Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Date of this Version



Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy (2008-2009) 20(8)

A publication of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Copyright 2009, Paul E. Bennett, Jr. Used by permission


An often-stated goal of education in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields is to teach students to communicate like professionals. In the STEM fields, the single most important thing we can do to teach our students better communication skills is to teach them how to write a lab report. The reason a lab report is so important is not just because it is the end product of a research project, but because each section of a lab report has a particular function that often correlates with different types of communication that a STEM professional needs to use. For instance, the paper’s abstract is the same as a brief summary often included in reports, on websites, in news briefs, and which is shared with prospective students. The introduction contains information needed to justify why they're doing their work, which is an important component of a grant proposal. The data and results section is the information that is needed to determine where a research project should go next. This section is also an important component of a grant proposal, because it shows that a researcher actually can do the research proposed. The conclusions and summary section matches the type of information needed to show new students the models and future experiments that they will be working on. While this is not a complete listing of all the functions of a lab report, it should give an idea of its complexity.