In this laboratory course, your lab reports will follow the form and style of a formal scientific paper suitable for submission to a professional journal. A good paper is an organized description of hypotheses, methods, data, and conclusions designed to inform the reader while providing sufficient detail for the reader to critically evaluate the quality of the work Without a paper documenting a research effort, the work done is not truly science.1 Without peer review and criticism scientific knowledge has little authority. Without a detailed paper, peer review is not possible. Critical examination of a peer's work requires carefully presented data and independent replication. Detailed published methods, help others replicate the work. Detailed explanations for how results were interpreted, allow others to reach different conclusions that may have been overlooked by the authors. For scientific knowledge to exist, scientists must be able to write clearly, precisely, and include sufficient detail.

Before you begin writing, always read the assignment and the Grading Rubric to make sure that you are including everything that is required. Once you have finished your report, compare it to the Grading Rubric again. Completeness is the most important thing to remember when writing your reports. In this course, it is not uncommon to leave lab with poor the data cannot be interpreted. It is understood that an experiment may not work well when you are doing it for the first time. Because of this, the penalty for an "incorrect" result is minor. However, if all your figures are missing labels and your Discussion fails to state whether or not your effort achieved the purpose of the lab, your total score will drop a full letter grade!

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry considers the ACS Style Guide 2 to be the ultimate authority for the details of report writing. The ebook in PDF format is available on the D2L course site and at All advice in this document is consistent with the guidelines in that book.

Content of reports

Scientific papers are intentionally formulaic to facilitate the transfer of information to the reader. They consist of seven critical sections:  Abstract, Introduction, Experimental Procedures, Results, Discussion, Acknowledgements, and References. Within these sections, scientists have evolved reliable formulas to promote efficient communication. These are described in the corresponding sections of this document.

General formatting for reports

  • Always number the pages of manuscripts so that they can be easily reassembled in the correct order if they become detached, and so that the copy editor can refer to the locations of comments.
  • To help conserve paper and maximize readability, use the defaults found in Microsoft Word 2007 or later:
    • 1.0 inch margins on all sides
    • a sans serif font (such as Calibri or Arial) at 11 or 12 point
    • line spacing of 1.15.
  • Describe all work done in the past using the past tense.
  • You may use the present tense for any facts or conclusions that are generally true now and will be true in the future. However, if you are unsure of this distinction, it is safest to use the past tense throughout.

Models of reports

In this course, you will be held to similar standards that scientists hold their colleagues when submitting a research report for publication. The basis for your writing style will be the norms of the published literature for the course topic. You are encouraged to use peruse articles from recent issues of the journal listed in the table below to get a feeling for the requirements and learn by example.






General chemistry

Journal of the American Chemical Society

Consult your course specific writing guidelines before this guide as there may be minor differences.


Organic chemistry

Journal of Organic Chemistry






  1. Whitesides G.M. (2004) Whitesides' Group: Writing a Paper. Adv. Mater. 16(15):1375-1377. DOI: 10.1002/adma.200400767
  2. Coghill A.M., Garson L.R.The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information. American Chemical Society: Washington DC, 2006. DOI: 10.1021/bk-2006-STYG
  3. Whitesides G.M. (2004) Whitesides' Group: Writing a Paper. Adv. Mater. 16(15):1375-1377. DOI: 10.1002/adma.200400767
  4. Kamat P., Schatz G.C. (2013) How to Make Your Next Paper Scientifically Effective". J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 4 (9): 1578–1581. DOI: 10.1021/jz4006916