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Bangkok Christian College: Science Department

A Guide to Writing an
Engineering Lab Report

Physics: SC33205

Name: Teacher Nick

Student ID: 23313457

Submitted: 25/07/2018
Abstract
The following document is written to help M6 students understand how to write an engineering lab report.
The information presented is applicable to any scientific writing the student will encounter while they are
studying a science-based subject at university.

Section one of the document starts with general tips writing in English and details the common requirements
that lecturers set out for their write-ups. I have based this report mainly on the requirements of the Civil
Engineering department at Southampton University in the UK.

Section Two outlines the structure of a typical lab report, and discusses the necessities of each section.
Examples are provided, in order to make it clear to the reader.

Contents of Report

1.1 - General Advice for Writing Anything in English


1.2.1 – Ask Yourself Questions
1.2.2 – Follow These Rules
1. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
2. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. – (My favorite writing rule EVER)
3. Use every day English words unless you must use a scientific term
4. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything ridiculous

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -1-
1.2 - General Advice for Writing a Report

2 - Structure of the Lab Report


2.1 - Title Page
2.2– Abstract (Summary of Report)
2.3 – Introduction
2.4 – Aim
2.5 – Method (and Materials)
2.6 – Results and Discussion
2.7 – Conclusion

1.1 - General Advice for Writing Anything in English


A lab report must be concise. You’re not telling a story. Think of how we learned to answer exam questions
in Semester One. Be brief and use scientific language.

A lab report is often just four to eight pages long. Therefore, you must be careful and efficient in your
writing.

The following are some tips for writing. You can use these tips for any scientific/engineering assignment.
Or any English-based assignment:

1.2.1 – Ask Yourself Questions


Every sentence you write, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What am I trying to say?


2. What words will express briefly?
3. Could I put it more shortly?
4. Have I said anything that is unnecessary and ugly?

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -2-
1.2.2 – Follow These Rules
1. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
2. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. – (My favorite writing rule EVER)
3. Use every day English words unless you must use a scientific term
4. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything ridiculous

1.2 - General Advice for Writing a Report


1. The report should aim to inform the reader, not to give orders to them
2. Use Times New Roman font, and size ‘12’. This is an ugly font (I personally hate it) but it’s often
the mandatory font for the university.
3. Don’t use any silly colours. A lab report should be black and white.
4. Add page numbers. Lecturers are very strict on this.
5. Leave a good amount of space between paragraphs and sections. Three lines of space between
sections, and two lines of space between paragraphs is a good rule.
6. You must use captions to label any figures, tables or equations used in the report. Do not label
something as a ‘photo’ or ‘graph’. The only labels that exists in lab reports are ‘figures’, ‘tables’
and ‘equations’. Only those three.
a. You must reference them in the report, in bold. Do not write ‘See below’.
7. Do not write ‘I’ anywhere in the report. Do not use any pronouns or refer to yourself at all. It is not
a story; you are reporting what happened. (That’s why it’s called a report)
8. There are some great sample photos and examples of lab reports here: http://acccf.us/sample-lab-
report
9. Number section with clear headings (similarly to I have done in this document) (1.2, 1.3, 1.4…)
10. Use a footer: this usually has your full name, student ID and the course code
11. Don’t start new paragraphs at the bottom of pages. You don’t want small paragraphs to be split
over two pages. It’s much better to just leave some space at the bottom of a page. See Figures 1
and 2:

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -3-
Figure 1 - Bad: The paragraph is started at the bottom of a page, and split up

Figure 2 - Good: The paragraph is started on the page below

12. Use the ‘Justify’ margin format (Ctrl-J). This makes the edges look nicer, and is usually a university
requirement. This is shown in Figure 3:

Figure 3 - The 'Justify' margin format

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -4-
2 - Structure of the Lab Report
An engineering lab report contains the following sections:

 2.1 – Title Page


 2.2 - Abstract (Summary of Report)
 2.3 - Introduction
 2.4 - Aim
 2.5 - Method (and Materials)
 2.6 - Results and Discussion
 2.7 - Conclusions

2.1 - Title Page


The title page should include:

1. The name of the unit


2. The name of the experiment
3. The date you did the experimental work, and the submission date
4. The names and ID numbers of students in the group and
5. The name of the lab.

Do not include any pictures or colour. Figure 4 shows a great title page

Figure 4 - The perfect title page

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -5-
2.2– Abstract (Summary of Report)
The abstract is a summary of your lab report. It is a paragraph which briefly outlines the entire report. This
is the first section of the report, but you should write it last. Do not go into unnecessary detail. Think of
the summary you read on the back of a book, it should be no longer than that.

