Science is useless if it is not communicated, and journal articles are the primary archival way in which this done. In this course we expect all students to write a short journal-style Report based on one of the experiments that they have completed. The target audience for this report is someone with an undergraduate degree in physics who is not an expert on the experiment.

The length of the Formal Report should be between 4 and 6 pages. The Formal Report is an abbreviated way of presenting results. Many of the details and descriptions of day-to-day activities that are included in your notebook are not appropriate for the Formal Report, and it is not necessary to report on all your results. The Formal Report is primarily evaluated on your presentation skills and ability to write a scientific article.

There is a more or less uniform agreement on the general style in which scientific results are presented, but details differ from journal to journal. Three examples of scientific articles that give different possible and acceptable formats for your Report are:

Many examples of short article journal writing can be found in any issue of Physical Review or Physics Letters A or B, or The American Journal of Physics. Many more examples can be found through the Physics Department or University Library. Choose one of the appropriate styles and notation patterns and be consistent throughout your paper in using this specific format.

Other helpful resources include the Review of Modern Physics style guide (especially Appendix A: Writing a better scientic article), the Physical Review Style and Notation Guide, and the now out-of-print American Institute of Physics Style Manual.

Any paper must have an appropriate balance of text, equations, figures, and tables. A short experimental paper such as this should have not have more than 4 figures and 2 tables, and preferably less.


Plagiarism is one of the most serious academic offences and is punished by severe penalties at the University of Toronto. Don't do it!

All students in the Advanced Physics Lab are expected to be familiar with the University's rules on Academic Misconduct available from the Office of Academic Integrity. More information is available at Using Sources and How Not to Plagiarize from the University Writing Centre, and Using Sources Paraphrase and Plagiarism from the Engineering Communication Program. If you are an Exchange Student from another university, it is particularly important that you read and understand these University of Toronto policies, since they may be different from your home institution. Ignorance of University policies is not accepted as an excuse for plagiarism. If in any doubt about whether what you are doing might be plagiarism, talk to the Lab Coordinator.

Never, never use sources without proper attribution. For example, our experimental write-up is an obvious resource you will use while writing your formal report, but never copy text or figures from the experiment write-up into your report without careful and detailed attribution. Be careful never to plagiaphrase, i.e. paraphrasing without proper attribution. Copying while simply changing a few words or reordering sentences is still plagiarism. Improperly copying only one or two sentences from our write-up into your Formal Report is sufficient for you to be brought to the Office of the Dean facing serious sanctions.

Remember, even if clear writing in English is difficult for you, it is better to lose a few marks because of that, instead of plagiarising and possibly getting zero on the Formal Report or the course and risking even worse punishment.

Draft Peer Review

The first draft of your Formal Report is submitted by the assigned due date for a peer's review. Late drafts will not be accepted. (As always, contact the Course Coordinator if you are ill.) You should not put your name or a student number on your draft Report, but there will be an identifying number given to your paper by the Course Coordinator at the moment of submission. The course coordinator does not evaluate the draft of the Formal Report.

The Course Coordinator will randomly choose the other student in the class to read your draft. Each student must read and make comments to one Formal Report. These comments should be constructive and may be either typed on separate paper or written directly on the pages of the original Report.  We recommend the comments should total to somewhere between 200 and 500 words (~ a couple of paragraphs). They should be handed in to the course coordinator by the due date for submitting the comments; they will be marked and then forwarded to the authors of the papers. The comments may become very useful in preparing the final version of the Formal Report.

Each student can get a maximum of 6% of the Formal Report mark for their review of the other student's Report and 94% of the mark for their own Formal Report.

General Notes on the Peer's Review
  1. Your review must be always very friendly. The author of the article expects help from you.
  2. First, you should identify and enumerate the achievements of the author, even if they are few. When you write the Review using the original printout, it must be placed after the author's text.
  3. It is better to separate significant and insignificant omissions in the article. Usually, the significant corrections are done by a reviewer and the insignificant corrections are done by an editorial staff of a journal. For example, an unclear objective and a wrong structure for the article are significant. Your notes about these omissions should be detailed, and it is better to propose specific changes to the text. (Of course, if you think there is a mistake in the result, it is much more significant and is discussed immediately after your positive notes, but for this Peer Review assignment the focus is on presentation and clarity.)

    On the other hand, wrong punctuation, wrong tense, a typo, etc. are less significant. They may be pointed out either directly in the text or in a special paragraph at the end of your Review hardcopy with reference to a page number and a line number in a corresponding part of the text.

  4. If you make notes in the original text, your own handwriting must be legible and easy to understand.

Keep in mind that all authors have their own style and manner to express ideas. If this style does not contradict the requirements of the journal, the author may use it even if you do not like it.

Final Version

Your report should be submitted online via Quercus by 23:59 on the due date. This Quercus version will be reviewed for plagiarisum using the Quercus plagiarism reviewer, which will compare the text-portion of your Report to millions of other documents, including all the manuals for this course, all the reports previously submitted into the reviewer's database, and many documents which were available at some time on the world-wide-web. The conclusion on the originality of your Report will be used in the marking if the review shows that an unusually large amount of your report is identical to some other source. If the material is unattributed, it will be reported to your Faculty. If you do wish to quote a source, be careful to reference it and include the copied words in quotation marks so it is clear to the reader that you did not write them. You must similarly attribute any figures or graphics you use from other sources.

