Format and Guidelines for Laboratory Write-up


  1. General Issues
    1. Documents must be Word 97-2003 (.doc) or Word 2007 format (.docx)
    2. The document file name must have the following structure:
      1. lastnameF-labname.doc (or .docx)  (The F at the end of lastname stands for the first initial.  You don't all have different last names.)
    3. Labs are to be emailed prior to the lab session one week after completing the lab.
  2. Page Layout
    1. All pages must be double spaced
    2. Pages must have margins of 1"
    3. The font must be either Times New Roman or Ariel or Calibri
    4. The font size must be 12 point
    5. Page numbers must be in the upper right hand corner of the page and start on the title page
    6. Headings
      1. Main headings (e.g. Method, Results) should be centered on their own line and in bold.  No extra lines should be used before or after this heading.
      2. Secondary Headings (e.g., participants) should be left justified in bold.  No extra lines should be used before or after this heading
  3. Sections of a Lab Report: Unless otherwise instructed, each lab report must have the following sections:
    1. Title Page which has the following elements:
      1. Title
      2. Your name
      3. Both are centered  about 1/3 the way down the page.
      4. The first page number shows up on this page.
    2. Introduction
      1. begins with the main heading title Introduction
      2. This section gives the background for the study
    3. Method (note that this is singular)  This section has the following subsections (each is a secondary heading).
      1. Participants
        • This section describes those that participated in the experiment
      2. Stimulus
        • Describes in clear, precise detail the stimulus that was presented to the participant. 
        • Particular care is needed here because usually this describes the independent variable that is being manipulated
      3. Equipment
        • Describe the equipment used in the experiment
        • Includes both software and hardware
        • Only include items that are not general purpose and well known - like a ruler should not be in this section. 
        • Can come before the stimulus section
      4. Procedure
        • Describe in a simple direct manner, the method used to collect the data.
        • The actual collection of the data is a real part of the method and should be described.  It is vital that what data is collected (the dependent variable) is absolutely clear to the reader - not just in your head.
    4. Results
      1. A clear description of the data collected, how it has be manipulated, and what it means.
      2. It is not sufficient just to put the data out there.  This is the time to interpret the data.
      3. Figures:
        • Figures are numbered consecutively.
        • When you refer to a specific figure, call it "Figure 1" or whatever number it is.  Notice that Figure is capitalized.  it is a proper noun in this case as it refers to a specific thing in this place.
        • Place any figure that you use just after the paragraph that describes what is plotted in the figure, though it can be before the text that describes the trends in the data. 
        • After the figure comes a figure caption.  It has the following format (with x refering to the particular figure number):

          Figure X. Here is a brief description of what is in the figure.

    5. Conclusion
      1. What did you find?
      2. What does it mean? 
      3. Interpret the results in light of the introduction.
    6. References
      1. Include a reference section for all works that you use in your writeup.
      2. You may use either MLA or APA format for the references.
      3. You should at least has a reference to the text as it will be used in the Equipment subsection of the Method section (see above).

Guidelines:  Here are some general guidelines to help you write a better report.

