Guidelines for a Physics Lab Reports
A laboratory report has three main functions:
(1) To provide a record of the experiments and raw data included in the report,
(2) To provide sufficient information to reproduce or extend the data, and
(3) To analyze the data, present conclusions and make recommendations based on the
The single most important requirement for a laboratory report is clarity. Imagine that your
audience is one of your classmates who missed that experiment.
If you are using a word processor for your lab report, then use the spelling and grammar
checkers. The grammar check can be annoying because often technical sentences are wordy
and complex, but it will help you avoid using too many passive sentences. In general, passive
sentences are less understandable.
However, grammar check will not assess clarity, and it will
ignore simple errors.
(I do not doubt there are still mistakes in this document I have run it through
spelling and grammar checks.)
Many technical writers prefer to write sentences with passive verbs.
A simple example: “The
spring constant k was found from the slope to be 3.02 N/m.”
If you run this sentence through the
grammar check, it will tell you that “was found” is a verb in the passive voice.
To change this to
an active voice you could write: “The spring constant k is the slope, 3.02 N/m.”
sentence has to be in an active voice.
What you want is a report that is readable.
Lab Report Structure:
This page has the course number and assigned lab section, the title of the
experiment, your name, your lab partner’s names, the date that the lab was performed and
your TA’s name.
The purpose of an abstract in a scientific paper is to help a reader decide if your
paper is of interest to him/her. (This section is the executive summary in a corporation or
government report; it is often the only section that a manager reads.)
The abstract should be able to stand by itself, and it should be brief
Generally, it consists of
three parts which answer these questions:
What did you do? – A statement of the purpose of the experiment, a concise
description of the experiment and physics principles investigated.
What were your results? – Highlight the most significant results of the experiment.
What do these results tell you? – Depending on the type of experiment, this is
conclusions and implications of the results or it may be lessons learned form the
Write the abstract after all the other sections are completed. (You need to know everything in
the report before you can write a summary of it.)
For each experiment, the lab manual has one or more data sheets for
recording raw data, as well as, intermediate and final data values. These are not for doodling,
but for recording your data.
Record the data neatly in pen.
If your data values are so sloppily
recorded that you have to recopy them, then the accuracy of the data is questionable. This
fact will be reflected in your laboratory performance score. If there is a mistake, then draw a