LABORATORY REPORTS - Mechanical Engineering

Author: Prof. Ann Anderson, andersoa@union.edu
Updated: 06 Jan 2013


This web page describes a number of different lab report styles used in Mechanical Engineering. Be sure to review the specific requirements of your professor!

Also review all of the helpful information on the Union College writing center home page at http://www.union.edu/Resources/Academic/writing/index.php

and check out the Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students technical writing page at Penn State: 
http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/

and Labwrite (a website designed to help you improve your writing): http://labwrite.ncsu.edu/

REPORT STYLES (click on link for more information):

    Written Full Reports
    Written Short/Summary Reports
    Written Memo Reports
    Oral Reports


WRITTEN-FULL REPORTS

The audience for this type of report is a practicing mechanical engineering who knows something about the topic (but has probably forgot much of it so he or she needs to have the relevant material reviewed). The text of this report should be approximately 5 pages long (the data and figures will take additional pages). It should be neat, legible, well organized and include the following:

  1. Cover Sheet - title of experiment, date of experiment, your name, the names of your lab partners

  2. Abstract (1 paragraph) - An abstract is an "executive summary" which briefly describes the experiment and states the main findings. It summarizes the entire report in one main paragraph. Write the abstract last but resist the temptation to copy chunks of text from other parts of the report. Your abstract should emphasize the objective (why), procedure (how), results (what you learned) and significance (why it is important). Be precise and specific. A technical report is not a mystery novel – state your conclusion as soon as possible!

  3. Introduction (~1 page) - Include a brief introduction that explains the purpose of the report and the purpose of the experiment. The introduction should also include any other introductory/background information or theory that the reader needs to know. This is where you tell the reader what you did and why you did it.

  4. At the end of the Introduction include a paragrpah that "forecasts" the remainder of the report (ie tell the reader about the contents of the remaining sections).


    Note on Verb Tense: The experiment is already finished. Use the past tense when talking about the experiment. The report still exists, use the present tense when talking about the report.

  5. Methods and Materials (~ 1 page) - Use a paragraph form to describe the steps taken to perform the experiment, describe measurement techniques and discuss the apparatus (include diagrams or sketches of the apparatus  - you may copy any diagrams that I pass out with lab material but be sure to cite them). Use your own words. Do not copy the procedure from the lab handout. This is where you tell the reader how you did the experiment and you describe the equipment and materials used to conduct the experiment. You should provide enough information so that another researcher in your field could use your description to replicate the experiment.

  6. Results  (however many pages it takes) - Present your results to the reader. Although results are usually presented quantitatively, you should always introduce each block of information with simple clear language. Include measured results, an estimate of the experimental uncertainty and any calculations used. In most cases it is sufficient to provide a sample calculation with clear explanation of the equations. Use tables and figures as necessary. All tables and figures should be labeled with a Figure/Table number and a descriptive caption. Presentation of results is extremely important so take time to determine the best way to present them. Compare your data to theoretical or empirical results.


    Note on Graphics: In Engineering reports we use Figures and Tables (not Graphs and Charts), Figure captions should be numbered consecutively and placed underneath each Figure. Table captions should be placed above each table.

  7. Discussion ( ~1-2 pages) - Interpret the results of the experiment. This is the most important part of your report. Here you have the opportunity to show that you understand the experiment. You must explain, analyze and interpret your results. Discuss experimental and theoretical results and why they do or do not agree. Explain any errors. Focus your discussion on the following questions:

  1. Conclusion (0.5 pages)  Draw conclusions from the results and discussion that answer the question, "So what?" Then go on to explain your conclusions with reference to the results that support the conclusions. In this section, you may also criticize the lab experiment and make recommendations for improvement. Such criticisms and recommendations, however, should focus on the lab as a learning experience; mere complaints about faulty equipment or amount of time spent are not appropriate.

  2.  

  3. References: Provide bibliographical information for any material that is not original and which you cited in the your report. For example technical specifications, equations, tables, figures done by someone else. Use the ASME citation style. See the following website for more information

http://www.asme.org/kb/proceedings/proceedings/references

http://mulibraries.missouri.edu/engineering/guides/asme.htm

 

  1. Appendices: Appendices should include raw data, calculations, graphs, and other quantitative materials that were part of the experiment, but not detailed in any of the above sections. Refer to each appendix at the appropriate point (or points) in your report. For example, at the end of your results section, you might have the note, "See Appendix A: Raw Data "

Other: Be sure to use page numbers!



WRITTEN-SHORT REPORTS

The audience for this type of report is your professor and she or he is already very well informed about the topic. I am reading your report for evidence that you understand the the objectives and conclusions of the lab.  The text of this report should be approximately 2 pages long. It should be neat, legible, well organized and include the following:

  1. Cover Sheet - title of experiment, date of experiment, your name, the names of your lab partners
  2. Introduction - Include a brief 1 paragraph introduction that explains the purpose of the report and the purpose of the experiment. (~ 50 words)

  3. Results - Present your results to the reader. Although results are usually presented quantitatively, you should always introduce each block of information with simple clear language. Include all measured and calculated results.

  4. Discussion (~1 page) - Interpret the results of the experiment. This is the most important part of your report. Here you have the opportunity to show that you understand the experiment. You must explain, analyze and interpret your results. Discuss experimental and theoretical results and why they do or do not agree. Explain any errors. Focus your discussion on the following questions:

  1. Conclusion (~0.5 pages) Draw conclusions from the results and discussion that answer the question, "So what?" Then go on to explain your conclusions. In this section, you may also criticize the lab experiment and make recommendations for improvement. Such criticisms and recommendations, however, should focus on the lab as a learning experience; mere complaints about faulty equipment or amount of time spent are not appropriate.

