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Lab Reports

Although engineering and science students are frequently required to write laboratory reports, there is little printed information available about how to write such reports. Furthermore, every discipline, every course, and every professor seems to require a different format and style, and different kinds of laboratory experiments are often reported in different ways. Hence, it is impossible for this handout to describe one right way to compose a lab report.

What this handout does describe is a generally applicable format for the lab report, leaving you to adapt this format to your particular situation. That is, you can vary the format according to what is most appropriate for the lab work you’re doing. Always check with your professor or TA about the specific format he or she desires.

Title Page

The title page provides the name of the lab experiment, the names of the lab partners, the date, and any other information your instructor requires.

The abstract is the report in miniature. It summarizes the whole report in one, concise paragraph of about 100-200 words. As distinguished from the introduction, the abstract tells the reader what will be done and lays the groundwork Also, the abstract summarizes the report itself, not the actual experiment. Hence, you cannot write the abstract until after you’ve completed the report.

Before writing the abstract, it is often helpful to summarize each section of the report (introduction, methods and materials, procedure, results, discussion, and conclusion) in one sentence. Then try to arrange this information into a short paragraph. Remember, the abstract should be a precise and specific summary.

Whereas the abstract summarizes the whole report, the introduction presents the subject of the report and acquaints the reader with the experiment. Typically, the introduction states the problem to be solved or the experiment to be performed and explains its purpose and significance. It also provides whatever background theory, previous research, or formulas the reader needs to understand and perform the experiment (or solve the problem). Usually, the instructor does not want you to repeat such information verbatim from the lab manual; you can simply make the appropriate references to the manual.

Methods and Materials (or Equipment)

This section can consist of a list. Be complete, accurate, and precise.

Experimental Procedure
This section is a full descriptive narrative. Be complete, accurate, and precise, listing all steps in the correct order. State what you really did and what actually happened, not what was supposed to happen or what the textbook said.

Again, give your actual results, not what should have happened. Although results are usually presented quantitatively, you should always introduce each block of information verbally and provide clear and accurate verbal labels.


In this section, you must explain, analyze, and interpret your results, being especially careful to explain any errors or problems. This is probably the single most important part of the report, since it is here that you demonstrate that you understand and can interpret what you have done.

Draw conclusions from the results and discussion that answer the question, “So what?” Then go on to explain your conclusions. In this section, you may also criticize the lab experiment and make recommendations for improvement. Such criticisms and recommendations, however, should focus on the lab as a learning experience; mere complaints about faulty equipment or amount of time spent are not appropriate.

Note: The results, discussion, and conclusion sections can be combined in various ways. Use whatever combination is most appropriate for your situation.

Some reports require references at the end. Use the correct forms for the particular field you are working in. Always consult your instructor about reference forms, and check a style manual for the field.

Appendicies may include raw data, calculations, graphs, and other quantitative materials that were part of the experiment, but not reported in any of the above sections. Refer to each appendix at the appropriate point (or points) in your report. For example, at the end of your results section, you might have the note, See Appendix A: Raw Data Chart.

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

April 29th, 2009

Electrical Lab Reports


The objective of your experiment should be stated clearly and concisely, in one or several sentences.

Example: The purpose of this experiment was to determine whether measurement of the changes in air-to-earth potential gradient could be used as a reliable and practical method of predicting local thunderstorms.

Equipment Used
Do not give details that are common knowledge in your field. Provide information of particular interest, such as the brand name and model of complicated apparatus or unusual
equipment (e.g., Oscilloscope — Tectronix -Model 561B-CRO-158, Serial # XXXX).

For our purposes, it is sufficient that you state the source of the procedure that you have used. If you deviated from the given procedure, describe the procedural changes you made.

If you were documenting your research for audiences that were not familiar with the procedure, then you would need to state the procedure fully, in chronological order. You would provide enough information so that another researcher in your field could use your description to replicate the experiment.

Provide a sample calculation, using one complete set of data. Give the results of the calculations for the rest of your data. It is not necessary to recopy your raw data from the page where you first recorded it. Refer to it as necessary, pointing out trends and identifying special features.

State the results of your experiment clearly. Figures, graphs and tables may help to support your claims, but do not rely upon them exclusively to convey essential information. Any figures or tables used should be labelled and given a reference number (e.g., Figure 1, Input Frequency and Capacitor Value).

State all significant results explicitly and in verbal form. Organize your paragraphs around effective topic sentences. Use short, declarative sentences for the most part, but vary sentence length for flow and emphasis.

Your discussion is the single most important part of your report. In it, you will show your reader that you understand the experiment and can interpret it. Analyze and explain your results, focusing your attention on questions like these:

  • What results were expected? What results were obtained? If there were any discrepancies, how can you account for them?
  • Do any of your results have particular technical or theoretical interest?
  • How do your results relate to your experimental objective(s)?
  • How do your results compare to those obtained in similar investigations?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of your experimental design?
  • If you encountered difficulties in the experiment, what were their sources? How might they be avoided in future experiments?