Normally, students will be required to submit their course essays to the University’s plagiarism detection tool for a review of textual similarity and detection of possible plagiarism. In doing so, students will allow their essays to be included as source documents in the tool’s reference database, where they will be used solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism. The terms that apply to the University’s use of this tool are described on the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation web site

If you prefer, you may choose to submit only a hardcopy of your Report, but in this case, you must provide a more detailed bibliography, explicitly describing sources for each table, figure and sub-section in your report. Please speak with the course coordinator at least one week before the Report deadline if you prefer to submit a hardcopy only.

The marking scheme will be approximately as follows:

Your review of the other student's draft: 6%
Title (concise and different from the title of the original experiment) 4%
Abstract (one short paragraph with main results; no references, no formulae) 5%
Appropriate separation of the document into subsections 10%
Introduction, Physics, Theory and Background (including formulae( 12%
Clear description of the experiment 10%
Clarity, correct format and correct captions for figures and tables 8%
Error analysis, propagation, and significant figures 10%
Clarity of presentation and discussion 10%
Conclusion with clear brief summary of the main results 10%
Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc 5%
References and bibliography 5%
Overall style (consistent tenses, voice, etc.) and length 5%

Note that exceeding the 6-page limit will in majority of cases lead to a mark deduction proportional to how far outside the limit the number of pages falls. Formal Reports which arrive late will have their marks reduced by 10% per business day of lateness or portion thereof.

Writing Hints

To begin, think about what is the point of your paper. What do you expect the reader to take away? If your experiment produced many disparate results, it may be better to report just a few or even one. A focussed succinct report is usually more impressive that one that tries to jam in too much.

Once your goal is somewhat clear, jot down on a piece of paper the structure of the paper along with the points you wish to make in each section. The structure usually includes Abstract, Introduction, Apparatus, Technique, Observations, Discussion and Conclusion, or Summary. Note that rarely do all these titles of sections appear in an actual paper although it probably would be beneficial to you to explicitly include them, at least in your outline. In long complicated papers, clearly labelled sections aid the reader in making the mental transition from one subject or section to another.

Look at what you have jotted down to determine if it is complete and in the correct order. 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 judgement is required on your part.


This sets the scene by giving some background and what it is that you are actually doing in this experiment. In this section you should provide the motivation for your paper - for example, a question/problem you’re addressing, applications for this experimental method, etc.

You should also position your work in the context of the greater scientific community - state what other people have done or why other people are interested in this work. 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.

This section should provide the physics background for the reader to understand your experiment. You should include (numbered) formulae that you will need to analyze your data.


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 so 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 1 K not 300 K) 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 Rubidium corrected for the dark count of the photomultiplier". An explanation of the figure should follow. (You don’t need to include all your raw data!)

Tell how you analysed your data. For example, "Using a least squares fit with Equation 3, the parameters R and a were determined". Equation 3 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.

Discussion and Results:

As part of your report you should have a discussion of your results or analyses to compare or contrast with other observations. Place emphasis on the important results and tell the reader why they are important.

Note that separate sections for Apparatus, Observations, Discussion, and Results are rarely necessary. Often, one can combine one or all of these into one section so that the discussion of the data and observations follow naturally. This is especially true for experiments where one wishes to present different kinds of measurements. For example, in the Semiconductor Resistance, Band Gap, and Hall Effect experiment, one can have a section on "Determination of the Hall Coefficient" where one presents the data and discusses the results. Then, a separate section can be written where the temperature dependence of the conductivity is presented and discussed. Note that Apparatus, Observations, Discussion, and Results are not separately marked, so it is up to the author to decide how to best present them in a coherent fashion.


This is a very brief overview of the major points of your paper. It should always be a separate, labeled section near the very end of the paper. Be sure to include your main results and reiterate the “take-away” message for your paper.

Abstract and Title:

Finally, you should decide on an abstract and title for your paper. Titles and abstracts are the "elevator pitches" that convince people that your paper is worth reading.

The title should be concise but not vague and should contain key words like Raman Effect, Liquid CCl4, etc.

The abstract is a few concise sentences that summarise what you did and your results, and is presented immediately after the title as a separate paragraph. It partially repeats the ending to your paper. Don't be too vague in the abstract. A statement like "Some properties of semiconductors were measured" is inferior to something like "the Hall coefficient and the mobilities of electrons and holes were measured in n- and p- doped silicon semiconductors." Abstract lengths are usually limited by journals, e.g. a maximum of 600 characters (including spaces and punctuation) for Physical Review letters. Too long abstracts are often less enticing than shorter ones, e.g. see the abstract for "Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement?", M. V. Berry, N. Brunner, S. Popescu, P. Shukla, J. Phys. A: Math. Theor. 44 (2011) 492001.

Some other hints:

Once you have finished your report, you should review it using this this checklist.

Advice on clear writing:

You may want to start by looking at this presentation by Felicia Kolonjari from 2013 on Key Elements of a Formal Report

The notes for "PHY496: Introduction to Physics Research" at the University of Illinois contain much excellent advice on scientific writing and communication, including such details as eliminating unneccessary "fluff" in your writing, to consistent hyphenation and capitalization.

Many resources, courses, workshops, and advice is available to help you with Writing at University of Toronto. If your English is not fluent, please check out the University of Toronto's English Language Learning resources.

Last updated on 6 September 2021