Guidelines on the Laboratory Report

Your Lab Reports are the most important deliverables of this course.  A major outcome of the course is acquiring the ability to sort through a mass of information (of sometimes questionable reliability), make sense of it, compare it to what you expected to find, and communicate it to your colleagues.  Taken together, they are worth 60% of your grade.  You will spend an inordinate amount of your time coming to grips with your data and writing your report.  I will spend a distressing amount of my time evaluating your reports and critiquing them.  An important part of the scientific and engineering endeavor is peer review, in which the larger engineering community evaluates and critiques your work.  You will also be required to review some of your classmates work.  As your primary guide for report writing, please refer to the required text Reporting Results: A Practical Guide For Engineers And Scientists by David C. Van Aken and William Hosford.  I will also make available to you "good" and "bad examples of last year’s reports.

There will some individual reports, but most will be group reports.  Group reports are co-authored by everyone in the group,  not just compiled, but combined as a cohesive whole.  I will take off credit if I am able to tell where one student’s part ends and another student’s part begins.  Avoid the temptation to wait until the night before the due date before writing the report.  The due dates are known weeks in advance, so I will not be sympathetic with last-minute crises.

Please do not give your reports titles such as "Laboratory Unit 1" or  "Lab 3".  Instead the title should tell the reader what it is about, such as "Microstructure of Cu-P alloys" or “Sintering and Dielectric Properties of Barium Titanate”.  Your "Introduction" should state the problem and the technical questions you are addressing.  Tell the reader what you are attempting and which methods you will use. Write it as a technical report, not as a class assignment.  You should have a section on "Methods" where you discuss your equipment and procedures with a level of detail where an educated reader can reproduce your results.  Do not just put in a list of every step you did, and do not regurgitate the material in the laboratory instructions.

Your "Results" section should present the outcomes, arranged in a logical sequence that is easy for your reader to follow.  This is rarely the chronological sequence of what you did.  In a group report, be careful to combine each portion as a unified whole.  It should not look like a last-minute cut & paste combining sections from each individual.   The results are usually presented with Figures and Tables. Follow the format you see Van Aken & Hosford.  Figures should be clear.  They need informative captions.  Micrographs must have magnification markers.  If you are pointing out particular features, circles and arrows will help clarify your points. Plots should have clearly legible ordinate and abscissa, with numbers and legends that are easy to follow.  Data points must have error bars, or other indications of repeatability and accuracy.  Be careful about "significant figures" – don't say that the "fracture strength was 59.376596 MPa +/- 10 MPa" (if you do not understand what is wrong with this, ask me.)  Use color judiciously, since your readers might be looking at a black & white copy. Tables should have titles and clear legends.

Your "Discussion" is the most important part of your report.  Here is where you tell the reader what your results mean, and where present your technical reasoning.  How reliable are your data?  Are your results what you expected, or are they anomalous?  Uncertainty is OK, unexamined data are not OK.

The Summary is the "Conclusion" to your paper.  Here you repeat the conclusions that you formulated in the "Discussion" and summarize the results and analyses that supported them.  You do so because your discussion is detailed and subordinates the conclusions to the analysis.  Here, you focus on your conclusions.  A "Summary" is a succinct statement of the important information in your paper (and thus is quite different than your abstract).  It is written for persons who have read the paper, synthesizing your conclusions for your readers as a convenience for them.

References are bibliographic citations of publications and other materials actually cited in your report.

If you have large amounts of tabulated data, or a number of images, you could put them in an appendix, and refer to them as "Appendix A", etc.  Put what you consider essential information in your Appendices, but do not use them as undifferentiated data-dumps.