Access some templates below and also at other universities.
Colorado State has a great summary of types of writing in Engineering including a template for a lab report. Please see http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=84. Humboldt State has a template for technical memos that looks like a good place to start https://engineering.humboldt.edu/resources/technical-communication/memos Duke’s Writing Center has an interesting set of “lessons” that take you through word choices, etc. https://sites.duke.edu/scientificwriting/ A site developed with NSF for Writing for Civil Engineering has many resources http://www.cewriting.org/. There are also resources for teaching writing in the Sciences from the Univ. of Illinois at https://publish.illinois.edu/waes/writing-goals-and-materials/
We also recommend this article: Scientific Writing in Biology for Undergrads.
Technical and Lab Reports
Reports follow the same principles as published articles:
- Abstract or Executive summary
- Introduction or Background
Abstract or Executive Summary
The abstract is a paragraph while the executive summary can be a page long. The abstract helps the reader decide if the topic is of interest; the executive summary helps the reader avoid reading the whole report. Abstract Template.
Both should include the context, the methods and the results.
See the OWL Purdue site on Abstract VS Executive Summary at this link.
Introduction or Background
This has two purposes: 1) to provide the context for the report and 2) to convince the readers that your approach to the problem is credible.
Context is often provided using a problem/solution and general-to-specific organization pattern. Start with the real world problem that is relevant, then move to the more specific aspects of the problem you were investigating.
Credibility is often established by using sources. Be careful though!
- Don’t just data dump, i.e. put in summaries of sources. You need to synthesize them.
- Don’t use weak sources. Your readers will be familiar with the seminal authors doing work in the field and will expect to see them.
- Critique your sources. Often the best support for your work is showing what the experts have missed
- Use past tense. Don’t use the instructions style of language that is used in lab assignments.
- E.g. “Pour in 100 ml of distilled water” should be written as “100 ml of distilled water was poured in” or “We poured in 100 ml of distilled water.”
- Note that it is NOT good format to start a sentence with a number.
- Note that there are various opinions about using passive voice (E.g. ‘was poured”). Passive used to be common in scientific writing. However, for the past few decades, some editors and disciplines consider passive bad form; others still prefer it. Check what the authors you are referencing use.
- You don’t have to give all the steps if a particular method is well known, but be sure to name that method.
Results and Discussion
Sometimes Results are given in a section separate from the Discussion section and sometimes they are combined. The important problem is recognizing how the information is different.
Results relate to your tables and figures, but you need to be selective in what you write. Don’t explain EVERYTHING in the table. Your results are well written if a reader can 1) read your paragraph without needing to look at the figure and 2) be clear on the main aspect of the result, not all the details.
The discussion is where you make the case for the importance of your results. You may compare to the work of others with citations. You may note that there are multiple ways to interpret your results. You may indicate that further research that needs to be done.
Tables and Figures need to be labeled. The label is positioned above the table and below the figure.
There doesn’t appear to be a preferred form of the conclusion. One style is a simple list of the results. A more prose style would be to assert whether or not your hypothesis has been supported, followed by a summary of the results, and then an indication of next steps for further research.