  1. References: Provide bibliographical information for any material that is not original and which you cited in the your report. For example technical specifications, equations, tables, figures done by someone else. Use the ASME citation style. See the following website for more information

    http://www.asme.org/kb/proceedings/proceedings/references

    http://mulibraries.missouri.edu/engineering/guides/asme.htm

  1. Appendices: Appendices should include raw data, calculations, graphs, and other quantitative materials that were part of the experiment, but not detailed in any of the above sections. Refer to each appendix at the appropriate point (or points) in your report. For example, at the end of your results section, you might have the note, "See Appendix A: Raw Data "

Other: Be sure to use page numbers!



WRITTEN -MEMO REPORTS
A common form of communication in business and academia is the memorandum (pl. memorandums or memoranda), usually called a memo. Memos are written by everyone from junior executives to professors to engineers to CEOs. It is important that you learn to master this basic communication form. Memos are generally written to solve problems by informing the reader about new information or by persuading the reader to take an action. The most important feature about a memo is that it be concise yet complete and informative. 

One format for presenting your lab results is to write a memo report. The audience is your professor who has asked you to perform some task (i.e. measure viscosity, design a system). Your professor wants you to make a "recommendation" or present a key "result" (i.e. recommend using transducer A or reporting that you found the viscosity of oil to be 10 cps)  Remember - all professors are skeptics - they wont believe your recommendation unless you back it up by carefully explaining your measurement/analysis technique and presenting your data. However, your professor doesn't want to read 10 pages! Your challenge is to present the important and relevant information in two pages. You can include as many attachments as you like. 

Memos are generally divided into two parts: the heading and the body. 

  1. Opening: State the main purpose of the correspondence right away. Include the context and problem, the specific assignment or task, and the purpose of the memo. This section should be short (1 paragraph) and used to remind the reader of the problem that is addressed in the memo. 

  2. Recommendation: If your memo is longer than a page (which they should be for a lab report) you should include a summary section at the beginning of the memo. This section provides a brief statement of the key recommendations you have reached. These will help your reader understand the key points of the memo immediately. (i.e include a statement like "I recommend that you purchase 3 types of pressure transducers for a total cost of $###. " or "I measured the vicosity of the oil to be 10 cp which is within specification.")

  3. Discussion: The discussion section is where you include all the detailed information that you have gathered to support you ideas. Keep these two things in mind:

  1. Closing: After the reader has absorbed all of your information, you want to reiterate your main findings and close with a courteous ending (offer of further assistance) that states what action you want your reader to take. 
     

  2. References: Provide bibliographical information for any material that is not original and which you cited in the your report. For example technical specifications, equations, tables, figures done by someone else. Use the ASME citation style. See the following website for more information

    http://www.asme.org/kb/proceedings/proceedings/references

    http://mulibraries.missouri.edu/engineering/guides/asme.htm


  3. Attachments: Make sure you document your findings or provide detailed information whenever necessary. You can do this by attaching lists, figures, tables, etc. at the end of your memo. This is the longest part of the report!

Writing a quick outline may help your to organize your thoughts. Develop a list of the main ideas that you wish to present. Use short paragraphs and analyze each paragraph of your memo for its purpose, content, or function. When you find a paragraph that does more than one thing, consider splitting it into two paragraphs. If you find two short separate paragraphs that do the same thing, consider combining them.

 


ORAL REPORTS

    At least one of your labs will be presented in the form of a group oral presentation. Your lab grade will be based on this presentation so you need to carefully prepare your talk to convey the important results of the lab exercise. The format of the oral presentation should follow the format of the written lab report. We will be taping the presentations and you will be required to meet to review the tapes and write a self assessment. You must provide a printed copy of your presentation at the start of your talk (handout slides are okay).
       
    Other Considerations:

    Environment

    Check that room is orderly with no unnecessary furnishings or clutter. Erase board. Check light, air, and temperature. Be familiar with surroundings and plan your movements. Check overheads, slides, and other visual aids. If possible, rehearse in the location where you will speak.

    Voice

    Choose appropriate volume and tone. Not too serious - nor flippant. Open your mouth. Use inflection (vary tone and volume for emphasis, interest). Direction (toward audience, not to board, lectern, notes). Enunciate clearly. Don't talk too fast.

    Appearance

    Your appearance should be appropriate to the presentation. Be happy, smile, don't look petrified. Stand straight, look at audience, keep your hands out of your pockets. Don't sway, fidget, or scratch. Avoid mannerisms. Move around, don't play statue.

    Delivery

    Be enthusiastic (convince yourself that you have an important message!). Speak with confidence and competence. Use emphatic gestures using controlled arm and body movements which help emphasize points. Avoid weasel words ("It seems to me", "In my humble opinion"). Use eye contact. Move around room, make contact with everyone. Use audience participation, when appropriate. Avoid you know, all right, OK, ah, er, oh, well, now, etc. Avoid jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms (define any that you do use). Don't lean on podium, or hide behind it. Don't play with pointer or other tools.

    Visual aids

    Use visual aids to add to presentation. Be careful that they don't distract your audience. Make sure that all overheads and slides are readable from the back of the room.