The body of your report should end with a brief concluding statement, similar to an abstract, which summarizes the significant aspects and results of your experiment. It should tell the reader why the experiment is significant and what implications its results have for your field of study. If your experiment confirms or contradicts an established principle or theory, this should be stated clearly. In the plainest terms, your conclusion should answer the question, “So what?”

Back Matter
Include references for your sources of information as appropriate.

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

April 29th, 2009


Some tips for writing better LITEC lab reports:

  • Finish early. Leave yourself enough time to visit the Writing Center and to make any corrections.
  • Write the report in present tense. This avoids confusion, especially when writing about code or circuitry. Only “Results and Conclusions” should be in past tense.
  • Avoid over-use of either passive or active voice. Use the passive voice when agency is not important: “The potentiometer was connected to the EVB.” and the active voice when it is: “After analyzing the data, we positioned the OTUs at the optimal angle.”
  • Use bold type to indicate code when it is discussed in the text of the report: int mode_select(void)
  • Use italics to indicate the types of repetitive structures you are discussing: “a for loop”
  • Avoid explaining schematics. Connections should only be explained when the functional relationship between components is not clear from the diagram.
  • Avoid explaining components out of logical order. Move in one direction.
  • Use gender-fair language. Tip sheets are available at the Writing Center.
  • Visit the Writing Center as a team. Since the report reflects the work of the team, both members will benefit from the visit.
  • Note that the main job of a Writing Center consultant is to assist in making your report more clear and correct; we are not simply an editing service.

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

April 29th, 2009

Welcome to the CCP!

 What We Do

The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer is a FREE resource for all members of the RPI community: students, faculty, and staff.  Our experienced consultants will work with you, one-on-one, to discuss:

  • ANY type of communication project—written texts, oral presentations, websites, visual elements (tables, photographs, films….)
  • For ANY purpose—class work, research publications, personal projects etc.–from  ANY discipline
  • At ANY stage of the process—from brainstorming and getting started, to polishing your final product!

Our goal is to provide all writers with strategies that will help them become better communicators, in the classroom and beyond.

What You Do

  • Schedule a Conference for 30 or 60 minutes:   To make an appointment, please use our online scheduler by clicking on the “Make an Appointment” button.  Drop ins are also welcome, but openings are limited.
  • Bring your work from any discipline or personal projects of any type—essays, lab reports, resumes, doctoral theses, PowerPoint slides and more. Whether the work is nearly completed or still in the planning stage, we will work with each writer to take the project to the next step.
  • Be prepared for the session. This helps the session run smoothly and gives you more time to focus on improving your work.
  • Remain responsible for your own work—consultants do not “fix” or edit any writing.

Add comment October 29th, 2012


Career advancement in both the academic and the professional arenas may well depend upon your ability to communicate to a variety or audiences. For example, you may be asked to present lab reports, technical briefs, or training instructions. You can make the large task of constructing and delivering an oral presentation more manageable if you divide the assignment into small goals and then approach the overall task methodically.

Being systematic in your preparation for a talk helps with anxiety. Nearly everyone is nervous when speaking before a group, and thus audiences are generally sympathetic. Luckily, most of the symptoms of nervousness that plague the speaker remain hidden to the audience. Nervous tension also allows speakers to deliver a charged rather than a flat performance. So relax and enjoy helping your audience understand the technical information you can deliver. You can use these instructions as a guideline to help you both organize the material and structure your presentation to meet your audience’s informational needs. This handout helps you:

Know Your Task and Audience
When you first begin this project, make certain you can clearly explain what you are attempting to accomplish and for whom. You can think about your task in these ways:

  • Identify the topic of your presentation in a complete sentence that explains the significance of this subject to the listeners.
  • Specify the kinds and amount of information that you must convey to the audience.
  • Identify many key points that you want the audience to understand.
  • List the important questions that you want to answer in your presentation.

In addition , you will need to carefully assess the knowledge, expectations, and values your audience brings to the exchange. It is only when the audience’s needs are genuinely acknowledged by the speaker that effective communication can take place.

Determine the nature of the background information that the audience brings to your subject by listing key terms and concepts that you can reasonably assume they understand.

Describe what the audience needs to learn from you about the specific topic and focus upon these items as controlling concepts for your presentation.

Identify the significant values that the audience brings to the presentation. Ask yourself:

  • What are the notable characteristics of this audience? Curious? Inhibited? Cautious? Eager? Expert? Novice?
  • Does this audience respect a formal or informal style?
  • Does this audience value simplicity or complexity?
  • Would this audience respond more favorably to traditional or innovative approaches?
  • Is this audience participating voluntarily or by external request?

All of the ideas about your task and audience need to be shaped with the time and space constraints you face.

Structure Your Presentation

Consider the location, size, and spatial arrangement of the presentation area, as well as the length of time associated for the speech when you begin to envision your presentation.

Match the length of time for the presentation with the focus of your topic.

Identify key physical characteristics of the space, including size, seating arrangement, lighting, etc.

These physical constraints play into how you decide to organize your presentation. An accomplished speaker should fully understand his/her subject. And one very useful method for this is to organize your material as if you had to explain it to another person.

