Instructions for Written Lab Reports
"There is universal agreement that the ability to communicate orally and in writing is essential to becoming a capable engineer." Prof. T. U. McElmurry, Texas A & M University.
Data and Formal Reports

Two different types of reports will be required for this course: data reports and formal reports. The type will be specified for each laboratory experiment.

  1. The purpose of the formal report is to explain to your peers who are not familiar with the specific experiment, why you did it, how you did it, what you found and what the results mean. The audience for the formal report is junior- and senior-level students who have not taken AE 3051.
  2. The purpose of a data report is to provide quick access to results with a minimum of delay. To this end, the results are presented but the details of the experiment and an extended intepretation of the data are omitted. Thus, the reader of the data report is assumed to be familiar with the particular experiment in question. Be sure that what you hand in is comprehensible without being overly simplistic. Data reports not just data "dumps", it is still important to effectively communicate your results.

  • Writing Style
  • General Formatting 
  • Data Report Formatting
  • Formal Report Formatting
  • Writing Style

    It is important that you write clear, concise and accurate reports. Technical communications is all about making yourself understood and communicating important and interesting information. Therefore, it is important that you proofread your document carefully. Use a spell checker to help find typing errors. Also be careful that all your writing is grammatically correct. Please, do not write sentences without subjects or verbs.

    You should also watch your tense. Constantly switching between past and present tense is annoying and confusing. Pick one tense, for example past tense, and use it as consistently as possible. For example, "the measurements were acquired....", and "the experimental apparatus consisted of ....". In some cases, you will need to switch tenses. For example, when you describe a graph you would probably use present tense, "Figure 1 shows...".

    Historically, the use of first person in technical writing has been discouraged. In addition, passive tense was often employed. More recently, many technical editors have promoted some use of first person to allow technical writing to use more active verbs "We found" rather than "it was found". The proper choice will depend on your audience. Therefore, you should be comfortable with both styles. We (note the use of first person) will allow use of first person, but please limit it. Copying verbatim out of the lab manuals or lab supplements is not writing (its plagiarism) and is not allowed.

    Format Requirements

    You must follow these report formats. Do not assume that they are the same as in other AE lab courses. Having a uniform style makes it easier to find information in your report and to give you the best grade possible.


    Your lab must be typed in a SINGLE-COLUMN FORMAT and must be DOUBLE-SPACED. An 8 1/2" by 11" or A4 laser printed manuscript is preferred (use 12 pt. characters, preferably Helvetica/Arial or Times/Times-Roman fonts, and 12 pt. line spacing). You must have a right, left, top, and bottom margin of 1".

    Title Page
    The title page is ALWAYS the first page, but it is NOT numbered (the next page would be page #1). It contains the following:

    Course #, Lab #



    Lab Group #

    ____ Semester, year


    Equations numbers, Symbols, and Abbreviations Page numbers

    The page number should be on the bottom center of every page.

    Introduction Section

    All reports, formal and data must include an Introduction section, not to exceed one-half page.  The Introduction should be in your own words - not copied from the lab manual.

    The Introduction should address the following points (in any order):

    The Introduction should not include information about your results or findings. The Introduction is not an abstract or summary of your report.

      Data Reports
    The following guidelines apply to data reports (see example data report or data report template). Data reports are organized as follows:
    1. Title page
    2. Introduction
    3. Results
    4. Brief Discussion
    5. Tables and Figures

    This section should include two subsections:

    As noted above, you must refer to any data tables or figures in this section (for example, "the normalized velocity profiles are shown in Figure 2"), but place the actual tables or plots at the end of the report in the Tables and Figures section.

    Brief Discussion

    This section is limited to two pages, and should be divided into two subsections (apppropriately labeled):

    For each lab, a lab supplement concerning the lab will include a set of questions. Your text should allow the grader/reader to clearly understand which question is being answered. It is not necessary to repeat the question, even in condensed fashion (though you may if you wish). In the second section add a few additional observations regarding the lab (e.g., about the experimental techniques used or the fluid dynamics/aerodynamics studied). This is your opportunity to show some originality and to demonstrate that you understand the implications of your results and lab experience. Please note that points will be given for the quality of your discussion, not for quantity. DO NOT provide an extensive discussion of all your results and findings in a Data Report.

