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Faculty of Engineering

Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering Personal Tutorial Programme (2012-2013)

Notes on Laboratory Reports

Experimental work is carried out to establish facts. In professional engineering practice, experiments and tests are made if these facts cannot be determined otherwise. Test facilities are expensive, whereas calculations and literature searches are usually relatively cheap. Despite the increasing sophistication of computer software, practical testing will continue to play a vital role in product development. In engineering education, laboratory work has a number of objectives and helps you gain: i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi. an improved understanding of lecture material, experience of engineering equipment, knowledge of experimental methods and test procedures, knowledge of measurement techniques and instrumentation, the ability to record experimental information methodically and efficiently, experience in reporting on experimental work.

In professional work, experimentation is a team effort and the work of individuals is dovetailed with a minimum of overlap into a cohesive whole. You will do your laboratory work here in groups of 3 or 4 students. If the group organises itself well, you will be able to benefit from the economies of effort afforded by team work. You may, for example, work with the other members of your group to do calculations and otherwise process the results. If you wish, the group may present identical calculations and graphs. If this is done, you must of course accept the responsibility for checking the accuracy of their contents! You are also encouraged to discuss as a group the points which should be drawn out in the discussion and summary. However, you must not present discussions or summaries using identical or very similar wording. It must be clear to anyone reading the reports of members of the same group that the discussions and summaries have been drafted independently. Such copying is plagiarism. This is regarded as most serious and will result, as a minimum, in the award of zero marks and a demand for re-submission. The ability to undertake sound experimental work and to communicate the results accurately and concisely to others is indispensable to a professional engineer. Good reporting is vital in industry and commerce and you would be wise to use the opportunity afforded by the laboratory programme to improve your skills in this area.

Marking of Laboratory Reports An outline of the marking scheme for each piece of coursework is included on the title page. The marks obtained are aggregated with those for the end-of-semester examination to give an overall mark for the module. The proportions for exam and coursework vary from module to module and are given for each module in the Catalogue of Modules. If a report fails to reach a minimum standard indicated by 40%, you will be asked to rewrite and resubmit all or part of it. In this case, you should discuss the nature of the shortcomings with the 1

laboratory class supervisor unless the written comments are sufficient for you to make the necessary improvements.

The Laboratory Report A report communicates information from one person to another. A "good" report will present the information in such a way that it can be assimilated without effort. This can only be achieved if you have a clear idea of the needs of the reader. In industry for example, information in a report to an immediate superior (who has a detailed technical knowledge of the work) must be presented quite differently in a report to the technical director (who probably has not!) The reader of your student reports is the academic staff supervisor or postgraduate Laboratory Demonstrator. They will want to be able to check your calculations so that mistakes can be pointed out. Include a sample set of calculations where necessary. The reader wants you to demonstrate an understanding of your answers by intelligent discussion of the points specified on the instruction sheet. Remember that the reader does in fact know what the answers should be and will be looking for you to convince him/her that you do too! Present the information clearly, crisply and concisely. It is often helpful to write in short sentences. Long rambling discussions that skirt around the main issues generally serve only to draw attention to the fact that the writer does not know the answer! Students often try to read more into their results than is justified. You should try to develop a critical approach to the interpretation of results. In industry, you will find that your superior will spot any dubious conclusions (as, of course, will your academic reader!) and if you cannot justify them, your promotion prospects will not be enhanced! Never make a statement in a report that you are not prepared to defend. It is vitally important to your career prospects that you develop a high standard of presentation in your written reports. You are therefore strongly encouraged to produce reports using wordprocessor and spreadsheet packages that are widely available on the university computer networks. Alternatively, reports may be hand-written on lined A4 paper and graphs may be drawn on centimetre and millimetre A4 graph paper. Diagrams of equipment may be drawn on either graph paper or plain A4 paper. If you are unclear about what is required in a particular laboratory report you should ask the laboratory supervisor for clarification.

