8 May 2018

Developing Effective Lab Report Abstracts based on Literature Examples

Lab Experiment

Submitted by Katherine Nicole Crowder, University of Mary Washington

For inorganic lab, I have my students write their lab reports in the style of the journal Inorganic Chemistry. The first week of lab, we spend time in small groups looking at several examples of recent articles from Inorganic Chemistry, focusing mainly on the experimental section and the abstract (as these are included in every lab report). We then come back together as a class to have a discussion of each of the sections in the articles. We discuss what was included in each section, what wasn’t included, and the style, tone, tense, and voice of each section. I keep a running list of what we discuss to post on our CMS. It is a great opportunity to discuss the expectations for lab reports for this course (and they feel like they have a say in what they will be expected to include), and it is also a time to highlight what may be done slightly differently in inorganic versus some of the other sub-disciplines.

Following this discussion, I provide them with another current article from Inorganic Chemistry, except this time I have removed the abstract and all identifying information (authors, title, volume, page numbers, etc.) using editing (white boxes over the information) in pdf. Their assignment is to read through the article and then write their own title and abstract, keeping in mind the elements of our discussion as they write.

Since this is very early in the semester, I try to choose an interesting article that won’t be completely over their head. I also stress that they don’t have to completely understand the results to write about them, as they are usually summarized nicely in the conclusions section. Since I expect them to focus mainly on their results in their lab report abstracts, I try to choose articles that have a lot of numerical and spectral data to incorporate.

This year I chose

Systematic Doping of Cobalt into Layered Manganese Oxide Sheets Substantially Enhances Water Oxidation Catalysis

Ian G. McKendry, Akila C. Thenuwara, Samantha L. Shumlas, Haowei Peng, Yaroslav V. Aulin, Parameswara Rao Chinnam, Eric Borguet, Daniel R. Strongin, and Michael J. Zdilla

Inorganic Chemistry 2018 57 (2), 557-564

DOI: 10.1021/acs.inorgchem.7b01592

The students are evaluated based on their inclusion of the aspects of abstracts that we discussed, their summarization of the main findings of the article, and their grammar.

Learning Goals: 

A student should be able to:

  • Identify common aspects of sections of literature article examples, namely the abstract and experimental section
  • Read a current literature article from Inorganic Chemistry and identify the main findings in order to write their own abstract for the article
  • Use these experiences to guide their writing for lab reports for the inorganic lab course
Equipment needs: 


Implementation Notes: 

I bring 3-4 examples of articles that have abstracts that incorporate elements that I want them to include in their lab report abstracts. I bring 3-4 examples of articles that are mainly synthetic for their experimental sections, as that is what their labs will be mostly. I post these examples to our CMS after lab.

I split students into groups of 3-4 to look over the articles, then we come back together as whole class for the discussion. It is interesting to see what the different groups pick up on.

I bring my tablet to take notes on during the discussion, then post that on the CMS as well.

I have posted the discussion summary from this spring.

Links to the article I used for the abstract writing assignment and the articles I used for the in-class discussion are below.

Time Required: 
30-45 minutes
Evaluation Methods: 

I use a rubric that I have developed (see attached).

They are graded out of 50 points: 5 points per category on the rubric.

Evaluation Results: 

Most students score between 40-49 on this assignment. They mostly lose points for grammar, including things that they shouldn't (which hits them in two categories - conciseness and only relevant information included), and forgetting to write a title.

Creative Commons License: 
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