14 Mar 2011

Communication-style lab reports

In-Class Activity

Submitted by Rebecca M. Jones, George Mason University

For the past four years, I have required my inorganic students to write short 3-page formal lab reports in the form of communication to the Journal of the American Chemical Society.  This exercise has relieved some of the stress on my students who are writing reports of other science classes and simplified my grading.  Using Jeffrey Kovac's Writing Across the Chemistry Curriculum: An Instructor's Handbook as a starting point, I have developed a rubric to provide qualitative feedback to the students on their reports.  I have attached the instructions which I distribute to the class on the first lab day and a copy of the rubric.  These communication-style lab reports could be implemented in all levels of chemistry classes.

Learning Goals: 

A student should be able to write a short summary of their laboratory experience and properly structure the contents of the report.  A student should be able to write a coherent abstract which summarizes the experiment and properly reference external literature. 

Implementation Notes: 

It is often helpful to discuss with the class the order in which the sections are written.  For example, students often try to write the introduction and/or abstract first since these sections fall at the beginning of the report.  My class has been more successful when told to write the experimental methods and results first, followed by the discussion, introduction and finally the abstract.  It has also been helpful to remind the students of the question that each section is trying to answer (noted in italics in the file); this helps them know how to order the content of the report.

Time Required: 
Due dates are scheduled at the beginning of the semester. After the experiment(s) is(are) performed, I allow at least one week for these reports to be completed.
Evaluation Methods: 

I use the attached rubric to provide qualitative feedback to the students.  The quantitative score comes from taking a holistic perspective on the class performance and assigning a numerical score which approximates the individual performance.  For example, a student with all "very good" and a few "good" on their rubric will probably score in the range of 80-89%.

Evaluation Results: 

The lab report handout has been helpful in simplifying the process of reporting results and many students have appreciated that the report is only 3 pages.  The rubric has been very successful and students have commented that they appreciate knowing what parts of the report they need to improve as well as the ones that are already good. 

Creative Commons License: 
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