Guidelines for Lab Reports in Physics
You should know the routine fairly well by now. But I will outline the basics of writing up a lab report in my class. First, only use blue or black pen. If you make a mistake simply cross it out and move on. Use a ruler or straightedge for all headings, tables and graphs. Underline section headings and indent all writing past the headings.
Here’s a quick rundown of the parts of a lab report.
Title: The majority of the time the labs will already have a title. Simply write it at the top of the first page of the lab and underline it. Also put the date you began the lab in the top right corner.
Purpose: A one or two sentence explanation of why you are performing the experiment.
Materials: In this section you will list what is needed to perform the experiment. In addition, in any lab in which you set up an
apparatus you should include a sketch in this section.
Procedure: In this section you write the steps that will be taken to perform the experiment, IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Merely copying the procedure will lower your lab grade and will not help you understand exactly what you will be doing. Also you need to know what you are doing so you will be ready for the lab quiz.
Data: In this section record any important measurements, observations and data that you collect. Tables and graphs should be placed in this section. Make sure you use the proper measurement and always state the units.
Analysis: Answer any questions that were placed in the lab. Use complete sentences.
Conclusion: The data tells the reader what happened. In your conclusion you should explain WHY it happened. Demonstrate an understanding of the lab and what you did here. Stay away from “we measured velocity with a stopwatch and a ramp. I learned a lot about velocity and how to use a stopwatch” type conclusions. Don’t repeat the procedure as a conclusion. If you have trouble don’t worry. After the first lab I will pass out an example of a good lab report.
Error Analysis: Explain any factors that may have influenced your data. Systematic errors are the most helpful. Explain not only why they affected the experiment but how. Be specific! Did the error make your weight measurement too high? Too low? Etc.
You can list experimental errors but stay away from “we messed up the lab” or we had errors because my lab partners don’t’ know what they’re doing” type comments.