Common Errors and Pitfalls to Avoid:
There are a number of errors which are commonly made which you would be wise to avoid. Such errors include the following:
- Failure to write a formal lab report and the tendency to write a paper similar in style to a narrative.
- Failure to label the sections of the lab report such that it is not clear whether a given part of it is reporting on the procedure, the data or the conclusions.
- Tendency to place procedural statements in the purpose (e.g., "we will then measure the photogate time at point A and calculate the speed, repeating the measurements three times to insure accuracy") and procedural statements in the Conclusion section (e.g., "we measured the photogate time and calculated the instantaneous speed and then found the kinetic energy and total mechanical energy...").
- Failure to write a solid and lengthy theoretical background (literature survey) and tendency to merely state a short hypothesis (e.g., "we believe that the higher the initial height, the greater the speed at point B."). The theory should be a lengthy section in which you demonstrate that you know how a wealth of physics applies to your chosen scenario.
- Failure to respond to the Basic Research Questions in the theoretical background (literature survey). While your project has a good deal of freedom associated with it (at least in terms of what you decide to research and test), there are still requirements to meet. The Basic Research Questions are the minimal requirements which should guide your literature search and be found in your theoretical background.
- Tendency to merely state information in the theoretical background (literature survey) which was read from books and other sources. You must somehow demonstrate that you understand the material that you research. It will be obvious that you understand your topic when you elaborate upon it in your own words, when you provide examples of a statement, when you draw your own diagram to depict an idea in a different manner, when you make a connection between two conceptual ideas, when you provide a mathematical equation which represents a physical relationship, and when you connect what you read with what we've talked about in class.
- Failure to cite references from within the paper and/or include a bibliography. If you fail to cite sources, then no teacher grading your report will believe your bibliography. In this case, you will get a low grade on the literature search portion of your project.
- Failure to include a step-by-step procedure. A good procedure has listed (and numbered steps). Do not merely write paragraphs. The procedure should be so specific and clearly stated that a stranger could repeat the experiment without knowing anything about it.
- Failure to use the proper tense in the procedure section. Avoid procedure statements like "We then taped the Hot Wheels track to the floor." Avoid prcedural statements like "you then tape the Hot Wheels track to the floor." Instead merely put the statement in command form: "Tape the Hot Wheels track to the floor." The procedure is written in order to inform (i.e. command) a person on how to conduct the experiment.
- Failure to organize the Data and Graphs section in an appropriate manner. The biggest organization failure is the tendency to force all the data into one table. If you have done the type of ambitious experiment which we expect of you, then you could not possibly fit all the data in one table (let alone one page). Choose the best organizational scheme to represent your data intelligently. For example, organize the data into tables of measured data and calculated data. And/or organize data into separate tables for separate parts of the experiment. Use a table to summarize inportant data collected for a variety of trials. Organize data so that it meaningfully makes the point which you believe your data is making. All data tables should be labeled with an intelligent label (for example,"Measured Data for Roller Coaster Incline Experiment")
- Tendency to omit certain pieces of measured data from the Data and Graphs section. Often students leave out important pieces of data which they collected. For example, a group might determine the speed of an object using a photogate timer. They would measure the flag width and the photogate time and then calculate the speed. Yet in their data section, they only give a record of the speed, omitting the crucial measurement values of the flag width and the photogate time.
- Tendency to merely restate your measured data in the Discussion of Results section (e.g., "we measured the photogate times to be 0.0125 s when the height was 0.5 m and we measured the time to be 0.008 s when the height was 0.15 m").
- Tendency to make very general conclusions in the Discussion of Results section. Such conclusions (while perhaps true) often have nothing to do with the idea behind the lab report (e.g., "This project was fun and we learned alot. We wish we could have done more projects like this.").
In general, all of these errors and pitfalls are usually the result of either not following project guidelines or rushing the project together at the last minute (which subsequently leads to a tendency to not follow directions). Thus, give yourself plenty of time and take the time and effort needed to be acquainted with the guidelines described on these Internet pages.
Exemplary (for the most part) projects are included online at The Refrigerator; a quick glance at these pages is highly recommended prior to the completion of your project. Such examples are not included for you to mimic, but rather as helpful illustrations of what your own end product might look like. Students should be cautioned that project guidelines change through the years and thus the online exemplars should not be considered as the definitive word concerning what should be included in the final lab report. The definitive word are the guidelines which are included on these Internet pages.
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Created: July 23, 1996