and/or tables along with detailed figure captions. The method I use is to write a paragraph into the figure caption that will be the basis for my experimental section and another paragraph that will be the basis for my results and discussion section. The goal is that at the end of the data and analysis time period, you have a well storyboarded set of figures and detailed figure captions, along with a good draft of the introduction and citations from the prelab period.
Modern scientific journal articles and reports commonly try and keep the primary document brief and instead of putting all supporting information into the primary report or paper, this is compiled as a separate document or an appendix (commonly as ‘supporting information’. This method allows detailed about calculations, data analysis, error analysis and supporting or additional computational or experimental data to be included in detail without the issue of making the primary article or report to convoluted to easily follow the primary objective or conclusion. During the time period that data is being collected and analyzed is a good time to start a draft of the supporting information material.
Post-lab is primarily concerned with data and error analysis and then compiling everything into a report. If all the suggested steps above are followed, students should already be over half way to completion and have a well storyboarded report with detailed figures and associated captions that will make up the basis of the final document. I think this process is best demonstrated and will work on an explicit demonstration of this process.