FORMAL LAB REPORTS


The formal report documents the experiment that was performed and provides a detailed discussion of the results obtained and how those are important. It organizes and clarifies the information that can be found in a good lab notes, adding background material and a more detailed discussion of the results.  From such a report, a peer group of engineers (or engineering students) who are familiar with the same general subject matter should be able to reproduce the experiment and perform their own analysis, such that they could either verify or dispute your conclusions. Reports generally have three goals: 1) to justify the reasons for performing the experiment; 2) to record the results of the experiment; and 3) to allow others to evaluate the results.

You should consider your audience to be familiar with the general engineering background associated with your experiment, but none of the specifics. For instance, your target audience has a general background in heat transfer but only very limited or no specific knowledge of boiling. The report must incorporate grammatically correct sentences, correct spelling, and be structured in a clear and concise manner. In addition, it should contain publication-ready, professional graphics and illustrations.

Late reports will be penalized. The preferred method of submitting your lab reports is using the Classes web server. Please submit a single file containing all text and graphs. Please use a filename containing both your name and the name of the lab.

If you submit a hardcopy, please staple or clip together firmly all pages that you hand in, including printouts, if any.


Formal reports should contain the following components:

 

Title Page:

The title page should clearly display:

Abstract:

The abstract should contain one or two paragraphs which clearly and concisely present an overview of the report. Complete sentences must be used, not phrases. Nine out of ten readers will read only the abstract of an engineering report - therefore, it is imperative that clear, concise, to-the-point information be used. Include information on


Introduction and Background:

This section is written to provide the reader with all the background needed to appreciate why you did the experiment and to understand your results and conclusions. To accomplish this, you may need to provide a brief review of previous work or of relevant theoretical material, including appropriate references. The introduction should provide:

 

Main Body of the Report

The main body should consist of four sections: Objectives, Method, Results and Conclusions. Each section must be clearly identified with a heading. Write each section in a logical, coherent manner using complete sentences.
 

Objectives

Identify the main objective(s) of the experiment. You should be able to cover this section in one brief paragraph, i.e. two or three well written sentences. You may paraphrase statements found in lab handouts but do not copy them.
 

Methods and Procedures (not more than 2-3 pages)

Write about the general strategy used to obtain the data. Identify the equipment you have used and the data collection techniques. A schematic of the experiment is almost always necessary. Describe your procedures in such detail that the knowledgeable reader could reproduce your experiment or analyze potential flaws. The intent of this section is to:


Results and Discussion

Present all relevant observations you made, including any qualitative ones. Prepare graphs and tables that best display the results of the experiment and discuss them. For some experiments, you'll be acquiring a lot of data using the computer. Do not include these reams of raw numeric data in your lab report; present it in appropriate graphs and tables.

Indicate trends, analyze why they occur, and explain any significant features or differences from expected results. Do your measurements and calculated values make sense? If you have measured a physiologic parameter, does it fall within the normal range? If your data don't make sense, point out what possible problems might have occurred. Be as specific and quantitative as possible. Avoid the use of catch-all phrases such as "human error." Always comment on "wild" data points. Graphs and tables must be numbered and referenced in the text. More detailed information on graphs is given below.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Present the conclusions you draw from the results. All conclusions should be clearly stated and supported with evidence. Cite specific results and observations from the experiment and tie them to your conclusions. Summarize reasons for any disagreement between your results and the expected results. Recommend ways to correct problems that may have led to discrepancies or bad data points. Recommend any practical way of improving the experiment.

 

Graphs, Tables and Figures

Graphs and tables should be clear and logical. They should be free-standing and carefully labeled, so that the reader can understand them without referring to the text. Hence, you will have to choose figure captions and table titles carefully. Note that "x vs y" or anything similar is rarely appropriate - captions and titles should be descriptive of the experiment. Each graph should be properly scaled to display the variation legibly and drawn using standard data symbols and curve drawing techniques. Be sure to include plot labels, coordinate labels and units. Check whether your data will be better represented by a linear, semi-log or log plot. Figures should be included in the text in order to enhance the readability of the report and avoid forcing the reader to flip pages. The text should reference all figures and tables by number rather than by title. Don't use color unless absolutely necessary. Use the X axis for the known parameter and the Y axis for the variable under study.

Examples:  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/classes/bio542l/essays/graphtypes.html 

Additional Notes:

Reports will be graded largely on their ability to clearly communicate results and important conclusions to the reader. You must, of course, use proper English and spelling, along with comprehensible logic and appropriate style. You should proofread your report as well as spell-check it.

o        Neatness and organization will also influence the grade a report receives. Be sure to follow explicitly the format indicated above. Type reports, and attach lab notes as appendices.

o        Avoid being overly verbose and flowery when attempting to convey your point - be concise.

o        Avoid qualitative phrases such as "the results were quite close" or "heat fluxes were in good agreement with the correlation." Be as quantitative as possible.

o        Do not copy material without citing the source. This includes lab manuals, text books, your neighbor, old labs, etc. Plagiarism, of any degree, will not be accepted; you will be asked to redo the report and docked accordingly.

 

References:

Cite complete references for any information that you draw on.

 

Appendices: 

Appendices contain detailed information which is not necessary for the understanding of the key points in the body of the report, provided that the reader believes you when you state that "The details can be found in Appendix X." The appendix is where you must provide detailed documentation which is important to the experiment but too cumbersome for the general text. You should include Appendices on the following:

0.      A label identifying the calculation.

1.      Statement of the equation in symbolic form.

2.      Identification of variables (include units).

3.      Sufficient description that the readers can follow your work.

4.      Substitution of one set of numbers.

5.      Carry the units and USE THEM!!!

An example is shown below:
Heat Transfer Coefficient

h = q/(Ts - To )

h = heat transfer coefficient (W/m2C)

q = heat flux (W/m2)

Ts = surface temperature (C)

To = ambient temperature (C)

using numbers from the first data point:

h = (100)/(60-20) = 2.5 W/m2C

 

Do not include computations for every single data point as this gets messy and hard to follow.

 


Length of the report:

While different labs will vary in length, it is expected that no report would be longer than about 8 pages of text and may well be shorter. A concise report will likely be clearer. Avoid duplicate information unless absolutely necessary. Do not repeat experimental procedure descriptions when the procedure in part X was the same as in part Y. Simply refer back to the procedure used earlier.

 

Adapted from: http://www.me.umn.edu/courses/me4331/formal.html (Richard Goldstein)