- Graded labs
- Formal lab reports
- Elements of a good computer drawn graph
- How to write an experimental procedure
- Top ten stylistic errors I never want to see in a lab report
- Formal lab reports in the Common Core standards
- NYS Board of Regents and College Board requirements
- Fall semester
- Toy cars (formal report)
- Newton's 2nd law (formal report)
- Coefficient of friction (formal report)
- Spring semester
- Ohm's law (formal report)
- Speed of sound (formal report)
- Shoot for your grade (accuracy grade)
Formal lab reports
- Read and follow these guidelines when writing a formal lab report. The most common cause of low grades is failure to read and follow these guidelines.
- This format applies to a typical formal report. Subsequent formal reports may be modified as the situation merits.
- Cover page [5%]
Write the title of the lab in the center of the page. Write your name and class period in the lower right hand corner.
- Abstract [5%]
Write a brief statement of what you were verifying, measuring, determining, etc. in the form of a purpose or goal. One sentence should suffice. Your goal is never to "prove" something, as it is only possible to disprove scientific theories. The purpose of every lab is always given in writing on the raw data sheet, in the lab notes, on the whiteboard, or verbally by the lab instructor. Feel free to "copy" this word for word.
- Introduction [10%]
Provide some background to the experiment: concepts, terms, formulas, etc. Present them in logical order.
- Diagram [5%]
Make a rough, labeled sketch of the assembled apparatus. Include labeled schematic diagrams when needed (vector or circuit diagrams, for example).
- Procedure [10%]
Write a brief description of the activities performed during the lab. Gathering or putting away equipment, entering numbers in a table, calculating results, and writing a report are not lab procedures. Use simple past tense, passive voice. Don't tell the reader what to do, describe what was done. Organize the procedures using numbered bullets instead of paragraphs.
- Analysis [40%]
Explain what the data means in words and show how to extract this meaning using mathematics. Items used in analysis can include (but are not limited) to the following:
- a single data table showing the original data collected and the results calculated
- the equations used in your calculations
- a graph with a best fit curve and coefficients
- descriptive text to tie the whole thing together
- Conclusion [10%]
Summarize what you accomplished through your analysis. Respond to the purpose of the lab as stated in the abstract. One sentence is usually enough.
- Sources of error [10%]
Identify at least two factors that lead to experimental error. Consider the assumptions made in the theory and the materials and methods used to do the experiment. Be specific. Avoid generalities. Mistakes (intentional or adccidental) are not sources of experimental error. Do not use the words wrong, right, precise, imprecise, accurate, inaccurate, perfect, imperfect, etc.
- Raw data [5%]
This is to be the actual paper containing the measurements gathered during the lab itself. Do not rewrite it. Do not use whiteout. Neatness is not crucial. Honesty is.
- Use 12 point, double spaced (24 point line spacing), business fonts for the body text, headers, footers, data tables, equations, and figure captions. Section headings and the title on the title page may be written in a larger font size.
- Use letter size paper with a 1 inch margin on all four sides. Headers and footers should be placed ½ inch from the top and bottom of the page.
- Use this Microsoft Word template if you wish.
The total weight of each component is written in square brackets. Lab reports will be carefully graded, with comments on style and substance. Be concise and accurate. Don't waste my time with long-winded ramblings. Demonstrate good writing skills.
- Bonus [+5%]
I will add a bonus of not more than +5% for reports that are saved as a single document and uploaded to turnitin.com. The file must be in one of these formats: Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, PDF, HTML, RTF, OpenOffice (ODT), or Google Doc (submitted via the Google Drive submission option). Students will receive email invitations to a specific assignment inbox before any deadline. Lab reports submitted any other way will not be accepted.
- Deadlines [−10%]
Formal lab reports are due one week after the day of the lab activity unless otherwise indicated. Reports submitted after the end of period 10 on the due date will be penalized –10%. Reports submitted after the on-time reports have been graded will not be read and will receive a grade of zero.
- Growth scoring
Each formal lab report will be scored three times — once just for the analysis, once for the 1st draft of the full report, and again for the 2nd draft of the full report. If the 1st draft score is higher than the analysis, the higher grade will count twice. If it is lower, your progress report will show a high grade followed by a low grade. If the score on the 2nd draft is higher than the 1st, then higher grade will count twice. If it is lower, then the original grade counts twice. If the 2nd draft grade is the highest of the three, then that grade counts three times. For example…
original scores reported scores 50 70 90 → 90 90 90 100 70 90 → 100 90 90 80 90 0 → 90 90 90 80 70 0 → 80 70 70 0 0 50 → 50 50 50
Elements of a good computer drawn graph
How to write an experimental procedure
The procedures section of a lab report for this class should be written using declarative sentences in simple past tense with a passive voice. Avoid the active voice and never write imperative sentences.
Declarative vs. imperative sentences
Like recipes, lab instruction sheets use imperative sentences with an implied future tense. They describe what will be done in the lab. Imperatives are command sentences that have no subject. When you come across a sentence that says "Do this" or "Do that" in an instruction sheet, it is implied that "You will do this" or "You will do that". You, the student in lab, are the subject of these imperative sentences. The reason lab instructions are written this way is because you will be doing what is written in that document.
