It can sometimes help students to think of the

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Unformatted text preview: uantitative. Replace vague statements like these with precise, quantitative ones. If there is a single “most important part” to quantitativeness, it is error analysis. This lab manual contains an appendix about error analysis; read it, understand it, and take it to heart. What Should I Put in My Lab Report? Structure your report like this. Abstract Think of the abstract as your report in miniature. Make it only a few sentences long. State the question you are trying to answer, the method you used to answer it, and your results. It is not an introduction. Your report should make sense in its absence. You do not need to include your prediction here. Introduction Do three things in your introduction. First, provide enough context so that your audience can understand the question that your report tries to answer. This typically involves a brief discussion of the hypothetical real-world scenario from the lab manual. Second, clearly state the question. Third, provide a brief statement of how you intend to answer it. It can sometimes help students to think of the introduction as the part justifying your report to your company or funding agency. Leave your reader with an understanding of what your experiment is and why it is important. Predictions Include the same predictions in your report that you made prior to the beginning of the experiment. They do not need to be correct. You will do the same amount of work whether they are correct or incorrect, and you will receive far more credit for an incorrect, wellrefuted prediction than for a correct, poorly-supported one. Your prediction will often be an equation or a graph. If so, discuss it in prose. 262 APPENDIX: GUIDE TO WRITING LAB REPORTS – 130x Procedure Explain what your actual experimental methodology was in the procedure section. Discuss the apparatus and techniques that you used to make your measurements. Exercise a little conservatism and wisdom when deciding what to include in this section. Include all of the information necessary for someone else to repeat the experiment, but only in the important ways. It is important that you measured the time for a cart to roll down a ramp through a length of one meter; it is not important who released the cart, how you chose to coordinate the person releasing it with the person timing it, or which one meter of the ramp you used. Omit any obvious steps. If you performed an experiment using some apparatus, it is obvious that you gathered the apparatus at some point. If you measured the current through a circuit, it is obvious that you hooked up the wires. One aspect of this which is frequently problematic for students is that a step is not necessarily important or nonobvious just because they find it difficult or time-consuming. Decide what is scientifically important, and then include only that in your report. Students approach this section in more incorrect ways than any other. Do not provide a bulleted list of the equipment. Do not present the procedure as a series of numbered steps. Do not use the second person or the imperative mood. Do not treat this section as though it is more important than the rest of the report. You should rarely make this the longest, most involved section. Data This should be your easiest section. Record your empirical measurements here: times, voltages, fits from MotionLab, etcetera. Do not use this as the report’s dumping ground for your raw data. Think about which measurements are important to your experiment and which ones are not. Only include data in processed form. Use tables, graphs, and etcetera, with helpful captions. Do not use long lists of measurements without logical grouping or order. Give the units and uncertainties in all of your measurements. This section is a bit of an exception to the “smoothly integrate figures and tables” rule. Include little to no prose here; most of the discussion belongs in the Analysis section. The distinction between the Data and Analysis sections exists mostly for your TA. Analysis Do the heavy lifting of your lab report in the Analysis section. Take the data from the Data section, scientifically analyze it, and finally answer the question you posed in your Introduction. Do this quantitatively. Your analysis will almost always amount to quantifying the errors in your measurements and in any theoretical calculations that you made in the Predictions section. Decide whether 263 APPENDIX: GUIDE TO WRITING LAB REPORTS – 130x the error intervals in your measurements and predictions are compatible. This manual contains an appendix about error analysis; read it for a description of how to do this. If your prediction turns out to be incorrect, then show that as the first part of your analysis. Propose the correct result and show that it is correct as the second part of your analysis. Finally, discuss any shortcomings of your procedure or analysis, such as sources of systematic error for which you did not account, approximations that are not necessarily valid, etcetera. Decide how badly these shortcomings affect your result. If yo...
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