Physics Formal Lab Papers

A lab paper is a formal description of the purpose and main results of an experiment. It need not be long, but must contain sufficient detail so that somebody who has not completed the experiment can understand clearly what the intent of the experiment was, how it was carried out and what the conclusions are.

Lab papers should be written in the passive voice. A good lab paper contains the following elements:


This is a synopsis of the lab paper that is written after the paper is completed. It should include a statement of the research question or problem, a short description of how the research question is to be answered and a summary of the results. The abstract should be no more than 150 words and should be placed at the beginning of the lab paper.


The introduction should include a research question and when appropriate a hypothesis. A brief description of the physical theory which supports the hypothesis and addresses the research question directly should be added. It may also include some motivation for why this is an interesting or useful problem to tackle.


Briefly describe the method by which the experiment is carried out, with sufficient detail that a reader can understand the experiment, but without being too long winded and technical. Diagrams should be included for clarity. It should be clear how the chosen method will address the research question.

Quantitative Analysis

Raw data should not be included, but simple tables of processed data and well labeled graphs are essential. Refer to the graphs in the body of the paper and draw quantitative conclusions from them. Do not show lengthy calculations in the paper, but do include equations that are important for understanding.

Evaluation of Results

This is one of the most important parts of the lab report. Make sure your discussion relates to the research question directly. Indicate the extent of the validity of your results– are they within experimental error of the theory for example? What are the limitations of the experiment, how can it be improved and are there any obvious extensions or possibilities for further research?


A sentence or two summarizing (again!) the main results of the experiment and answering the research question (eg Newton’s second law has been confirmed within the limits of experimental error)

The lab paper will be assessed on similar criteria to the lab note book, but will also be assessed on your ability to communicate clearly and effectively using formal writing.