In contrast, student lab reports use declarative sentences written in simple past tense for the procedures section. They describe what was done in the lab. The reason lab reports are written this way is because you did what is written in that document.
Passive vs. active voice
Passive voice is preferred in scientific writing since the agent performing the action is obvious and unchanging. In the case of lab reports for this class, the agent is a group of students that includes the author of the lab report.
Passive voice gives priority to the object being acted upon. Sentences in passive voice begin with the most important information first — what piece of equipment was used or what measurement was made. These are what matters in a procedure, so sentences should start with them. As they say in journalism, "Don't bury the lead".
imperative & active
declarative & passive
The student in the first column listed the equipment in step 1. Don't do this. Experimental procedures are not written like recipes.
The student in the first column also described a calculation in step 6. Don't do this. Calculations belong in the analysis section of a lab report.
Top ten stylistic errors I never want to see in a lab report
Words, phrases, and sentences of this sort must never appear in a lab report.
- Wishy-washy phrases
- "might have"
- "may have"
- "could have"
- "should have"
- "sort of"
- Nonspecific excuses
- "old equipment"
- "outdated equipment"
- "bad equipment"
- "dirty equipment"
- "not enough time"
- "inadequate time"
- "human error"
- Space filling sentences
- "Before beginning this lab we must define terms".
- "In conclusion…"
- "There were many sources of error in this lab".
- Any sentence using the words "data", "information", "relationship", "represent"
- "We wrote down the data".
- "This is a graph of our data".
- "Then we analyzed our data".
- "The graphs below show the information from the table".
- "The table and graph represent the relationship between…"
- "Every tick of the metronome represented…"
- "Each data point represents…"
- "The slope represents the relationship…"
- "I interpreted my data to show the relationship…"
- Pretty much any phrase containing the words "wrong" or "right" (except when referring to a "right angle")
- "We measured wrong".
- "We did not use the ruler the right way".
- "We wrote down the wrong numbers".
- "We did not calculate the right answers".
- "The measurements caused us to calculate the wrong answer".
- Spelling errors that won't be caught by a spell checker
- "fro" when you mean "for"
- "angel" when you mean "angle"
- "trails" when you mean "trials"
- "censor" when you mean "sensor"
- "photo gate" when you mean "photogate"
- "than" when you mean "then" (or vice versa)
- "weight" when you mean "weigh" (or vice versa)
- "of" when you mean "have" (or vice versa)
- "there", "their", and "they're" have different meanings
- Words that confuse science with mathematics
- "proof "
- Words that assume science is the pursuit of perfection
- "exactly", "inexactly", "exact", "inexact"
- "perfectly", "imperfectly", "perfect", "imperfect"
- "precisely", "imprecisely", "precise", "imprecise"
- "possibly", "impossible", "possible", "impossible"
- "accurately", "inaccurately", "accurate", "inaccurate", "a Accura"
- Comparative statements that don't make a comparison
- "The force of friction was greater". (Greater than what?)
- "The mass was more". (More than what?)
- "The speed was very fast". (Fast compared to what? How fast is very fast?)
Formal lab reports in the Common Core standards
Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects: Grades 11–12 students.
- Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
- Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
- Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
- Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
- Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
- Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented
- Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.
- Introduce a topic and organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
- Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.
- Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
- Use precise language, domain-specific vocabulary and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic; convey a knowledgeable stance in a style that responds to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
- Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation provided (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
- Students' narrative skills continue to grow in these grades. The Standards require that students be able to incorporate narrative elements effectively into arguments and informative/explanatory texts. In history/social studies, students must be able to incorporate narrative accounts into their analyses of individuals or events of historical import. In science and technical subjects, students must be able to write precise enough descriptions of the step-by-step procedures they use in their investigations or technical work that others can replicate them and (possibly) reach the same results.
- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
- Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
- Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
- Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and over reliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
- Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
- Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Source: Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects [pdf].
NYS Board of Regents and College Board requirements
Regents requirements do not apply to students in AP Physics C unless they have not taken the Regents Physics Exam.
- Regents Physics & AP Physics 1
- Pursuant to Section 207 of the Education Law and Section 8.2(c) of the Rules of the Board of Regents, all students taking the Regents exam in physics "must have successfully completed a minimum of 1200 minutes of hands-on laboratory experience with satisfactory laboratory reports on file".
- Therefore, you must submit all completed and graded lab reports for archiving as proof of eligibility. If less than 7 double period lab reports per semester 27 single period lab reports per year are present in your collection you will be barred from the exam.
- AP Physics 1, 2, & C
- College Board guidelines require that students spend a "minimum of 20% of instructional time engaged in laboratory work" and "complete a lab notebook or portfolio of lab reports".
- Therefore you should strongly consider keeping all your reports from this class (originals or copies) in the event that you are asked to submit them for proof of Advanced Placement status in college.