You will write and submit one formal lab report in journal style format . The formal report serves primarily as a writing exercise and will be marked by an independent TA (a TA not teaching in the lab). It will be based on an experiment you have completed. .
The length of the formal report should be between 600 and 1,000 words. You are reminded that a formal report is an abbreviated way of presenting results. You may submit your report in neat hand-written form, typed or word-processed. All are equally acceptable. We are not interested in the technology of reproduction of the report. We are interested in what comes out of your own head in writing the report.
There is a more or less uniform agreement on the general style in which scientific results are presented. The American Journal of Physics has issued a Style Manual and a copy of this is available in the laboratory.
Jot down on a piece of paper the structure of the report along with the points you wish to make in each section. Structure means Abstract, Introduction, Apparatus, Technique, Observations, Discussion and Conclusion. Note that the selection of which of these titles of sections appear in an actual paper depends on the specific subject matter. Organize your report so that the story it tells the reader flows logically.
Look at what you have jotted down to determine if it is complete and in the correct order. The latter is often important in the Discussion section as it may be more readily comprehended by the reader if A is explained before B rather than B before A. Note that, unlike your lab notebook, a formal report does not generally flow chronologically.
The following paragraphs indicate the contents you might expect in each section. Obviously the relevant weight you give to each of the specific points depends critically on the particular experiment, so a lot of judgment is required on your part. When you write your report, you won't necessarily write the sections in the sequence they appear in the final presentation. For example, the abstract which appears at the beginning of the paper is the last thing you write.
This sets the scene by giving some background and what it is that you are actually doing in this experiment. This should be short. This section should include formulae that you will need to analyze your data. You may refer to other work either to contrast your experiment (it being a new style of experiment) or to compare your experiment with that of others.
Describe briefly the apparatus or technique used, giving important, relevant parameters. You are trying to establish for the readers the level and quality of your experiment and give sufficient detail that if one wished, one could duplicate your experiment to verify or disprove your results. If you leave out a key piece of information (e.g. the experiment was done at 0.001K not 300K) or add a useless piece of information (e.g. the lens was held in place with a 10-32 screw) then the reader will have doubts about the quality of your experiment.
Try to give at least one sample of your observations, not too far removed from your raw data, e.g. "Fig. 1 shows the spectrum of . . . . . corrected for the dark count of the photomultiplier". An explanation of the figure should follow. Generally you should not include lists of raw data.
Tell how you analyzed your data. For example, "Using a least squares fit with Equation N, the parameters and were determined". Equation N will have been given explicitly in the Introduction section. Don't give all the numbers or step by step disclosure of the actual computation. A good technique is to ask yourself if you have given enough information so that a reasonably intelligent person could repeat your calculations to see if you had made an error. Give a table of your final results if that is appropriate.
Although it may be sometimes difficult or inappropriate to separate this section from the last section, you should have a discussion of your results or analyses to compare or contrast with other observations.
This is a very brief overview of the major points of your paper. This last paragraph is often the second thing read after the abstract.
Abstract and Title
It is now time to decide on an abstract and title for your paper. The abstract is usually a few concise sentences that summarize what you did and your results. It partially repeats the ending to your paper. It should entice a potential reader to read the paper.
For a sample of journal writing, look up an issue of the American Journal of Physics in the Physics Library. This journal will have articles which you can probably understand while at the same time you will see journal style writing.