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How to Report on an Experiment

A laboratory report should communicate, as clearly and concisely as possible, the rationale for the experiment, what was done, what the results were and what the results mean. On the basis of a report on an experiment a reader should, basically, be able to repeat it and get similar results. The report should be as short and simple as possible to accomplish these ends; it takes practice to learn how to write a technical report which does this well. Any report must have certain content to accomplish the above purpose and to facilitate the administration of the course. While the specific format outlined below is not essential for this, it is one way to accomplish it and students should find following it to be useful and instructive. However, as long as the objectives above are accomplished, this scheme may be reasonably modified for certain labs if desired. For instance, if an experiment has several parts which use different apparatus or if the same apparatus is used to do several different experiments, the material in some sections may need to be repeated for the various different situations and this should be organized in the most suitable way. Sections of a laboratory report: A laboratory report usually has several sections identified by titles. A typical report would include such sections as TITLE PAGE, SUMMARY, THEORY, EXPERIMENT, DATA ANALYSIS, DISCUSSION/CONCLUSIONS, REFERENCES, REMARKS, APPENDICES. If you are using a computer to type your work, section headings should be in boldface. Take a new page for each section. Use Microsoft WORD and EXCEL etc. Title: The title can usually draw attention of the reader to your work. It should clearly represent the work presented. If the purpose of the experiment is to measure the gravitational acceleration of the earth using pendulum as the experimental apparatus, the title should be like Measurement of the Gravitational Acceleration Using Simple Pendulum. Avoid The as the first word in the title for it will lead to misleading searches when one uses the database. Summary: Give a short (no more than two hundred words) description of the object of the experiment and a statement of your principal results. Theory: Start with the motivation (or reason) for the experiment. Follow this with the theory behind the experiment. Give a brief presentation, in your own words, of the essential ideas behind the experiment. Include only the most important formulas (explaining the meaning of any symbols used). Do not give any derivations unless they are original. The purpose is just to establish the context of the experiment and state, for reference, the relations you will be using in analyzing

How to Report on an Experiment

your data. (The proverbial interested reader should be able to look up details elsewhere on the basis of your outline.) One paragraph, in good English, should suffice. Experiment: Succinctly describe, in your own words, the apparatus used and the procedures followed to get your results. It is best to do this without reference to the lab manual. Relying on your own memory is more authentic and provides practice for your powers of observation. Tell what you did so that someone else could duplicate it from your description. This is an instructive exercise, for your benefit, in attending to and understanding facts in a scientific manner and to give you practice in describing them intelligibly. Think of your reader as an intelligent student who has not done the experiment. You should demonstrate clearly that you know and understand what you did and can articulate it simply. Often the simplest and clearest way to explain something is to give a schematic drawing. This means a drawing without the details that are not essential to the point you are trying to communicate. For example, in discussing the motion of a car,

is more appropriate than,

because the essence is that something is moving from one place to another and the details of the object moving are irrelevant. It is important to gain the skill of realizing and illustrating the essence of a situation. Data Analysis: Give one example of each calculation made; it should be clear that you understand what you are doing. You may do the other calculations separately and include only the final results. For your own benefit (and for the instructors sanity): BE NEAT! When you present data ALWAYS include an estimate of the error. Clearly state the results you obtain. Data should be presented in an organized form, such as in tables, charts and graphs, and stated in correct SI units. When appropriate, experimental data should be compared to theoretical predictions and calculations. Include the error analysis

How to Report on an Experiment

Discussion/Conclusions: Summarize, in a page or two, what you conclude from the results of your experiment and whether they are what you expected them to be. Compare the results with theoretical expectations and include percent error when appropriate. Don't use terms such as "fairly close" and "pretty good;" give explicit quantitative deviations from the expected result. Evaluate whether these deviations fall within your expected errors and state possible explanations for unusual deviations. Discuss and comment on the results and conclusions drawn, including the sources of the errors and the methods used for estimating them. Include brief answers to the specific questions asked in the lab instructions. References: All references should be list according to standard format. Remarks: Please critique the experiment as presented in the lab manual. Could the lab be done in a better way? Do you have some other or original method for obtaining the same results? Your suggestions are encouraged and are used to improve the lab manual. Appendix: Only use this if a long indirect explanation is required in one of the above sections.