    Tables and Figures

    This section should contain all tables and figures in the report. All tables should be grouped together in order, followed by all figures. Each figure and table included in this section must be referenced (i.e., it must be referred to by number) somewhere else in the text of the report.  Unless other instructions are given in the lab manuals, ALL figures and tables should be computer generated (not hand written or hand drawn).

    When creating tables data should be easily readable and organized logically. Tables should be captioned with a consecutive table number and title, which appear above the table (e.g. Table I. Title). Tables are numbered using Roman numerals. Tables do not have to have horizontal or vertical lines as long as their meaning is clear without them. All tables should be in portrait mode (same orientation as text).

    Figures should be captioned with a consecutive figure number and title, which appear below the figure, (e.g.; Figure 1. Title). Figures are numbered using Arabic numerals. For every figure, be sure you label both axes including the units. If there is more than one curve per graph include some method for identifying each (for example, different symbols, line styles, or labeling). Experimental data should be plotted in symbol form and are usually not curve-fitted. Analytical results are plotted as a continuous curve. Insofar as possible, figures should "stand alone", i.e., the reader can grasp the presentation by reading the title, the labels, and the legend. Look at a technical report or journal on-line regarding scales, grid sizes, and the like. Symbols and lettering must be large enough to be easily read when printed. All figures should be in portrait mode (same orientation as text).

    Formal Reports
    The following guidelines apply to formal reports  (see example formal report or formal report template) . Formal reports are organized as follows:

    1. Title page
    2. Abstract
    3. Introduction
    4. Experimental Setup
    5. Results and Discussion
    6. Conclusions
    7. Appendix: Error Analysis
    Abstract Experimental Setup

    Briefly describe the experimental setup. Mention all instruments that were used and explain what they were used for. Describe in words what was connected to what and where measurements were carried out. If a wiring/tubing schematic is required it will be specified in the lab manual under "results". Do not describe individual instruments in detail, however, if an instrument consists of a number of components (e.g., the laser Doppler Velocimeter) briefly explain how they are interlinked. Also describe briefly how the measurements were carried out.

    Results and Discussion

    Under this heading, present the results asked for in the lab manual and lab supplement. Present and discuss the results in a general fashion and in a narrative style, i.e., in paragraphs, not as a bullet list.  State what the results show, for example you could discuss how and why they significantly agree or differ from what you expected.  It is important to be concise; do not hide your astute observations behind a pile of superfluous words. All figures and tables should be introduced as the data is presented in your text, and the figures and tables should be embedded into your text at the point where each is first introduced. Use the same standards for the appearance of each figure and table as described for data reports. You may divide this part of the Results and Discussion section into any subsections you feel are useful.

    At the end of your Results and Discussion section, create a subsection entitled Supplement Questions. In this subsection, answer the questions raised in the lab supplement. As in the data reports, you do not need to rewrite the questions; simply paraphrase the questions or write the answers in a manner that will make it clear to the reader which question is being answered. The only discussion in this subsection should be your answers to the supplement questions.


    The conclusions are the counterpart to the introduction section. It should summarize to the reader: 1) the specific problem, 2) what investigation was carried out,  3) what was found, and 4) what it means. You should not repeat your abstract verbatim or give all the details found in your results/discussion section.  Also, no new results should be presented here.  The reader should be able to find supporting evidence elsewhere in the report (including the Appendix) for each conclusion presented in this section.

    Appendix: Error Analysis

    This Appendix starts on a new page after the Conclusions section. In it, you provide the necessary analysis to estimate the random errors (i.e., the reproducibility), the systematic errors, and the total error for each type of measurement if the data allows. In any event, state what you consider to be the largest source of error in your data and make at least one specific recommendation as to how this error could be reduced. The results of your error analysis should be included when reasonable in the data plots presented in the Results and Discussion section.