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Durham Physics: Report Writing Guidelines

G. H. Cross and C. S. Adams
Department of Physics, Durham University, Rochester Building, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, England
(Dated: November 11, 2009)

I.

INTRODUCTION

This document outlines general guidelines on preparing
reports for laboratory and computer projects at Levels 1
to 3. Supplementary information particular to certain
activities may be given by the laboratory leader.
II.

LENGTH

All reports have a STRICT page limit, see Table I.
One page equals one side of A4, e.g. a Level1 (L1) report
is limited to 2 pages of A4 for the main report plus a 1page Appendix containing the error analysis. The page
limit is based on a minimum font size of 10 point (9 point
for figure captions and table text) and minimum margin
width of 2 cm. Style files are provided, see Section V.
Activity
Main report Appendices
L1 Experiments
2
1
L2 Skills
2
1
L2 Electronics
4
1
L2 Long experiment
4
1
L3 Computing
4
Unlimited
L3 Laboratory Project
16
Unlimited
TABLE I: Page limits for all laboratory based activities.
III.

PLAGIARISM

In general ALL material, i.e., all text, all figures and
all diagrams, should be original. Figures or diagrams
from other sources should NOT be cut and pasted into
the report, unless they are essential, for example, astronomical images, maps, etc. In this case the item should
be clearly referenced in the caption to the source.
IV.

STRUCTURE

A typcial report contains the following sections. Note
that some activities may require additional instructions
as specified by the laboratory leader:
Abstract: State the objectives and main findings
(only text; no References or diagrams). A summary of
what was investigated, how it was investigated, what
the outcome was and what the main conclusions were.
Include numerical results and compare with literature
data if appropriate. Up to 200 words.
1. Introduction: A few paragraphs on the background
and motivation to the investigation. Set the scene
for the reader and put the work in context using evidence of past studies with references to previous
work. One or two paragraphs on the specific objectives of your investigation; say what you set out to
do, what you achieved and why it is important.

2. Methods: This section includes both relevant theory and experimental details. Separate subsections, e.g. 2.1 Theory, 2.2 Experiment, may be included depending on the nature of the project. Under
the theory heading do not reproduce large chunks of
text and equations that can be found in other sources
and referenced. For all projects, a brief description of
the methodology should be given. For experimental
projects this may include a set-up diagram if appropriate. Describe the essential features of how the measurements were made and what was measured. Don’t
include a photograph of the apparatus unless it really shows something that cannot be communicated
with a line diagram. Don’t give lists of instructions.
Don’t write chronologically unless that really is the
most logical way to present the methodology. Write
in the past tense.
3. Results and discussion: Results: The main section of the report presenting data obtained in an appropriate form. Use the present tense, e.g., ‘Fig. 1
shows a graph of . . .’. Figures should have labelled
axes with units. Data should be presented with error
bars. Discussion: For short reports, a brief discussion of the interpretation of results can be included
together with each result. Compare results to literature values where appropriate. Say whether the results fit the theory and give a reasoned argument to
explain your observations. For longer reports a separate subsection discussing the interpretation of results
and possibilities for future work may be appropriate.
For computing reports an innovation subsection discussing extensions to the project is expected.
4. Conclusions: Brief (1 or 2 paragraphs) summing up
of the main results and implications of the work.
References: Use a consistent referencing style (either numeric, see the Emulation of Style document
on DUO, or alphabetic). Titles may be included
but again be consistent, either no titles or all titles.
For numeric style, references should be numbered in
the order that they appear in the text. Check that
each reference contains full bibliographic details of the
source (authors’ names, journal, volume, page number, year).
Appendices: The appendix should include the error
analysis (which will be assessed) and other supporting
information, e.g. computer code (not reformatted),
derivation of an equation, etc. It should NOT be necessary to have to refer to the Appendix while reading
the main report. All the key results, plots etc. should
be included in the main report.
For longer reports, e.g. at levels 3 and 4, where more
than one distinct experiment or project has been performed, the report may be better structured as follows:

and should be numbered in the order they appear in the text. 2: Plot of the frequency shift of the atomic resonance as a function of the electric field modulation frequency. and (vii) Legend should be given in caption. “Experiment” is not acceptable. e. F .2 Results/discussion. Skelton. ln. the momentum of the particle is p = 3 × 10−16 kg m s−1 . 4. G. Inline equations should be written on one line so Eq. (1) becomes. Latex [1] or any other word processing package. C. G. Insert a space (‘∼’ in Latex) between the equation and full stop/comma. sin. Style: 1 In scientific writing it is acceptable to use ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ even if you worked on your own. The solid line is a fit to three Lorenztian resonances. e.g. and the equation ends with full stop (or comma). .org/. (vi) Axes font lables too small. R. F = dp/dt.g. (iv) Poor choice of y axis scale making detail of the plot compressed.1 Methods. etc. and the critical momentum pc .2 Results/discussion. the momentum. 2. not F = dp dt .. 2.ac. Title of Experiment/Project B. V. 3 All text in figures e. Introduction. Terry for stimulating discussions. etc. (login to say altair and type latex myf ile. e. 3. References.g. see http : //www. [1] A word or Latex template is available on the DUO module pages. sin ωt. Hughes. . The reader should not have to constantly page flip between the Methods and Results or Results and Appendices. Units should in normal font. ‘the force. Insert a space between a value and the unit. axis labels etc. Bason. Conclusions.2 Abstract 1. D. 2 All figures should be referenced in the text.g. F = dp . Metcalfe.g. Edge. (ii) Horizontal lines. 7 Labels in equations (e. Title Experiment/Project C. Bower.g. (v) No error bars. 6 Note that all parameters are in italic font. FIG. eiωt . G. G. on the particle can be written as. I. . 1 is poor. dt (1) where p is the momentum and t is time’.. Love.) and label subscripts should be in normal font.1 Methods.dur. The report should be easy to follow with the material presented in a logical order.g. Equations appear as if they are part of a sentence – the text before them ends with a comma.tex) or for a free PC version go to MikTeX http : //miktex. e. The data (◦) correspond to an average of 10 measurements with the standard error indicated by the error bar. Lucey. 3. 3. e. In the longer report style the aim is to keep the discussion of a particular investigation and corresponding results together so that the reader can follow easily without section hopping. “Optical Layout used to measure the fringe spacing in a double slit experiment” is better. J. cos. e. and I. should not be smaller than the main text font size. Figures should be generally understandable from their caption alone. A.uk/its/sof tware/tex/texresources/ Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank M. 4 All figures should have a caption but no title. 5 Graphs should not have a shaded background or horizontal lines (Fig. A. N. . FIG. Fig. 2. 8 Exponents (whether in text or on graphs) should be written as 10−8 not 1e-8. 1: This graph has the following faults: (i) Grey background. 2 is better). R. p. Title of Experiment/Project A. The Latex package is available on the ITS. FORMATTING AND GENERAL STYLE POINTS Format: Reports can be prepared in Word. (iii) Box.