Tips for writing organic chemistry lab reports

As to properly reference the authors, here is a guide from Lynchburg College on how to write a science report well.

A Few General Characteristics of Good Writing in Chemistry

1.  Clear.  This is perhaps the most important characteristic of all writing, but is especially important when detailed, complicated experimental data is discussed.  Be sure you say what you mean and mean what you say.   Use short sentences and get to the point.

2.  Dispassionate.  Good scientific writing is free of bias and personal opinion.  Report the facts.

3.  Mechanically sound.  This goes without saying.  If your writing is free of grammatical and spelling errors, it is easier for the reader to understand.

4.  Documented.  Statements and conclusions are supported by data, not feelings or opinions.  If your data are inconclusive, it is better to state this than to force the data to fit some hypothesis or literature value.

Other hints and suggestions for written work in chemistry:

  • Do not use first person (“I,” “we,” etc.). Use the past tense (you did the experiment already).
  • Do not be verbose.  Get to the point!
  • Do not start a sentence with a number unless it is part of a chemical name.
  • Do not capitalize the names of chemicals unless you are beginning a sentence.
  • Do not use the words or phrases “basically,” “dealt with,” “dealing with,” “create(d).” Leave bases to baseball and solutions with pH > 7; leave dealing to Las Vegas and Atlantic City; and leave creating to the Fine Arts department.
  • Regardless of  what your spell-checker says, “absorbency” is not a word unless we are analyzing diapers.  Always use “absorbance.”
  • Do not say things like “the goal of this experiment was to introduce to the student the technique of chromatography.”  Say “Carotenoids were purified using chromatography.” Leave the student out of the discussion.  Everyone knows you are a student. Tell the reader what you DID and HOW you did it.
  • Use the words “precise” and “accurate” correctly.  Accuracy refers to how close your value is to the standard or known value.  Precision refers to how close together your results are; data cannot be precise unless you have done more than one trial.
  • Use the words “clear” and “colorless” correctly.  Water is clear and colorless.  Sunglasses are clear and green.  Milk is cloudy and colorless (white).  Muddy water is cloudy and brown.
  • Report data and results with units and with the appropriate number of significant figures.
  • Do not include statements of opinion.  For example, stating that the experiment was difficult or tedious is your opinion and does not belong in a reporting of the results of your study.
  • The literature value of a physical property is just that; it is not the “literary” value.
  • Use numbered endnotes for referencing.  You need to reference anything you have to look up, even if it is in your textbook, the lab manual, or the CRC handbook or Aldrich catalog.
  • Please run the spell-checker.
  • Please staple together the pages of your reports.

Dr. Michael Pa got a bachelors degree in chemistry from Binghamton University, a masters degree in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona. His research focus was on novel pain killers which were more potent than morphine but designed to have fewer side effects. There may even be a patent or two that came out of it. Prior to all of this, he was a chemist at Procter and Gamble. After all of that, he (briefly) worked as a post-doctoral assistant at Syracuse University, working on novel organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). In between, he did NOT compete at the 1996 Olympics, make the Atlanta Braves opening day roster, or become the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, as he had intended. #fail During this entire time, he always loved helping students, especially if they were struggling with organic chemistry. In 2006, Dr. Pa founded in order to make learning organic chemistry fast and easy. 14 years and about 60,000 students later we are still helping students to learn organic chemistry one reaction at a time at

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