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Engineering and Science Writing

For an example of an Engineering lab, click here. For an example of a Science Lab, click here.


LabWrite for Students, funded by NSF, is an excellent resource for students, TA's and professors.  Users can write-up labs using either LabWrite guides or its interactive application.  LabWrite has additional tutorials on using Excel, categorizing data, types of graphs, editing and writing proposals.

For a good explanation of engineering forms: proposals, reports, case studies and memos, see the useful information available at LINK

Engineering and Science Writing

by Kathryn O'Leary

On this page:

  • Quick Tips
  • Layout Tips
  • Writing Process for Labs
Quick Tips

1. The evidence to support your arguments comes directly from the data and research you collect. Scientific papers do not have opinions. Support all discussion with physical facts.

2. Cite any sources and achieve greater authority.

3. Coherence keeps paragraphs focused on the topic. Use headings, paragraph topic sentence and transitions to create coherence.

4. In addition to each section heading, restate the topic in your opening sentence.

5. Define acronyms and new terms that may be unfamiliar to the reader as they appear in your paper.

6. If the argument is supported, avoid using "clearly," "evidently," and "obviously."

7. Leave no room for interpretation. You can do this by avoiding vague terms and pronouns. Use specific, relevant facts.

Examples:

Vague: Check the validity of the necessary dimensions of the engine for the rocket before deciding to purchase it. (It refers to the rocket.)

Specific: Before buying the VASIMR engine, make sure that engine has the correct dimensions.

Vague: Data was collected at the site last week.

Specific:Traffic frequency data was collected at the intersection of Market and Main Street, Potsdam, NY on October 14th and 21st between 4 and 6pm.

8. Use efficient wording. Delete unnecessary words and large, "showy" words.

Avoid turning verbs into nouns:

Noun: An analysis of the data will be made when all of the results are in.

Verb: The data will be analyzed when all of the results are in.

The passive voice is often used in scientific writing to avoid personal references; however it can be wordy and indirect. Therefore the active voice is sometimes used.

Passive Voice: The detection zone was laid out for 60' upstream from the intersection stop line.

Active Voice: The detection zone extended 60' upstream from the intersection stop line.

9. Units of Measurement: Do not mix English and metric units. Although the United States has not fully converted to metric units, the engineering profession has. If it is necessary to give both units of measurement, do so by writing them in parentheses after the primary units: 30°C (86°F). Refer to style guides for your field.

Layout Tips

1. Headings: Clearly state the content of the section. Use a multi-level number system (see MS Word) for complex projects.

2. White space: Make your paper visually accessible and pleasing. Leave ample margins and easy-to-read font. Use white space as a tool for leading the reader through material.

3. Visuals: Center figures of graphs, images, etc. Number figures consecutively followed by title. Place table titles above table.

4. Equations: Center and identify by number in parentheses.

Suggested Writing Process for Labs/Reports

Consider writing the parts of a lab/report in the following order:

1.) Title Page 2.) Methods 3.) Results 4.) Appendices 5.) Discussion 6.) Conclusion 7.) References
8.) Introduction 9.) Abstract

Lab/Report Design Components

Abstract: Summarizes most concisely. Identifies the topic, scope, methodology and significant findings.

Introduction: Write the Introduction after you have recorded and discussed your results, drawn conclusions and understand the concepts tested. Can be considered a summary or overview of the entire lab. Start by describing the problem at hand.

Background: Often part of the Introduction. Gives some background leading to the experiment. Helps readers understand the problem to be investigated and its value.

Literature Review: Sometimes included in the introduction. Includes information about previous findings by other scientists relevant to the problem.

Methods, Procedures, and Equipment: Explain equipment used and how data were collected. Explain so that the lab can be replicated or reproduced. Also be sure to include warnings.

Observations, Data, Findings, or Results: Organize data and present it in graphs, tables, or charts that show trends. Label all components in visuals.

Conclusion: Draw conclusions based on your data and discuss the validity of findings.

Implications and Further Research: Discuss possible impacts of findings, changes you would make to your experiment and further research needed to improve accuracy of results.

Appendix: Appendices, located after the conclusion section, contain raw data, calculations, supplementary material. If including more than one appendix, title them consecutively with letter and label. [Appendix A: Traffic patterns.]

References: List of sources used in the project. 

Format: Short labs can be written in memorandum format, or can be presented as a formal report, with covers, table of contents, and appendixes. For reports over three or four pages, use the formal report format.

* These are the parts of a laboratory report, but not all of these parts are always in every write-up; they can vary by professor.

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