Main Page/PHYS 4210/How to Write Reports

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We provide some guidelines for the writing of laboratory reports. Keep in mind that the report should summarize the experiment as you understood and encountered it, so that a fellow student can obtain a good idea about the physics behind the experiment, as well as how your numbers were obtained. You will learn valuable writing and communication skills in this course that shall be useful beyond your university career. Reports have to be structured properly. The laboratory manuals conform to a similar structure except that they do not report and discuss results. Do not copy sections from the lab manuals; use your own words to introduce the physics and to describe the experiment. The structure of your report should be as follows (apart from the title page):

  1. Abstract.State briefly your method and the main results, if applicable with comparison to literature values.


    The results of a measurement of the gravitational constant using the Cavendish method are presented. We measured G to be (6.36 ± 0.8) x 10-11 N m2 kg-2, which is in agreement with the accepted (literature) value of 6.67259 x 10-11 N m2 kg-2.

    Note that the quotation of the estimated uncertainty of the experiment is listed in the abstract, since it backs up the claim of the agreement with the literature value, and permits the reader to make a quality assessment of your experimental method after reading the abstract.

  2. Introduction/Theory.. A concise review of the physics relevant to this experiment goes in here. Equations are labeled throughout so you can refer to them later. Long derivations should be put into an appendix with a reference to it in order to facilitate reading. Figures (even if from the lab manual) are labeled and referred to in the text.

  3. Procedure/Method.This is not a step-by-step set of instructions! You describe how you carried out the experiment. A thorough description of the apparatus used with diagrams (with label and caption) to which you refer in the text. Describe what you think were important details when carrying out the experiment; don’t get bogged down in trivia.

  4. Results/Analysis.Experimental data are summarized in tables (with label and caption). If the tables are very long, they can be placed in an appendix, which is the exception rather than the rule. In this case one gives an exemplary result table in the text, and puts the bulk into an appendix so that a reader can follow the section without searching all the time.

    Provide explanations where your numbers (particularly uncertainties!) are coming from. Carry out an error propagation analysis with an explicitly calculated example (possibly in an appendix). An error analysis includes an examination of the relative contributions of each error towards the final result so that one knows how to improve the experiment.

  5. Discussion/Conclusion.Summarize your experiment here and compare your results to the standard accepted value(s). Is the deviation within the estimated error bounds? Provide comments, if it is not. Answer questions that were asked in the lab manual (if this hasn't been covered before in the report). Conclude with remarks as to how the experiment could be improved/made more accurate (use your error analysis info for meaningful suggestions).

  6. References.A bibliography is a must. Number the positions and refer to them in the text.

  7. Appendices.Appendices help to carry details that inhibit reading your report. How much material should be deferred to appendices is a judgment call. Label them properly.

Each lab report will be graded out of 20. The marks will be assigned as follows:


Over the years, we have benefited from student feedback – since this is a work in progress, please let us know of any problems that you may encounter in the manual. We are continually exploring ideas for new experiments that may be topical and of interest to our undergraduates. We value your feedback and comments on all fronts.

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