Evaluation of Mock Lab Reports to Improve Science Writing
Copies of the mock lab reports used in this activity, the grading rubric students used to evaluate the mock lab reports and a guide for the order of discussing the lab report will be provided.
In this activity, upper-level science students critically examine three lab reports that contain many of the common problems instructors observe in student writing. These lab reports, written by the lab instructor, contain good examples of and problems with citations, organization, professional writing, displaying and interpreting data, etc. Students knew they were critiquing work that intentionally contains problems, creating a low-stakes environment where students could be highly critical without worrying about a peer's reaction as in a peer review exercise. Reading and discussing complete lab reports proved beneficial for students, as writing quality and, consequently, students' lab report grades, increased following this activity. To conclude this activity, students take on the role of the instructor and give feedback to the imaginary lab reports' authors, detailing positive traits and areas for improvement in comparison to the criteria specified in the provided rubric. Small prizes were given to the students who graded the mock lab reports most similarly to the instructor.
This activity was designed for a 400-level Human Physiology class. It should be noted that the experiment described in the mock lab reports was intentionally chosen because the subject and type of analysis described would be unfamiliar to nearly all undergraduate students. Students explored the mock lab reports over a series of weeks, considering a short section each week, with the instructor leading a discussion and guiding students to identify obvious and subtle positive and negative components of each.
Why It Works
The quality of student writing and, consequently, students' grades on their first lab reports, as compared to previous semesters, were improved after completing this activity. Several students stated that seeing positive and negative examples of various aspects of science writing in the format of a complete lab report helped them finally grasp feedback they've been given by instructors in past courses. Additionally, the students' discussion in class about the mock lab reports showed they were not only engaged in the activity but were challenged to think critically about their evaluation of the writing samples.