Differential Equations Lab Writing Guidelines
The lab reports you turn in will be written as expository, technical reports. As opposed to your normal homework sets, these labs require you to fill in certain blanks and explain your procedures and findings in words as well as in equations. The expected format is outlined in the following guidelines. Points will be taken off for not following these guidelines, so keep them in mind. If you write your report in Question/Answer format you will lose up to 20% automatically.
All labs must have a title page with the title of the lab, the names and student ID's of the students who author the lab, their TA's and Instructor's name, recitation section and the current semester.Put the name of the group member you want to get the graded lab in recitation first. Labs must be stapled or bound.
Structure - Introduction, Body, Conclusion
Each paper should be divided into three sections: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. These sections can be further divided into subsections.
The introduction tells the reader what the purpose of the lab is. It states the problem in a concise and relatively non-technical manner, and should include some information about the method that will be used to solve the problem. Do not use equations in the introduction; a general reader who might not have any technical background should be able to make sense of the introduction. If a detailed mathematical description of the problem is required, include it in a "Background" section in the body of the paper.
The body is the main part of the lab. It contains all the qualitative and quantitative questions and results. It should also contain all the required graphs and equations to get the points across. The body should be separated into subsections, each with its own descriptive heading, to make the report flow better. For instance, in many labs the first part of the body will be the "Background", a more technical description of the problem than that of the introduction. The report will be easier to read if such sections are separated into their own subsections. Look for other logical places to divide up the body, since the use of subsections generally makes a report easier to follow.
The conclusion is largely a recap of the primary results of the lab. It should briefly restate the purpose, the results, and any significant comments or inferences that can be drawn from the results. The conclusion need not be as technical as the body; it must merely remind the reader of what he or she has just read. Then conclusion, however, must be thorough, and it should include comments on all the major results of the lab. It is also appropriate to make general comments on the lab in the conclusion.
The appendix is meant to include plots and calculations too lengthy for the main paper. An appendix may not be required, but it is often useful. Anything that is in the appendix should be referred to in the main body of the report with a citation. Since only enough graphs sufficient to establish and support the main points of the lab are to be included in the body, extra graphs can be put in the appendix. You might also include long calculations that would detract from the flow of the main paper(these calculations may be handwritten, but must be on computer paper). The end result of such calculations should be in the body, but the calculations themselves can be relegated to an appendix. Remember, the appendix is only meant for extra, or non-essential material: One should be able to tear the appendix off and throw it away, and the lab should stand on its own. You should divide up an appendix into sections in order to make the contents more organized and to make the citations easier.
In technical writing, clarity is of the utmost importance. The best way to guarantee clarity is to begin with a well defined plan then re-read, edit and revise your work.
An example of this procedure might be as follows:
1) Carefully read the content of the lab. Understand what it is that is being asked of you before you do anything else.
2) Carry out the necessary computations in order to have the required quantitative results on hand.
3) Plan how you will describe these results in the most logical fashion possible. One idea should lead to another clearly and directly.
4) Re-read what you have written and ask yourselves if it makes sense or can be made clearer to the reader. If possible, have someone else help you with this, a classmate or instructor.
5) Edit and rewrite. In other words, incorporate the changes you find you need to make, and review your work again.
Grammar and Mechanics
Spelling and Grammar
Labs should use proper spelling and grammar at all times. The availability of competent spell checkers makes proper spelling easy to achieve, so use them. Some help with grammar can be found in the on-line writing guide below, and software grammar checkers can also be helpful, although they can be difficult to use. Always remember to re-read and revise - this is the best way to catch spelling and grammar errors.
Labs should be neat. All labs should be typed and printed on standard 8.5"x11" paper. If lengthy additional calculations are required in an appendix, they can be hand written, but they must be neat and legible and written on 8.5"x11" printer paper. Loose-leaf will lose you points.
Length and Page Format
Labs must be typed. Each lab is to use 1.5 or double line spacing, in a reasonable font (between 10 and 12 point). All margins should be no more than 1.25 inches.
PAGES MUST BE NUMBERED
Graphics, Equations and Tables
Graphics, equations, and tables are an important part of the lab, and should be included in the body of the document, not only in an appendix. All graphs and equations must be labeled! Points will be taken off if they are not. Graphs must have titles and labeled axes, and it must always be immediately clear what quantities the graph is intended to display. Graphs/figures must also be numbered so that you can correctly identify them in the text by their number. If writing your report in Microsoft word you must use "Equation Editor" when inputting equations in your report.
MatLab will be the primary software you will use to solve problems, but it is not a good word processor. Use whichever word processor you are most comfortable with. On PCs, it is easy to copy MatLab graphs and output and put them into Microsoft Word.
Style and Clarity
This final category, style, refers to the clarity, efficiency, and accuracy with which you convey your concepts in sentences and paragraphs. Thus, you will be expected to employ proper word choice, and to avoid wordiness and vague or fuzzy language. Achieving good style involves getting adequate feedback and guidance, but this information will be useless to you if you do not attempt to put it into practice. Like any skill or art, good writing must be developed over time and through experience.
Make sure your writing leaves no room for ambiguity or confusion, and that awkward or distracting features do not compromise the integrity of your prose. Try to re-read your document from the perspective of another person, who does not automatically make the same assumptions or supply the same associations as you, the author, do. Re-reading, re-thinking, and re-writing will greatly improve the quality of your written work and will help you establish time-saving habits for future success as well.
Refer to the examples in the online writing guide below for many good examples.
Created by David Beltran-del-Rio and Erik Fisher
of Applied Mathematics,