Checklist for Formal Lab Reports

In order to eliminate some common problems in formal lab reports, please check the following items. A separate checklist is available that is designed for general scientific papers instead of formal lab reports.


____ Analyze data and perform calculations - you may need to redo this if not correct in lab notebook.
____ List all equations that are needed for the analysis - it is likely that these should be derived or discussed in the theory section of the paper.
____ Make an Outline to construct the basic structure of the paper.
____ Decide who you are writing for and aim at an appropriate level.
____ Form a "thesis statement" - a short (1-3 sentence) statement of what you want the reader to understand as the most important point in your paper. This statement may end up appearing in the abstract or introduction.
____ Look up the "accepted values" for all constants (e, e/m, ...) in an acceptable reference.  See Physics Today, August of most years for an up-to-date list.  The CODATA database of the latest physical constants can be found at  Report accepted values in your paper with the stated uncertainties and a reference. The front covers of textbooks such as Serway or Tipler are not an acceptable reference


____ Double space your paper. Use Times-Roman 12-point font or larger throughout.
____ Check organization of the paper. It should contain (in some format) an abstract and introduction, some theory to support paper (primarily any equations used), some procedure and apparatus description. It should also discuss the measurements which were taken, the analysis of the data performed, and conclusions.
____ Make sure that the text in each paragraph agrees with the opening sentence of the paragraph. Break the paragraphs by logical divisions.
____ All graphs, pictures, drawings, diagrams, sketches, etc. must be called a "Figure."  All tabular material must be called a "Table."
____ All Figures and Tables must be numbered and include a 1-3 sentence caption. If desired, figures may be on separate pages at the end of the reports, and the captions may be on a page of captions instead of the bottom of the figure.
____ All Figures and Tables must be referred to, by number, in the text - do not include figures or tables which are not referred to in the text.
____ Any scanned figures, such as circuit diagrams, must be sharp, clear and easy to read.  It is often better to manually cut-and-paste figures instead of scanning and inserting them into the documents.  Figures must be attributed if they are not your original work, including if they are copied from a lab manual.
____ Do not include a fitting program printout or spreadsheet table unless it is "cleaned up" (change column headings, correct number of significant figures, units, explain what is on the page, what parameters mean, etc.).
____ Numeric values of importance (fit parameters, results, etc.) should be in the text of the paper or in a figure caption. Don't force the reader to read printouts and graphs to find parameters.
____ Carefully explain the fitting or analysis method, especially how errors were used, for any calculations.
____ All numeric values should have units and errors (if appropriate). Check significant figures.
____ If you are going to state any deviations from accepted values, state as the number of standard deviations (in addition to % error if you want).
____ Footnote (endnote, etc.) any material, including apparatus diagrams, which is not your own or is not "common knowledge" and use a standard style for references.  For this course, the required style is from the AIP Style Manual. Be careful of plagiarism in following the structure of another book too closely.
____ Conclusions should logically follow from data and analysis.
____ Carefully read the whole paper!
____ Make a backup copy of your paper on a floppy disk (or other removable media) during and after writing the paper.

PROOF READING OF PAPER (At the Sentence/Paragraph level)

____ Carefully read the whole paper from a printed page! Check carefully for any reformatting that your word processor may have done.
____ Check the spelling (run spell checker if using a word processor). Be careful of correctly spelled words that are not correct (such as "then" instead of "than" or "excepted" instead of "accepted")
____ Avoid the first person (We or I) whenever possible in scientific papers.
____ Never use contractions (wasn't, didn't, ...) in formal writing.
____ If a sentence is longer than about 2-3 lines, double check to make sure it is not run-on or that you shouldn't rewrite it.
____ Check tense of verbs and remain consistent: Past Tense (was, were) Present Tense (is, are).
____ Check noun/verb agreement (singular/plural): The coil's diameter were measured ...
____ Check punctuation, particularly of equations.
____ Avoid unnecessary words (often "then" is not needed, replace phrases such as "due to the fact that" with "because" or "in order to" with "to")
____ Make sure you have written in any equations, Greek characters, etc. which you did not type into the paper.
____ Make sure that any needed figures or tables are attached to the paper.
____ Make sure that your report is clearly printed using a high-resolution laser printer or inkjet printer.  Text that is not sharp and easy to read, or that is dim because of a nearly empty toner/inkjet cartridge will not be accepted. Recheck that the printed font is 12-point or larger.
____ Carefully read the whole paper still again!
____ While you are at it, carefully read the whole paper one more time!

Electronic Copy of this File:
Revised: March 15, 2006, by Tom Huber, Physics Department, Gustavus Adolphus College.