Your success in this project will be evaluated using a set of scoring rubrics. Your understanding of physics and your ability to design, conduct, and communicate the results of an experiment is the focus of the evaluation. Your final product will be a formal lab report which communicates your purpose, background understanding, procedure, findings, and conclusions. The formal lab report is thus the critical document which reflects your understanding and success. For this reason, it is important that you understand exactly what should be included in the formal lab report and how it should be put together. Directions for each step of the process have been described in the Overview for this project. The purpose of this page is to further explain the details.
Contents and Organization:
The lab report should include all the customary sections included in any lab report. Such sections include:
- Title Page
- Theoretical Background (a.k.a. Literature Survey)
- Data and Calculations
- Discussion of Results
These sections should be clearly titled and organized in the exact manner as shown above. The graphic at the right depicts the organizational scheme which you should have and an approximate number of pages which each section might typically have. These pages are merely an approximation and serve to give an idea of the magnitude of the report.
Description of Each Section:
- Title Page - includes a meaningful title for your project/report and the names of the experimenters. Some students will occassionally include a colorful graphic on this page.
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- Purpose - a paragraph in which you describe the objective of your experimental investigation and literature search; the purpose should be clearly stated and should clearly identify the dependent and independent variables. A good guideline is to include the phrase "we will investigate the effect of ____________ (some controllable and modifiable variable) upon the ____________ (a measureable variable)." Procedural steps should not be discussed in the purpose section.
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- Theoretical Background (Literature Survey) - exhaustively describe the physics of your topic. Include diagrams, graphs, and other visuals which have been discussed in class or which you found in the book or other literature. Discuss the physics principles in detail, writing as though your audience was an individual who knows little about your topic. Begin by approaching the topic in rather general terms and then breaking it down into specifics. Define terms, discuss equations and provide sample calculations to illustrate how they can be used, and present diagrams and discuss and elaborate upon their meaning. In other words, apply physics to the situation by intelligently discussing the physics principles which applies to the topic which you have selected. Take time to look back through the book, the packet, and your class notes to find physics and make an effort to apply it to the topic. Organize and introduce information which you have gathered from the literature as the result of your literature search; be sure to reference your sources wherever applicable. Be sure to answer all the Basic Research Questions which were prepared for your topic. This is a critical part of your project and should be many pages in length. There is no minimum limit on the number of pages which must be included; and there is certainly not a maximum limit. The actual number of pages will be revealing of your knowledge level; "the more you know, the more you'll write."
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- Procedure - - a step-by-step procedure which describes what you will do and how you will do it. The procedure always ties into the purpose of the experiment; that is, the procedure describes in detail the stpes which an experimenter must take in order to accomplish the stated purpose. The procedure should be so specific and clearly stated that a stranger could repeat the experiment without knowing anything about it. If an experimental investigation includes several parts (and yours does), then the procedure should have the equivalent number of parts. Each part should be appropriately labeled (e.g., Part A - Investigating the Effect of ___ upon ____, Part B - Investigating the Effect of ___ upon ____, etc.).
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- Data and Graphs Section - include an organized listing of input and output data and observations; use a row-column format for data. Use whatever format makes the data most revealing of the patterns which your study reveals. If necessary, use more than one data table; this is especially important if you conducted several investigations (and you did). For example, you modified one variable several times to investigate its effect on a measurable outcome and then repeated several more trials in which you modified a second variable and measured its effect on an outcome. Give each data table a meaningful title (e.g., "Measured Data for Roller Coaster Incline Experiment"). Then include all plots and graphs in this section. The axis of all graphs should be clearly labeled and each graph should be titled so that it clearly indicates exactly what data are being plotted. Finally, include appropriate equations which describe the plotted data.
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- Discussion of Results (sometimes called the Conclusions) - briefly describe the results of the investigation which you have conducted and discuss the findings; that is, discuss what your data tell you and what conclusions you can make from them. Support all conclusions with logic and by reference to the collected data. Make specific reference to the names of the graphs and data tables which you include in the Data section. Do not merely restate your data section; rather, make generalizations (e.g., "as the player strikes the ground on a head-first dive, the deceleration is roughly two-times as small as on the feet-first slide") and interprettations of graphs and data (e.g., "the curved line on the velocity-time graph indicates a non-uniform acceleration which is indicative of a changing net force"). For all graphs which you construct, state the equation and discuss its significance. Use several paragraphs to relate your experimental findings to the literature research which you did. Relate experiment to theory by making an effort to explain the results. Discuss the principles of phyiscs which would explain the generalizations and conclusions which you made; that is, discuss the theoretical explanations for your results. Wherever appropriate, discuss any results which surprised you and tell why they surprised you. Use a paragraph or two to discuss any errors which might have been associated with your experimentation; that is, discuss the reliability of your results. Make some suggestions which would improve the actual experimental procedure. Discuss what changes could be made in your experiment that would make it better. Give advice to any experimental groups of the future who might embark on a study of the same topic; that is, discuss suggestions for future students investigating the same topic. Finally, discuss what your data and investigation reveals about the physical world; that is, discuss the implications and meaning of your findings. Make meaning of your study by extending the findings in such a way that you discuss their implications to your topic.
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- All literature sources (including electronic sources) which you used to complete the theoretical background (literature survey) must be listed. Only those sources you used should be listed. Using a source means that information from it can be found in the report and that the information is cited from within the report. Use the standard format learned in English classes for the bibliography. Information on how to cite electronic sources is available at the reference desk in the IMC as well as on-line from the IMC home page.
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It is recommended that you spend some quality time studying the Project Pitfalls handout in order to protect your group from the most common errors made in the lab report of the year-end project.
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