Report Formats Professional report formats are dictated by the organisation concerned (the so-called house style). For student reports in Years 1 and 2, three report formats are normally used. a) Undergraduate Report This will comprise the following sections: i. Title page, laboratory instruction sheets, data sheets, etc., ii. Summary iii. Readings, calculations and results iv. Discussion 2


Quasi-professional Report This is an approximation to a real professional report, and will comprise the following sections: i. Title page ii. Summary iii. Objectives iv. Theory v. Equipment vi. Procedure vii. Readings, calculations and results viii. Discussion ix. Conclusions


Verbal Reports (For Year 2 students)

Report Sections Title: The title page is provided with the instruction sheets for the experiment, and should be used for all reports. The summary must give the key points that derive from the experiment, normally on not more than a single side of A4. The summary should give concise statements of the objectives of the experiment and of the answers to the questions posed by the objectives. Put simply, the summary explains why you did the experiment and what the main findings were. It should not contain a detailed description of equipment or procedure. Wherever possible it should be quantitative. The summary is a vital section and normally receives wide circulation within a company whereas the complete report has a much more limited distribution. Because of this, it is particularly important that it must be understandable without reference to graphs or text in the body of the report. Objectives: The objectives should state clearly the purpose of the experiment, often in the form of questions. Give an outline of the theory relating to the experiment. Important points are the hypothesis to be tested, the assumptions made, any key intermediate expressions and the final results. It may be largely descriptive, with such things as detailed mathematical derivations either omitted or placed in an appendix. A concise description of the equipment is required. It will invariably include a clear annotated diagram supplemented, if necessary, by text to clarify features not otherwise obvious. Give each diagram a printed title and reference number. Diagrams should be schematic to emphasise important features and omit unimportant detail. Do not attempt elaborate pictorial views or "artist's impressions". If possible, indicate a scale. For the procedure, give a clear logical outline of the steps in conducting the experiment. You may need to refer to the diagram in the equipment section, so consider this when drawing and annotating. Any precautions taken to ensure reliable readings should be described. Readings and results should normally be tabulated in your report. If repeated calculations are involved, give one specimen set of numerical values only. Graphs are often needed. Annotate and label the axes clearly (remember to include the units of the quantities plotted) and include a title and reference number. Plot data points with a cross, square, etc. (but not a dot) and, if several sets of data are to be plotted on the same graph, use different point markers for each. 3







The discussion is another important section. The topics to be discussed will normally be specified on the instruction sheet. Within these topics, your discussion may include the following points: How closely has the stated objective been achieved? What other related facts have been established? Have the equipment, instrumentation and procedure proved satisfactory for the purpose of achieving the objective? If unsatisfactory, how might improvements be made? Does the theory adequately account for the results obtained?

