The Evil Tutor’s Guide To Writing Lab Reports

The Evil Tutor’s Guide has been created in the surrounding of the Department of Physiology at the University of Western Australia. The lab report marking in the second year saw many a tutor growing tired of marking the same mistakes over and over again. The Evil Tutor’s Guide illustrates how to fail properly and what to do to get really the lowest marks.

Part 1: Graph formats

Make your graphs as big as possible. Preferably use the whole page, with the edges of the paper actually being the axes, so you don’t need to draw the axes and everything is as clear and big as possible.

Obviously there is no room left for any captions or legends, so don’t bother putting them in, after all the graph is big enough.

If you fail to make the figures full-scale, you can alternatively make them really small. Label everything (you have been told often enough), but use either large, indecipherable handwriting or microscopic print.

General Tip #1:

Handdrawn graph

If you draw your figures by hand, do not use a ruler. If you had wanted to draw a sterile, clinical looking graph, you would have used a computer!

General Tip #2:

Make the data points as small as possible. You know you have succeeded when your data points are indistinguishable from fly feces.

In this case it also helps to not connect the data points. After all, that’s why they are called data points, not data lines!

General Tip #3:

Graph with trend and outlier

If the graph’s purpose is to identify trends, do not draw a trend line. Even better, do not mention any trends in your whole report. If you have to draw a trend line, make it totally arbitrary. It looks professional to mark a few data points as outliers. Choose your outliers randomly. Avoid explaining why you consider them being outliers.

General Tip #4:

Always demonstrate your artistic talent and produce graphs unique in format, expression and content. By all means, avoid boring, square graph formats. For example, make one axis much longer than the other.
very wide graph

Part 2: Data points

Data points - oh mystery of data points! Hide them well, and don’t confuse the issue by using different symbols for different data sets.

Graph_1

Good style is to omit the data points, but only draw a wiggly curve that starts and ends somewhere for no apparent reason. Claim that there once were data points under the curve, but the whiteboard marker pen that you used to draw the curve obviously makes it hard to see the data points which were put in by pencil.

Graph with loop

If you connect the data points, do so in random order. Impress your tutor with your thorough understanding of quantum electrodynamics when you allow data points to go back in time. Having the occasional loop in the your graph looks cool too.

Graph with arbitrary continuation

Use wiggly curves to connect the data points; this leaves you room for interpretation. Continue your wiggly curve far beyond the data points, this way you demonstrate that you know what the data would be like if you had measured them, which, in fact, is why you didn’t bother measuring them in the first place.

Part 3: Axes, Units, Dimensions

When you draw the axes, you have several options to make your graph more interesting. For example, try putting the dependent variable (the one you measured) onto the x-axis. Surely your tutor will appreciate a bit of a variation from the norm.

Graph with bad origin

Make sure you have professional axes starting at the 0/0 origin. If you have measured something at three different temperatures, like 25 C, 30 C, and 35 C, make sure your x-axis starts at 0 C. You can demonstrate your genius by using Kelvin and still make your graph start at 0.

You are often reminded to put proper units on the graphs. Nobody told you to put divisions in there, hehe! When confronted with the fact that the axis doesn’t have divisions, just blame the software you used.

Graph_axes2

Put proper divisions and tick marks, even put the unit under it, but trick out your tutor by not labeling the divisions, so it remains unclear whether the tick marks indicate 1,2,3 or maybe 10,20,30.

graph_axes3

When forced to label the axes, comply by labeling them with the right units, but have your revenge by leaving out the dimensions.

Graph_axes4

Make sure the x axis doesn’t follow a linear, log or any other known function. For example, when your results are x/y pairs (as opposed to equidistant x values) use Microsoft Excel, choose the wrong graph type and say “but the software did it like that” as an excuse. Put the icing on the cake by drawing the wrong conclusions from your graph because of the distorted shape of the graph due to the non-linear axis.

Part 4: Titles, Legends, Captions

If you have several graphs, paste them all together without descriptive text. This makes it more interesting for your tutor.

Don’t write too much in the legend that describes the figure. This is what the text of the result section is for. (Make your teacher go look for it!)

Write clever legends. You have been advised to use an accurate and concise style, therefore following excerpts are great ways to start a figure legend: “This is a diagram which shows that….” or “Shows voltage vs time.”

Don’t give figure titles. Your graphs are clear anyway, and it’s obvious from the context what the graphs show. If you have to title your graphs, use titles that only make sense in the context, such as “After crush” or “chart recorder trace”. Better, use these as legends and don’t give titles. Imagine writing a monster legend like “Monophasic action potential in a toad sciatic nerve observed after crushing the nerve between the extracellular recording electrodes”. Brrr!!!

You understood the last paragraph when you now think to yourself:

If you copied a figure from a book into your report, do not supply the source. After all, YOU copied it, so it is your work.

Part 5: Referring to Figures

First of all, do not number the figures. If you accidentally numbered them, make sure they are out of order and have some figures missing. This way you encourage your tutor to spend the appropriate time with your report. You spent an hour writing the report, so make your tutor spend an hour marking it too!

Refer to the figures in innovative ways: State “as clearly shown in Figure 3, blah blah” and make sure that:

The End.