  1. General
    1. Forget about how you have written other lab reports.  These are not lab reports but papers.
    2. Think more about how you write papers in other classes.  If you find yourself writing in lab report language, stop and start over.
    3. Your audience is a person who has never been in the lab.
    4. The lab report is an act of communication to someone who has never been in your lab, not a simple recitation of what you have done.
    5. You might need help with some of the concepts.  Waiting till the last night will not allow you to seek help.  Do not put these reports off so I can give you help.  Not understanding a concept is no excuse. 
    6. Always give the units for every measure unless instructed otherwise.  You will only not give measures if the measure is a ratio of two numbers that have the same units so that the units cancel, e.g, gain in the Critical Bands lab.
    7. Do not use first person pronouns.  The reader knows who you are and it gets very redundant to use it.
    8. Do not use rhetorical questions.  It is a cheap rhetorical device.
    9. Only use quotations if the words are actually significant.  Usually paraphrase.
    10. Do not begin sentences with numerals.
    11. As in all academic writing make sure you cite all sources and give proper reference.
  2. Introduction
    1. The point of the introduction is to clearly explain the point of the study and give the background ideas.
    2. Discuss what is being studied, such as depth, or critical bands
    3. Discuss what is the question, such as if stereopsis can support size constancy or if critical bands are the same everywhere.
    4. Do not begin with the point of the lab.  That is too specific and will not make sense to someone outside this class (which is your imaginary audience).  Give the background first.
    5. End with your hypothesis, but it must make sense based upon the information you provide.
    6. You should use sources, but in most cases the text is fine.
    7. Do not use rhetorical questions.  If you have a sentence with a question mark at the end.  Change it into a statement.
  3. Method:
    1. The point of the methods is that how an experiment is done determines how the data may or may not be interpreted.
      1. In science quite literally it is the means justifies the end not the other way around.
      2. Below are some comments on each section:
      3. Participants
        • Need to indicate those characteristics of the participants that are important to know and might influence the outcome of the study. 
        • Exactly what will be needed will depend on the study.
        • Consider how variations in the person could alter the outcome of the study
      4. Stimulus (or stimuli if more than one stimulus is used)
        • This is the key section of the method for a sensation and perception experiment.  It is the manipulation of the stimulus that is the IV.
        • The IV should be clear from how you describe the stimulus.*
        • The reader should be able to reproduce the stimulus at their end, even and especially if they do not have the equipment that you use.
        • Share with others not in this class and see if they can describe the stimulus as you experienced it - in all its variations.
        • Specific measures that describe the dimensions of the stimulus should be given unless told not to.
        • You may use figures here to good effect to help make what you are describing more clear.
      5. Equipment
        • Do not describe generally known equipment - like a ruler
        • However, little research is done with general purpose equipment.
        • So the equipment and how it works should be described - not all features but enough to give a general idea
        • Computers and monitors are not general purpose equipment because they vary so much from model to model
        • The maker and model number, when possible, should be given
      6. Procedure
        • This should describe the sequences of events performed to collect the data.
        • Any steps that require intimate knowledge of the software or equipment - like move this slider - should be described in terms of the impact - like the stimulus intensity was controlled by the participant.*
        • The steps to set up the software is not part of the procedure.  You have described the end result above in the stimulus section and equipment section - that is enough.*
        • You are describing the psychophysical method here.  But be specific.  Saying a Method of constant stimuli has seven levels tells the reader nothing.  Tell them what they are levels of: sound intensity, circle sizes, or gap sizes.  Whatever is being manipulated.
        • The whole point of the method is to collect data.  Therefore, tell me what the data is and how it was collected.  To leave this information out is to waste your time and your readers as you have ignored the whole point of the experiment - to collect data.*
        • Data is a general term.  It is not enough to say "We collected data."  That tells the reader nothing. 
          • Bad:  "Data was collected."
          • Better: "At the end of the trials, the number of correct detections for each sound intensity was recorded."
          • or
          • Bad: "The PSE was written down."
          • Better: "The size of the comparison circle that is the same size as the standard was recorded."
  4. Results:
    1. Any significant changes to the data from the form it is collected should be told to the reader.  They need to trace what has happened to the data.
    2. If data is in a graph or table, include it directly in this section
    3. If a figure or table are used, the table should be introduced - tell the reader what is in it - and then tell the reader what it means - there should be something you are trying to tell the reader in the table or graph - well, tell the reader*
    4. You are telling a story.  The story of your data.
  5. Conclusion:
    1. First, tell the reader what you conclude from your data based upon your hypothesis you have.  Do you support or reject your hypothesis?
    2. So, what does this experiment tell us about our sensory systems?  That is the point of the experiment to learn something.  So what has been learned?  Think broadly and speculate.
    3. Notice limitations of the study.
  6. References:
    1. Citations: A citation is what is put in the body of the paper to refer to the full bibliographic reference placed here at the end of the paper.  You  may use either APA or MLA style of citations for there lab reports, whichever you are more comfortable with.
    2. Reference is the full bibliographic information so that a source of information can be found. 
    3. To not give proper citation and reference for information not your own is Plagiarism and constitutes academic dishonesty.
    4. Citation and Reference formats are found in Rules for Writers by Diana Hacker that is handed out in Great Works.