Perspectives on Lab Reports
In this section, you'll read about how electrical engineers think about lab reports.
Derek Lile, Electrical Engineering
Considering Your Audience
"When you write a technical report, how much do you assume the reader knows? I think normally, if you're writing, let's say, in the IEEE Transactions - you'd better assume the reader is an electrical engineer. He or she knows what ohms are, what farads are, what a capacitor is, and what an oscilloscope is. But you shouldn't assume that he or she knows anything about the measurement that you're doing. "
The Abstract's Function
"An important part of skillful reading, particularly when reading technical material, is sorting out the chaff from the wheat--finding what's important to spend your time reading. When they read a technical paper, most people won't go to a journal, find a paper and sit down and read it. Instead, they'll look at the title and decide if the article sounds interesting or not. If it looks interesting, they'll go to the next step. Some people at that point will read the abstract next, while others might glance at the figures and then look at the abstract. The point is that the abstract becomes a crucial decision maker about whether or not to read the full article. If the abstract looks interesting, then readers would go to the next step of skimming the paper. If that looks good, then they'd read the whole paper. Reading the whole paper takes valuable time. The abstract is one of the steps to devoting a lot of time to the paper. A key thing to remember is that you're not trying to trap people into reading the paper--there's nothing to be gained by that. "
How Readers Use Introductions
"When I read a report and after I've gone through the abstract and decided that the report looks like something I'd want to read, I'll probably look at the results section. If the results are interesting, then I'll come back and I'll start reading the introduction. As I read the introduction, I'll be looking for information about why the results of the experiment are important."
The Experiment Section's Goal
"The most important goal of this section is to explain clearly and precisely what was done to obtain the results. You also need to tell your readers the precise procedures that you followed to obtain those results. In a way, it's like telling the ingredients for a cake without revealing the steps necessary to combine and bake them."
Writing an Effective Results Section
"Good results sections are to the point and really talk about the results. They don't go off on a side track discussing the experimental stuff again, and that's the way it should be. You shouldn't be repeating information over and over - except to the extent of reminding the reader, or helping the reader follow what you're doing. Then repetition is okay. A reader should not have to fill in the blanks. "
Discussion & Conclusions: Organizational Concerns
"Sometimes the discussion and conclusion sections are two separate sections - you'll have a discussion section and a conclusion section. I personally like them together, because the conclusions section can sometimes become a little artificial and doesn't really add anything. So, I like to lump them together and just have one final section. "
John Mahan, Electrical Engineering
Project Reports Versus Lab Reports
"Project reports and lab reports are like recipes. You need to include certain ingredients to make them succeed. More responsibility is placed on students with project reports than with lab reports. After all, in a project report, students are not always told exactly how to proceed. They may be told solve this problem instead of build this device. You might even say that project reports are more like design projects since they sometimes require you to create designs. "
The Value of Lab Work
"I can learn a lot from reading and hearing information, but there's something fascinating about actually doing lab work, about creating a functioning electronic system. It's no longer a diagram in a book, but rather components put together…something I wired correctly and it works! That's basic human interest!"