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In science and engineering classes involving a "practical" lab, students are often required to write some kind of "lab report," typically describing the procedure and results of the lab experiment.

Is there any research on the pedagogical benefit of having students at the graduate level write lab reports?

(I've seen some on K-12 education and a little bit about undergraduate education, but couldn't find anything relevant to graduate students.)

I am especially interested in research that describes how students learn by writing lab reports, and what parts of this exercise benefit them most. For example, what is the benefit of having students write a full lab report vs. just reporting their results? I read this paper which asserts (tangentially) that "very little is learned by rephrasing the written procedure," and I am wondering if anybody has formally studied this.


This is a question: I am looking for a citation+brief summary of a research study, not personal opinions.

  • This seems extremely broad. Is it on-topic to ask us to do your lit review? – Austin Henley Mar 6 '15 at 19:52
  • @Austin If you think the underlying question ("What are the pedagogical benefits of lab reports for grad students?" is too broad, fine (vote to close in that case); but asking for answers supported by a citation does not make an otherwise acceptable question off topic. (See reference-request) – ff524 Mar 6 '15 at 19:57
  • There probably isn't any research on it, as I don't recall anyone actually having practical labs with a research paper in grad school (they would probably be doing actual research). That being said, a lab report is more of a gradable assignment that is supposed to roughly mirror a real-world paper in a very small form, is it not? – Compass Mar 6 '15 at 20:33
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    @Compass In a taught (coursework-based) masters program, practical labs with lab reports (similar to undergrad lab reports) are very common. – ff524 Mar 6 '15 at 20:37
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    @Tim The undergrad curriculum in general tends to focus more on soft & general skills (e.g. technical writing), and some of the rationale for lab reports is that it gives students more practice in those skills. The graduate curriculum tends to be more content-focused, with some explicit efforts to teach graduate-level skills (like research methodology, presenting research results) but there's an expectation that grad students are already competent at the more general skills that we try to impart to undergrads. – ff524 Mar 17 '15 at 0:02
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There is research to graduate student's teaching skill:

  1. Graduate Students’ Teaching Experiences Improve Their Methodological Research Skills (link)

And research to lab reports, evaluating the reports and how reports are viewed:

  1. Using the Science Writing Heuristic in the General Chemistry Laboratory To Improve Students' Academic Performance (link)
  2. Development of a ‘universal’ rubric for assessing undergraduates’ scientific reasoning skills using scientific writing (link)
  3. “As You're Writing, You Have these Epiphanies” - What College Students Say about Writing and Learning in their Majors (link)
  4. The Laboratory Report: A Pedagogical Tool in College Science Courses (link)
  5. Writing-To-Teach: A New Pedagogical Approach To Elicit Explanative Writing from Undergraduate Chemistry Students (link)

If a paper you found is interesting, use Google Scholar to search for that title and click 'Cited by' to see other papers that refer that paper. Then you might find more interesting papers. For example, for papers that cite item 3 probably use this rubric or relate to the use of lab reports: (link).

I'm not in this area of research, so it's hard for me to find the right papers and I'm not 100% sure what you look for. Some of the links above require university access to read the full paper.

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  • While not strictly about graduate students, these are some interesting resources about lab reports in a university setting. Thanks! – ff524 Mar 17 '15 at 1:28
  • Finding such specific study about graduate students, lab report writing AND their benefits, I think is almost like finding a needle in a haystack. Unless someone has actually been involved in such specific study and knows the exact paper he/she has written, of course. – DoubleYou Mar 17 '15 at 2:57
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http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED286205.pdf There was too much to cite, but I think this addresses the issue. If not, I'm sorry.

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    Does this have anything relevant for graduate students? I skimmed the first few pages and it seemed like it was pointing at K-12... – jakebeal Mar 8 '15 at 14:10
  • I was looking at the general stuff in sections 2-3, but I see what you mean. Thank you for telling me. – ScienceGuru Mar 8 '15 at 14:17

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