  • Classifications – organizes information into groups that share common characteristics
  • Partition or spatial divisions – organizes information into major components and their minor sub-components.
  • Segmentation – explains the relationship of events over time
  • Comparison – attempts to present one item in the terms of another
  • Cause and effect – describes and persuades by means of identifying causal relationships
  • Problem and solution – organizes material in response to a dilemma
  • Experimentation – organizes the information given, the purpose, aim, materials, procedures, results, and discussion in that order

Provide an illustrative example for each main point and explain the relationship of the example to the point it supports.

Use a variety of different kinds of support or proof for your statements, such as facts, statistics, examples, comparisons, testimonies (an eye witness account or a direct quotation), narrative (a story). This way you reach and persuade various members of your audience.

Repeat key concepts/points by expressing one idea in several different ways, thereby reinforcing important points.

So, for example, the problem-solution framework might be appropriate for a speech on waste management. You could structure the presentation as a series of key dilemmas, each one followed by a number of possible responses, the first being the ineffective response, and the second the better choice. Each time a problem is introduced, the listener could begin to anticipate a range of possible solutions and thereby become more receptive to the information that follows. With a stellar organization your presentation also needs a frame to introduce and conclude it.

Frame Your Presentation

The Introduction
With an attention-grabbing introduction, you can establish a framing device for the entire presentation. You may find it more efficient to construct the introduction after the body of the speech has been developed. Then you can clearly see the nature of the technical material that must be introduced to the audience so that you attract their interest and meet their informational needs. The introduction must draw the audience’s attention, identify your topic, and create expectations in the audience that you will satisfy in the course of the presentation.

Immediately gain the audience’s attention by connecting their needs/values/knowledge to the topic of the speech. Maybe by including:

  • an interesting fact, statistic, anecdote, etc.
  • an appeal to a common ground of understanding or experience between audience and speaker
  • a narrative or story to draw the audience into your domain
  • an overview of your speech to provide audience with a rational framework

Create expectations in your audience that you will fulfill in the course of the presentation.

  • create and repeat an organizational structure or pattern
  • acknowledge and then answer questions you know the audience will broach
  • introduce and then reference key terms throughout the course of the presentation
  • offer periodic overviews and then periodic summaries of material

Your introduction will be half of the framing devices needed; the other half is the conclusion.

The Conclusion
An effective conclusion seems to develop naturally from the structure and content of the preceding material. A conclusion isn’t simply a rewording of the introduction; the conclusion is a separate and distinct part of your presentation and as such presents particular challenges for you to meet. In it, you need to:

  • identify for the audience the most important point of the presentation
  • connect with the framing context that you introduced in the beginning
  • reaffirm the connection between the audience and the material presented

Match the tone of the final remarks to what you perceive is the audience’s primary need. You might offer

  • a summary of key points and/or sections of the presentation
  • a personal anecdote
  • a restatement of the problem and a brief summary of the solution
  • a resolution of the shocking statistic
  • an answer to a significant question

Even with an organization and frame, you still need to polish your work with visuals and practice.

Select Visuals

Since most people rely heavily upon visual information cues, you can assist your audience by incorporating visual aids into your presentation. These help you to emphasize key points your audience will understand and remember. Choose these sparingly, otherwise they could become distracting.

Identify the purpose of your visual aid:

  • to clarify a key point
  • to provide an illustrative example
  • to model
  • to summarize
  • to entertain while informing

Select types of visual aids well matched to the needs of your audience with respect to specific portions of your presentation.

  • table – good for presenting groups of detailed facts
  • bar graph – can represent numerical qualities
  • line graph – shows how one quantify changes as a function of change in another quantity
  • pie graph – effective for depicting the composition of a whole
  • diagram – similar to a drawing but relies upon symbols
  • flow chart – means of representing successions of events
  • organizational chart – usually depicts hierarchical arrangement

Select presentation vehicles (and make sure they’re working) based upon the audience’s seating arrangement.

  • overhead
  • easel or chalkboard
  • hand-out
  • slides
  • model
  • computer screen

Critique your visual aid from the perspective of the audience’s needs.

  • Is it large enough to be easily seen or is it too small and detailed?
  • Is the contrast/color effective or distracting?
  • Does it clarify a difficult concept or introduce confusion?
  • Is the visual aid necessary or superfluous?

Remember to Practice
You can meet the needs of your audience best by personally connecting with them, and by practicing your presentation. You need to

  • Maintain eye contact with the audience.
  • Use natural hand gestures.
  • Keep body movement quiet and natural.
  • Maintain appropriate voice volume.
  • Avoid wearing distracting clothing or accessories.
  • Maintain a constant rate of speech.

If possible, practice your presentation in the very place you’ll deliver it. Use you visuals when you practice so they integrate well into your talk. Finally, don’t feel you have to memorize the entire piece. In many cases you will be able to use memory prompts such as note cards or an outline. Most people find the more they practice, the more at ease they feel when they give their presentation.

Works Cited

Galke, Sue. 101 Ways to Captivate a Business Audience, New York: Anacom, 1997.
Morrisey, George L., etal. Loud and Clear. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997.

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

April 29th, 2009

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