Be concise and do not labour the obvious. Make a list of the points to be made before you start writing. A rambling, digressive discussion is wasteful of your time and that of the reader. The discussion should not normally exceed two pages. You will normally be expected to comment on the level of agreement between theory and experiment. There will be limits to the range and quality of your results, so do not read more into them than is warranted. Develop a critical approach and aim to give a coherent argument. Remember that discrepancies may be due to untenable assumptions in the theory or experimental error. A list of "possible" errors that "might" account for the discrepancy is not particularly helpful unless you attempt to quantify sources of error and rank them in importance. Do not use phrases such as "reasonable agreement", "fairly accurate" or "quite good". These phrases are meaningless and simply highlight for the reader the fact that you have no idea of the errors involved! If you are in doubt about the extent of the error treatment required for a particular experiment, ask in the class concerned. Conclusions: A short conclusions section (less than half a page) is often very useful to the reader. It should summarise (in bullet points, if appropriate), the main conclusions regarding the discussion of the results. Tables need to be planned so that intermediate calculations can be done and recorded efficiently and so that they may be followed by the reader with ease. The number and width of columns and the sequencing of the entered quantities need careful consideration. Column headings should be printed and must include the units of the quantity. You may tabulate your data and do the required calculations using a spreadsheet program if you wish. The Professional Studies module in Year 1 covers the use of Excel. Graphs: It is not necessary or desirable to fill the page with the area of the graph. Never draw the axes closer than 25 mm to the edges of the paper. Plan the location of axes and choose the scales carefully. It is conventional to plot the independent variable along the horizontal, or x-axis. It is often convenient to use several vertical or y-axes against a single x-axis so that several dependent variables can be shown on the one graph. Take care to annotate and label the axes clearly (including the units of the quantities plotted) and include a title and reference number. Choose sensible and convenient scales. Do not use scales such as 30 mm per decimal step in the value of a variable. The accuracy to which points can be plotted should normally be consistent with the accuracy of the experimental readings. Clarity is important. Curves which make up a family or which are meant to be compared should be plotted on the same axes. Such curves should be distinguished from their fellows either by use of different line types (dashed, chain, etc.) or by use of different point markers (O, _, , etc.). Use a key in this situation, most conveniently in the form of a small inset table on the graph. On no account should it be necessary for the reader to refer to part of the text in order to interpret the graph. A curve derived from theory should be shown as a smooth line, with no obvious points. 4


References to published work It is important that any references you give to published material are accurate and include all the information required to enable someone else to find the publication you cite. Many societies and publications have their own codes of practice, but the following forms should be used in the text of your reports here. ..... a maximum value of : has been suggested [7] .... or ..... Dale and Gladstone [7] suggested a maximum value.... or ..... it was suggested in reference 7 that a maximum value .... References should be numbered in the order in which they appear in the text. They should be listed as follows in numerical order in an appendix titled References. Paper or Report: [7] Dale, T. P. and Gladstone, I. H. "Researches on the refraction dispersion and sensitiveness of liquids", Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., 1979, vol. 153, no. 3, pp. 317-332. [7] Dale T. P. and Gladstone, I. H. "Optical properties of liquids", 1979, pp. 221-232, McGraw-Hill, New York. [7] Dale, T. P. and Gladstone, I. H. "Optical properties of liquids", Proceedings of the Symposium on Optics, Oxford, 1979, pp. 21-25.


Conference paper:

An alternative, often easier, method of referring to other work is to state the year of publication, e.g. Dale and Gladstone [1979], and list the references by alphabetical order of the surname of the first author. Use [1979a], [1979b], etc. if you refer to more than one publication by the same authors in the same year of publication. Note: The World List of Scientific Periodicals (Science Library Catalogue Hall, M5) lists standard abbreviations for periodical titles.

Verbal reports (Year 2) In Year 2, laboratory sub-groups make be asked to give verbal reports jointly in a "round the table" session with the laboratory supervisor. You will be assessed partly on the correctness of the points you make and partly on the way you put them across. One student will give a brief introduction to the experiment, summarise the objectives and describe and comment on the key findings. The others will each cover one of the discussion topics listed on the laboratory sheet. If these overlap with the summariser's points, the latter should state the conclusion reached, while the student presenting the discussion should give the justification. Each student will have up to 5 minutes to present his or her section. You will find it helpful to make a list of the points you need to cover for use during the talk. However, avoid reading from a "script". Any necessary graphs, tables or diagrams should be prepared beforehand and laid on the table when required. Following the verbal report, the supervisor will comment on the points made. In particular he/she will challenge any dubious statements, so be prepared to defend yourself. The assessment for the verbal reports is based on your ability to convince the supervisor that you know the answers to the points under discussion. Each sub-group should work as a team to process the results and to prepare material for the verbal reports. Agree the section (i.e. discussion point or summary) that each member will present and discuss the key information to be covered. Knowing what the other members will be saying will help in the preparation of your own section of the talk. The laboratory supervisor will arrange dates and times for the verbal reports. A student not attending a verbal report (without good cause) will have to submit a full undergraduate report in lieu. 5