July 3, 2014 - Tom Maylor

What is the Proper Tense Used to Write Lab Reports

While lab reports are a very popular type of assignment and no science course goes without them, there are way too many questions that arise in this regard. What is the proper Voice? How formal should the writer sound? Is it OK to use ‘I’ and ‘me’ or should one stick to ‘we’ and ‘us’? Finally, the largest problem is use of tenses – Present or Past? Or maybe even Future? Various universities set different requirements and their manuals are the first source you should resort to. If they are of no help, here is what you should remember:

  1. It is always more appropriate to use the Passive Voice. Instead of saying ‘I did it’ write ‘It was done’. In conversational and literary language it might sound unnatural and inexpressive, yet for lab reports it is just what you need.
  1. Although you might be tempted to use Past Tenses along the entire report, the general rule states that you should use Present for stating the goal of the report and describing relevant theory (they still exist so it is inappropriate to use Past in this case), while steps of the experiment itself have already been taken so it is better to describe them in Past rather than in Present.
  1. Be concise and formal. Explain all unknown terms before explaining the procedure itself. Add enough detail, yet assume that your reader has some knowledge in the area.

Just a few simple rules. Follow them and lab reports will not be your nightmare any longer.