Organisation of Lab Reports


These guidance notes are based on those in the 2nd year lab manual. Instructions for writing up a lab report do vary significantly from 1st year to 3rd year so make sure you also read the specific advice given for the particular course you are on.


The report should describe one self-contained activity (usually an experiment) that you undertook in the lab. It may include enough of the background theory to make it clear that you appreciate the concepts involved but if the description of what you have done is extensive then keep the background theory to a minimum and reference the results used to the lab notes. The report should make clear what the objectives of the lab work were and (towards the end) whether these objectives were fully achieved or not.

As well as text, you should include appropriate figures such as schematic diagrams, a sketch of the apparatus, graphs of results, a table of the important measurements (but don't repeat data included in a graph unless there is very good reason to). Not all these will be relevant to any one experiment.

If your experiment has involved determining a straight line from the data, then for the report this should be done by a ‘least-squares’ fit using your calculator or an appropriate computer package (e.g. Minitab, Maple, Excel). You should include relevant computer print-out of any analysis of your results. Your quantitative results should include a measure of the accuracy you have achieved, using the methods outlined in the lab or taught in an earlier year.

As well as drawing conclusions about the experiment, you should consider suggesting how the experiment could be taken further, or the apparatus improved to increase the value of the result. Your report should read as if it has been drawn up by a physicist who has some insight into what he or she is doing. A good physics report will not read like the diary of someone following a recipe or set procedure but will show signs of independent thought and analysis.

You can structure your report how you see fit but you could do worse than follow the classic order: aims, theory, method, results, conclusions.

Remember that you are not writing a lab manual but an account of what you did and how you interpreted the experiment.


The report should be 'word-processed'; A typical report will be 5-10 pages long (12 point text), including diagrams, tables, graphs etc. (but excluding the title page and any attached computer analysis output). However, follow the guidance given in the particular class you are taking. Pages should be numbered.


We are looking for clarity of presentation, correct use of technical language, good coverage of the material and some signs that you have thought about what you have done.


Deadlines are taken seriously by the University. Handing in reports late is a sign of professional incompetence. Our policy outlined in the Physics Handbook is to apply a mark deduction penalty for reports that are late for inadequate reason.

Making a copy of Reports

You should keep a copy of all word-processed reports. Never give the only copy or disk to the Department. Occasionally a second copy may be called for and it is your responsibility to be able to supply it.

Return of Reports

Our standard policy is to return reports with feedback comments to you and then to collect them back again so that they can be made available to the External Examiner. Afterwards they will be kept in the Physics Office. Some reports will be kept on a long-term basis for the next Teaching Quality Assessment exercise and Physics Accreditation Exercise. Should you want a paper copy of a kept report, the Physics Office will make one for you. Other reports are kept for collection for 6 months.

On Writing Reports:

Your report should have a separate title page, which is usually improved by a well chosen illustration. The body of the report should end with your references, properly presented. Add any supplementary material in an appendix. Number the pages.

The report should be an exercise in direct and exact communication. Too many student reports are not written in plain English. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Don't copy chunks from the lab manual.
  2. Use the familiar word in preference to the exotic.
  3. Use a direct description in preference to an abstract allusion.
  4. Use a single word in preference to a circumlocution.
  5. Prefer short words to long equivalents.
  6. Read over what you have written phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence. If you can cut out a bit without any change in meaning, do so.
  7. Don't shun the active voice. The report is about what you, or you and your partner, did. Use ‘I’ and ‘we’ from time to time. There is no reason for a report to be impersonal throughout.
  8. As an estimate of readability, you can calculate the Fog Index of your English. Take a decent length paragraph. Work out the average word length of a sentence and add this number to the percentage of words containing three or more syllables [excluding proper names, hyphenated words and verbs ending in ‘ed’ or ‘es’]. As a rough guide, if the result is more than 30, your English is tending to be foggy. Try shortening the sentences and looking for simpler words. If the result is more than 60, take a serious look at your style. Altering the way you write will not come easily. Work at it, if necessary, and expect gradual changes. Word has readability indices that are shown by running a spell check on the document. You may have to activate this facility by using Tools - Options - Spelling & Grammar - Check grammar and spelling - Show readability statistics - Ok.