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Report Guidance

Overall Guidelines

  • The lab report alone should provide enough information for another student with a background similar to yours to reproduce your work and evaluate your conclusions.
  • Use a title page with the lab name, the course, the date, your name and your partner’s name (if the lab was carried out in teams).
  • The lab report should be written in the past tense because it describes what was done.  One exception to this rule is when you describe equations or principles that never change.  For example: "For an ideal resistor, voltage is proportional to current."
  • Concerning modern scientific writing, there is a debate about whether papers should be written primarily in the passive voice, or be written more in the active voice.  For a refresher on active and passive voice, see the Purdue University Online Writing Lab: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/02/.  Traditionally, science teachers have encouraged students to use passive voice in reports to emphasize what was done instead of who did it.  For a great overview of arguments for the use of active and passive voice, see the Duke University Scientific Writing Resource: https://cgi.duke.edu/web/sciwriting/index.php?action=passive_voice
  • Divide the report in the sections, as described below.  Use headings to distinguish sections.
  • For a long report (more than 20 pages), follow the title page with a table of contents and a table of figures.

Figures, Graphs, Tables, and Equations

  • One common error with figures is to include an image that looks fuzzy when the document is printed or viewed at normal resolution.  This problem is most often due to the use of raster, or bitmap, graphics instead of vector graphics.  A good explanation of the difference between these two formats is at the Freerange Academy: http://freerangestock.com/understanding/vector_bitmap/.  For a figure such as a circuit diagram, a vector graphic is much better than a bitmap graphic because the vector graphic can be rendered clearly at any size.
    • A common vector graphic format is SVG; although, PDF and EPS files can also contain vector graphics.
    • Common bitmap graphic formats include: PNG, JPEG, and BMP.
  • Learn to use software to draw circuit diagrams.
    • A regular drawing program can be used, but it will be tiresome to create the circuit symbols you need such as resistors and inductors.
    • One new useful web-based tool is called Scheme-It.  This tool is provided by DigiKey, which is a large online electronics retailer.  http://www.digikey.com/schemeit#  This tool can export diagrams in either PDF or PNG format.
    • There is a free and open-source program called TinyCAD, http://tinycad.sourceforge.net, that can be installed easily on a computer running the Windows operating system, but it only exports diagrams in PNG format.
    • There is another free and open-source program called Xcircuit, http://opencircuitdesign.com/xcircuit/index.html, which can export diagrams in Postscript format, which is a vector format and a superset of EPS.  This program is developed primarily for the GNU/Linux operating system, but there is a Windows version.  The Windows version may be challenging for you to install.
  • All figures and tables should be labeled and captioned, and the text should refer to them by label.  An example is shown in Figure 1 below.
 

PNG image created using Scheme-It

Figure 1: Example circuit diagram created using Scheme-It.

  • Data should be displayed in tables or on graphs as appropriate.  Think a little bit about the best way to display your data.  Learn to use a computer program such as MATLAB or Excel to create plots.  There are many plotting programs freely available; I use gnuplot, http://gnuplot.info
  • Use document processing software that will give you the capability to enter equations easily.  Do not try to improvise using normal text symbols such as: P = V*I.  Good software will allow you to use the proper multiplication symbol, such as P = V×I.
    • Microsoft Word 2010 and later versions have equation editing capability built-in.
    • One alternative to a WYSIWYG word processor (such as Word), is a WYSIWYM document processor such as LyX: http://www.lyx.org/.  A document processor focuses more on the structure of the document, while a traditional word processor focuses more on the appearance of the document.  The LyX document processor has extensive equation entry capability.

Written Report Sections

Abstract

The abstract is a very brief (< 200 words) summary of your project's purpose, the procedures used, important results, and your conclusions.  The abstract should contain sufficient details to provide an interested reader with an at a glance overview of the paper.  The abstract is not the same as the introduction section! The reader should be able to read the abstract, and nothing else, and get a sense of what was done.  The introduction section can contain more details than the abstract does about the motivation for the project.

Introduction

This section describes the purpose of the lab. The introduction can be brief. You just want to put the lab in context for the reader.  For a major project, this section would include a review of previous work.

Theory

This section contains the theoretical description of the circuit behavior, and, if there is a design component to the lab, then this section should list design equations (make sure to define variables). This section often encompasses the work done in the pre-lab, as well as design done during the lab.

Procedure

The procedure should describe everything you did in the laboratory.  Include not just what you measured but how you measured it.  It should be written out in complete sentences and in your own words.  It should be more complete than the text given in the assignment.  For example, The assignment might use a phrase like “Test your resistive sensors to see if their behavior matches what you expect…” Your report should describe how you tested them.

Experimental Results

This section contains the main experimental results and findings from your work.  Results should be carefully organized in tables or plots, or some of both.

Discussion

This section should include any further calculations and comparisons between the results and what was expected.  You should also address any discussion points specified in the assignment here. When describing calculations, you don’t need to give the blow-by-blow numbers, but you should give any equations used (or refer to these equations if they already appeared in the theory section), your assumptions, and the results of your calculations. If a proof or lengthy calculation is required you can include the work in the appendix, for which you can attach work in pencil on engineering paper.

Conclusion

This section wraps up your work and presents the important results in terms of the larger problem you are addressing.

References

This section should list any references used, including web sites and datasheets.  If a reference is listed in this section, then it should have been cited somewhere in your text.  For more information about citations, see this guide from the Nimitz Library: http://libguides.usna.edu/content.php?pid=344689&sid=2837123.  Papers in the field electrical engineering generally use the IEEE citation style.  This guide from the University of Pittsburgh has a good summary of the IEEE style: http://pitt.libguides.com/c.php?g=12108&p=64736.

Sample Lab Reports

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