This is a summary of everything in the report. It is not a conclusion.

2.3 – Introduction
This section introduces the reader to the experiment and briefly outlines theory and background information
relevant to the experiment. You must state any relevant laws, equations and theorems you will be using
or investigating, and you need to explain the different analyses used, such as nodal analysis and mesh
analysis. Make sure you label your equations ‘Equation 1’, ‘Equation 2’ etc…

2.4 – Aim
This section states the aims of the experiment. You need to be careful with grammar and tenses:

 The present simple is used to state the aim and permanent states.
 The past simple is used to refer to previous experiments
 Try to avoid other tenses unless you absolutely have to use them

In any experiment, you aim to do something. You must start the aim with the verb form ‘to + verb’. For
example, you aim to verify, to investigate, to measure, to determine, to compare or to calculate. Try to
avoid gerunds and nouns (these typically end in ‘ion’, and ‘ing)

Aims can be written either in point form or in complete sentences.

Here are some good examples of aims written in point form (notice how each sentence starts with ‘to +
verb’):

Aims

 To measure the resistance of a specimen of wire.


 To determine the resistivity of iron.

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -6-
 To compare the resistance of a copper wire to that of an iron wire

Here is a good example of an aim written in complete sentences:

Aim: The aim of the experiment is to determine the resistivity of iron by measuring the resistance
of a specimen of wire.

Here are some bad examples of aims written in point form:

Aims

 Measurement the resistance of a specimen of wire.


 Determining the resistivity of iron.
 I will compare the resistance of a copper wire to that of an iron wire

Here is a bad example of an aim written in complete sentences:

Aim: My experiment is about determining the resistivity of iron by measuring the resistance of a
specimen of wire.

2.5 – Method (and Materials)


Be careful with grammar. The past simple is mainly used for experimental procedure because the
experiment happened in the past and is finished.

However, the present simple may be used to explain a figure, equation or table, or to explain the permanent
qualities of a material being tested.

This section briefly reports the steps that you followed in carrying out the experiment. Do not repeat word-
for-word what is in the lab notes but concisely summarise in your own words the key steps which were
taken in the experiment.

 The method section describes what was actually done. Write the verbs in past simple
 Use the passive voice. (e.g: were connected, was measured, was calculated). Do not use the active
or refer to yourself with ‘I’ (e.g: ‘I connected the wires’)

The method is like a set of instructions, but in the past.

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -7-
Here are two brief examples for an experiment which finds the density of a steel sphere:

Good Example

1. First the zero reading of the balance was found.


2. Then the sphere was put in the left pan and weights were added to the right pan to bring the pointer
to zero. In this way the apparent mass was found.
3. The density was calculated by dividing the apparent mass by the known volume of water, which
was measured as 50cm3 from the measuring cylinder.

Bad example

1. I zeroed the reading on the balance.


2. I then put the sphere in the left pan and added weights to the right pan. Then the pointer went to
zero. I found the apparent mass from this.
3. I found the density by dividing the mass by the volume.

2.6 – Results and Discussion


The present simple is used to explain what a table shows, the past simple to state what the findings were.

In the Results and Discussion section, you present your results and discuss them by:

 Commenting on the results obtained


 Interpreting what the results mean and
 Explaining any results which are unexpected.

You present the measurements made in the experiment and you then compare your measurements to the
calculations you made in your preliminary work or the published theoretical values.

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -8-
You need to:

 Identify any discrepancies and


 State them as a percentage.

You also need to:

 Identify any sources of error in your measurements and


 If possible, suggest how your experiment could have been performed more accurately.

What should you aim for?

 Clear comparisons made between the calculations and the measurements with the discrepancy
expressed as a percentage.

 Good explanation of the possible reasons for the discrepancy and the possible sources of error in
the measurements.

For the discussion of the results, you can use modal verbs, such as ‘may’, ‘might’ and ‘should’. These are
good because they do not show tense.

2.7 – Conclusion
The present perfect may be used to state “This report has shown…”. The past simple is used to state what
was done or found. Modal verbs might be used to suggest further study or add caution, be sure to use them.

This section states whether the aims of the experiment were achieved or not, and briefly summarises the
key findings.

In the Conclusions of this kind of report you need to:

 Comment on how closely your measurements and calculations agree and


 Summarise the main reasons for any discrepancies.

Teacher Nick Student ID: 23313457 Bangkok Christian College: SC33205 -9-