Solid Earth System - Lab Reports

The purpose of this page is to describe what is expected in a lab report for this course. The first section is a non-exhaustive list of tips to consider in a lab report. It is subjective and not meant to represent everyone's ideas. However most of it is pretty fundamental. The second section is a description of the criteria used to evaluate lab reports in EES: Solid Earth Systems.

Lab Report Tips


The goal of a lab is to communicate ideas. To communicate ideas, people have to read your work. A title is the first step in getting them to read it. Make it snappy and interesting (but not silly). Your title should reflect your particular angle on the subject if you have one.

Technical level:

If you write using only technical vocabulary and skipping details, then non-specialists will not have a chance of understanding your work. You should write at a level understandable by your peers not in this class. If you use a word you did not know before you began the lab - you should explain it. Your roommate should be able to read your lab and understand it.


A rough length is stated for each lab. This is only a guide. If you are concise and specific you may be able to write with considerably fewer words. That is fine so long as you are not skipping details. If your lab grossly exceeds the stated length there is one of two explanations:

  1. You have had incredible insights into the material that require added length to fully describe.
  2. You were wordy or repetitive.

The first is desirable, the second is not.


If you are going to draw conclusions based on a data set, then you have to assure the reader that your data are reliable. The best way to do this is to state where it comes from. Was your soil data collected for a U.S. Geological Survey study or was it gathered by Ms. Stephanson's third-grade class for a science fair project? This is of particular concern when using data obtained from the web. It is so easy to post and retrieve that the original source may not be obvious. The danger here is clear.

Format and grammar:

Our lab questions are very open ended. This gives you the ability to organize your paper the way you want. If you want to spend a lot of time on one subject you think is important, then go for it. Your paper is more of an essay than lab reports you likely did in high school. The usual standards of essay writing apply. You should have an introduction (1-2 sentences is fine) and conclusion. Your paragraphs should be well defined and follow logically from one to the next. And, of course, all standards of spelling and grammar apply.

Observations vs. Interpretations:

A good lab distinguishes one from the other. Observations are those things actually observed in the data:

Ex: "The maximum recorded flow rate for the river was 23,000 ft3/s."

Interpretations are those explanations you provide for a given observation:

Ex: "A meteor may have destroyed the dam causing a flood downstream."

Interpretations are far more controversial than observations. To convince your readers that your conclusions are valid, you must provide a logical progression of ideas leading from you observations to your interpretations.

Ex: "A troop of girl scouts, hiking in the area, watched a ball of fire fall from the sky and strike the dam. All of them passed a lie detector test and three of them caught it on film."

Grading Criteria

You will be graded in three areas for each lab. These three parts are equally weighted and summed for one total. You can check each of these criteria for yourself to evaluate your paper before handing it in.


Did you...

Grammar and Style

Does your paper have...


This section evaluates insight above and beyond the basic ideas addressed in the lab. The write-up questions are there to get you started and to guide you in the right direction. It is up to you to discover and explain what you think is significant about the particular Earth process being explored. It is OK to include speculations; just be sure to treat them as such.

Updated August 11, 2004
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