Name of Experiment
This section should provide the essential background needed to understand the experiment you performed. This section should provide an explanation as to why you are doing the experiment. At the very minimum, this section needs to explain the purpose of the experiment: the scientific principle, or hypothesis, the experiment is designed to test. However, it is often useful to provide some background (historical significance, modern use of the experiment, etc.) to help understand the experiment in a broader scientific context.
Experimental Design and Theoretical Background
This section should describe how the experiment is constructed. This might consist of a list of important experimental apparatus, but might also describe how the apparatus is assembled if it is being used in an unusual configuration. Also, if the experimental technique is unusual, meaning that it is not described in your textbook, you may need to provide some theoretical background to justify it.
This describes how you conducted the experiment. This section should provide enough detail for any competent experimenter to reproduce your results. You do not have to reproduce the experimental procedure section described in the lab manual, but you should provide a general overview of the procedure used, together with references to the lab manual. You absolutely must mention any departure from the lab manual procedure. For instance, if the lab manual says to heat a sample to 180 degrees and you find that you must heat the sample to 190 degrees for the experiment to be successful, then this fact must be recorded in both your lab notebook and lab report.
This section describes the data you collected. You should present the data organized coherently so that it may be easily interpreted. A series of data are usually presented in either tabular or graphical forms so that the data may be easily compared to each other and theoretical predictions. Sort tables of data by the independent variable(s) in the experiment so that trends in the data can be more easily recognized.
Like the Results section, this section is also used to discuss the data you collected, but here you will interpret your results. This usually requires some theoretical or statistical techniques. For example, the Results section might describe a set of weight measurements conducted during an experiment, while the Discussion section would analyze these measurements to reach the conclusion that mass was conserved during the experiment. Since there is always some experimental uncertainty in your measurements, you will often need to quantify this uncertainty in your discussion.
This section should provide answers to the questions asked in your Introduction: did you verify the hypothesis stated in your Introduction? What are the implications of your Results? Based on your results, what future experiments should be conducted? Are there subtle variations of this experiment that should be performed? Are there ways to fix the experimental design to make it easier to perform?
Anything that you did that does not come directly from your lab manual should be referenced. For instance, if you get stuck on part of the lab, you should feel free to ask another student for help, but you should also acknowledge that help in your report. You usually reference your lab manual in either the Experimental Design section or the Experimental Procedure section, so you usually do not need to cite it again in this section. Likewise, if there is a standard textbook that is used in a prerequisite course, it is often not required to cite the textbook. However, you are always permitted to cite these sources even when it is not required. If you need help in citing references, you may use the link below, which lists many different types of references.
It is often unclear when you must cite an equation. In general, all equations must be cited, but there are a few exceptions. If the equation is common knowledge, it need not be cited. For example, you need not cite Isaac Newton when you use the equation F=ma. You may assume that any equations in either your current course texts, or prerequisite course texts, are fairly common knowledge. Likewise, any equations in the lab manuals need not be cited. Also, you need not cite an equation if you can derive it from first principles and include the derivation in your paper (possibly as an appendix).