Laboratory Report Writing Guidelines For Engineering Students Rationale Traditionally, report writing is covered in the all engineering courses. In recent years it has been noted that the format required for laboratory reports within various schools has been misunderstood by a number of students. This document seeks to clarify the required structure of laboratory reports and will be effective in most schools. If your school has a differing report format, please seek advice from the lecturer first, however, the material that should be included in the sections is general to all laboratory reports. Report Structure (In Brief) Each laboratory report submitted by a student regardless of year of study should be structured in the following order: Cover page Abstract Table of Contents Introduction Experimental Procedure Results Discussion Conclusions Recommendations References Appendices Addenda Further details of the layout and contents of each section follows. Cover Page This should show the title of the report, name (and student number) of the author, module code of the practical work carried out, name of the supervisor and date of submission. This page should not be numbered in any way Abstract Also known as the synopsis or summary, this is a most important part of any report. The abstract should not normally exceed a length of 300 words and should summarize the aims and main findings of the practical report. The abstract should always be written after the rest of the report has been finalized and should allow the reader to understand what is contained inside (the main ideas) without having to read the entire report. The page should be directly after the cover page and should not be numbered. Table of Contents The first page of the report is the beginning of the introduction (i.e. page one) despite there being a cover page, abstract and table of contents. The table of contents (which would normally be accompanied by a separate list of figures, a separate list of tables and a nomenclature table) is fairly self explanatory. The tables and lists may be numbered in Roman numerals (i. ii. Etc.). Introduction This is the first page to be properly numbered. Page numbers should be automatically added by the word processing package (go to Insert, Page Numbers in MSWord) and should be either at the centre or the right of the bottom of the page. This section outlines the aims or objectives of the work undertaken. As the work has been carried out by the time the report is written, it, like all other parts of the report, should be in the past tense. Additionally, the passive voice should be used in all technical report writing as it places the emphasis on the work rather than the individuals. Theoretical Background This should outline the theoretical background of the work that was carried out. The ‘theory’ section is not simply a list of equations used but should justify their use and properly cite the original work from which they were taken. For large project reports this ‘theory’ section becomes a literature review and has a section which concludes (or summarizes) the background and what will be investigated in light of the work carried out by others. Citation is very important here and is covered in the referencing section. Experimental Procedure Should be brief and to the point. If it were necessary to perform twenty steps to gain one reading these may be listed in the appendices. What is most important here is to describe the experimental set-up used (include diagrams or photographs where they are relevant) and to explain what data was collected for analyses. Details of safety equipment used (e.g. hard hats or goggles) and safety procedures followed should be included as an appendix (see later). Results These are the main results determined. For example if you had to perform twenty calculation procedures to transform the data to its present state you need only include the final data points. If possible, these should be represented as graphs or in tabular form. SAMPLE CALCULATIONS SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE APPENDICES. These are the results which you now have to discuss to fulfill the aims of the experiment. Discussion This is the most important section of the main body of the report. This section should demonstrate your understanding of the work carried out, compare your results with those which could be found in the literature (don’t forget to cite references correctly), and show logical deduction on your part. This is where you argue your case for what the results represent. Have they backed up previous studies or theories? If not, do they prove or disprove those or other theories? Why (possibly) do they differ from theoretical results which may be expected? Please note that if possible errors are causing a deviation from ideality these must be justified in MEASURABLE terms. What is the compounded error for each data point, how did the errors occur and what magnitude does each have? Conclusions Simple bullet points which summarize your findings What are the main relationships between the data points Which theory do or don’t they agree with What are the answers to each of the research questions Recommendations Only those which suggest further experimentation to further clarify the research questions should be included. If there is a problem with a piece of equipment not functioning you should immediately inform the demonstrator and make sure it is fixed before you start your practical. References Please refer to literature regarding the Harvard referencing system for further details. What follows is necessarily brief: In the text You must cite the source of any information which you did not originate. For example, if you use a specific piece of data (eg. a thermal conductivity) you must state where it came from in the following way – (Author, year, page number) More than two authors should be (Primary Author et al., year, page): thermal conductivity data for metals at room temperatures suggest that silver has a favourable conductivity of 424W.m-1.K-1 (Perry and Green, 1984 p3-261) If you wish to quote then use quotation marks. Usually, this would only happen if a specific statement was being made or a novel is being cited. In the reference section You must provide all the information necessary for another person to be able to find the reference in a library. The standard system for Harvard referencing is to list: Author(s) (Year) Title Journal Volume No. (Issue No.) Pages Author(s) (Year) Title Edition Published at: Publisher Pages for a journal for a book Author(s) (Year) Title [online] Place of Publication: Publisher (if available) Available at URL [Accessed date] for a website In each case, the Author name should be Surname, Initials and Author, Initials listing each author in turn. INCORRECT REFERENCING IS THEFT OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND IS AN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED LEGAL OFFENCE. Appendices Must be referenced in the main body of the report (e.g. For raw data and calculation procedures please refer to Appendix A pA4-A8). Would normally include: Raw Data Sample calculations detailing calculation procedures Safety precautions taken Any experimental procedure that requires many steps Addenda Are additional findings which have been deduced from investigations since the original work was carried out. Usually a short summary format is used. These are unlikely to be used in laboratory report writing at university.