Appendix I

The Formal Report

Course Support
Lab Contents

Overall Requirements

Overall Description

Interim and summary reports are an integral part of any intellectual investigation conducted in the public or private sectors. The Physics Lab Formal Report submission is one example of a Summary Report of an intellectual investigation. In particular, for the most part, the formal report that you will be asked to write will be a summary of your work on a particular experiment that you performed.

A Summary Report that is required by the board of directors of a company will be very different from a Summary Report that is published in Archaeology (the magazine) or Physical Review (a premium physics journal) . In fact, there are many differences between what is acceptable and expected in one context (like for the board of governors of a company) and what is acceptable and expected in another context (like Physical Review). You will also come to recognize a lot a similarities in the acceptable and expected practice that goes into writing good Summary Reports in any context.

The question arises of how do you, the author, discover acceptable and expected practices?  Here is a listing of the main sources of information and guidance that you might use:

  1. Document of the Report Specifications. This usually provides the minimum requirements only. Failure to meet these report specifications usually results in rejection of your work even before the content is reviewed. The following links are a typical set of such specifications.
  2. Summary Reports that have been published  in the same context. Reading other reports gives you a good feel for the style and content expected.
  3. Your prior school and undergraduate training. You will have learned and practiced writing skills, including producing documents with acceptable grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting. You will have learned and practiced many other skills that go into writing a good Formal Report, including properly documenting calculations, tabulating information, graphing numerical relationships, and factually describing a series of actions or events.
  4. Publications in the library and on the Internet.
  5. Consultations with other authors and experts. This is the most expensive source of information, and therefore should be reserved for clarification purposes only after you have made a reasonable effort to glean the necessary information from the other options.

Overall Physlab Specifications

For the Physics Lab, you will be asked to write several Formal Reports. These will be selected and assigned at the discretion of the Lab Supervisor. These must meet the following specifications:

Content and Format 

Physical Format

Report Structure

Overall Expected Practice

A computer word processor is commonly used to produce textual components of reports as it has the advantage of not only formatting but editing with a grammar and spell checking. Specialized software is often used for non-textual components, such as images, graphs, drawings. For the first year labs, these components are more easily hand drawn as no advantage is gained by using a computer.

The order in which you write a Formal Report is at your discretion, but writing a formal report is best begun with the central parts, leaving the beginning of the report to last. Start with laying out the data and working through the results (calculations, analysis, graphs). With the results completed, a discussion follows and the conclusion written from the discussion. Now that you fully understand the experiment, write the objective, introduction and procedure. Then complete your work with the cover page of the header and abstract.

In formatting the report, it is common practice is to leave margins of about an inch on either side, using a larger more readable font, with font style and size used for emphasis where-ever appropriate. Figures and Diagrams are large enough to be easily seen. Pages and tables are sized and spaced so that they will not appear crowded. Pagination is used appropriately. Table columns are properly aligned with the column headers. Symbols and equations are consistent throughout the report. Subscripts are consistent throughout the report.

Figures, diagrams and tables are all titled and captioned. Titles are descriptive of the actual content. Liberal use of labels help clarify what is being represented. Table column headers are clear and distinct.

Line drawings and renderings (such as diagrams) are not sketched. A straight edge is used for drawing all straight lines. Curves are drawn with a spline or other instrument. Items are not over-written or struck out (white-out is permitted). The scale of items throughout are consistent.