First Year Physics Laboratory

FORMAL REPORT due during lab Mar.24 to Apr. 3, 2008

[NOTE: On March 13 the electronic deadline of this assignment was changed from a fixed deadline of Mar.23 for all students to a floating deadline of the 6th lab session, which differs for different sections. This seems more fair.]

The Formal Report should be a brief, but concise summary of one of the free choice experiments you have already completed in the Spring Term, using the information you have recorded in your Lab Notebook.  It is meant to be written in the style of a scientific journal article.  It should be no more than 800 words, (approximately 3 pages of double spaced type) and 2 pages of graphs and/or diagrams (marks will be deducted if the report is longer than this!).  You are reminded that a formal report is an abbreviated way of presenting results.  Many of the details and descriptions of day-to-day activities that are included in your notebook are not appropriate for the formal report. There is a more or less uniform agreement on the general style in which scientific results are presented. The A.I.P. has issued a Style Manual and a copy of this is available in the laboratory or can be found at

The Formal Report will be primarily evaluated on writing style and on the organization and presentation of the material.  Good English structure, spelling and grammar are expected, and graphs and diagrams should be clearly labelled.

Your name, Student Number, Lab Group and Lab Demonstrator Name must appear clearly on the front of your Formal Report. 

Students may take their lab notebooks home between the 5th and 6th lab sessions in order to help prepare formal reports.

The formal report must be submitted in electronic format (Word, PDF and several other formats are acceptable) to by 11:59 PM on the day of your final lab session Mar.24-Apr.3. An identical paper copy must also be submitted to your demonstrator at the beginning of your lab that day.  Your Notebook must also be turned back to your demonstrator during your final lab session Mar.24-Apr.3.   The paper copy may be turned in early if you wish, as can the electronic version. 

The version will be treated as your official submission, and the marker may download your report from the web site.  The marker will also have access to an “originality report”, which is a comparison of the text-portion of your report to millions of other documents, including all the manuals for this course, all the reports previously submitted to, and many documents which were available at some time on the world-wide-web.  The originality report will not be used in the marking unless there is some evidence that an unusually large amount of your unquoted text is identical to some other source.  If you do wish to quote a source, be careful to reference it and include the copied words in quotation marks, so it is clear to the reader that you did not write them. 

Students agree that by taking this course your formal report may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers. The terms that apply to the University’s use of the service are described on the web site.

To submit your assignment you should follow these steps:

  1. Set up a user profile (If you already have a user profile, go to steps 2 and 3)
    • Visit and click Create a user profile.
    • Follow the on-screen directions.
    • For First Year Physics Laboratory the Turnitin class I.D. is 2155336  and the Turnitin enrollment password is friction .  The name of the class should be First Year Physics Laboratory.
    • You will need to enter a valid email address, password and your name.  Please enter the same name that is on your University of Toronto I.D. so we can easily tell who you are.
  2. Logging in (skip this step if you just finished creating a user profile)

·         To login visit and enter your email address and password in the space provided in the top right hand corner of the web site.

·         Click the Log in button to enter your personal Turnitin homepage.

  1. Enrolling in a class (skip this step if you just finished creating a user profile, and are therefore already enrolled in Advanced Lab on

·         From your homepage click the Enroll in a class button.

·         For First Year Physics Laboratory the Turnitin class I.D. is 2155336  and the Turnitin enrollment password is friction .  The name of the class should be First Year Physics Laboratory.

·         Click Submit to enroll in the class and add it to your homepage. Each class that you have enrolled in will appear on your homepage. Click on “First Year Physics Laboratory” and you will see the one assignment for this course: Formal Report.

  1. Submitting a paper.

·         From your Turnitin homepage select “First Year Physics Laboratory”

·         Click on the Submit button and select File Upload from the pulldown menu.

·         Enter a submission title for your paper, which should be your last name followed by your initials followed by the words “formal report”  Use spaces, not commas.  Use the Browse button to select the file that you would like to submit. Click Submit.

·         You will be asked to confirm your selection. Click Yes, submit to finalize your submission.

·         Once you have submitted your paper you will receive a digital receipt.

·         Submitted papers will appear in your class portfolio next to the relevant assignment.

If you prefer, you may choose to submit only a hard-copy of your report, but in this case you must also provide a photocopy of the relevant pages in you lab notebook, with numbered references linking the text in your formal report to the original lab notebook entries.  Please speak with the lab coordinator at least one week before the report deadline if you prefer to submit a hard-copy only.

The marking scheme will be approximately as follows: Title and Abstract: 10%, Introduction, Physics and Background: 25%, Analysis, Presentation, Errors, Figures: 25%, Conclusions, Discussion and References: 15%, technical issues such as grammar, spelling, etc: 15%, Overall style and Length: 10%.  Note that word-counts outside the 800±200 word limit range will lose marks proportional to how far outside the range they fall.  Also the total number of letter-size page sides must be in the range 2 to 5.  Page-counts outside this range will lose marks.

Writing Hints

To begin, jot down on a piece of paper the structure of the paper along with the points you wish to make in each section. The structure usually includes Abstract, Introduction, Apparatus, Technique, Observations, Discussion and Conclusion. Note that rarely do all these titles of sections appear in an actual paper although it probably would be beneficial to you to explicitly include them, at least in your outline.

Look at what you have jotted down to determine if it is complete and in the correct order. The following paragraphs indicate the contents you might expect in each section. Obviously the relevant weight you give to each of the specific points depends critically on the particular experiment, so a lot of judgement is required on your part.


This sets the scene by giving some background and what it is that you are actually doing in this experiment. This should be short. This section should include formulae that you will need to analyze your data. You may refer to other work either to contrast your experiment (it being a new style of experiment) or to compare your experiment with that of others.


Describe briefly the apparatus or technique used, giving important, relevant parameters. You are trying to establish for the readers the level and quality of your experiment and give sufficient detail so that if one wished, one could duplicate your experiment to verify or disprove your results.


Try to give at least one sample of your observations, not too far removed from your raw data, e.g. “Fig. 1 shows the change in length ΔL plotted versus Temperature as measured with the mercury thermometer”. An explanation of the figure should follow.

Tell how you analysed your data. For example, “Using a least squares fit with Equation 3, the parameters R and µ were determined”. Equation 3 will have been given explicitly in the Introduction section. Don't give all the numbers or step by step disclosure of the actual computation. A good technique is to ask yourself if you have given enough information so that a reasonably intelligent person could repeat your calculations to see if you had made a mistake.

Give a short table of your final results if that is appropriate.

Discussion and Results:

As part of your report you should have a discussion of your results or analyses to compare or contrast with other observations.

Note that separate sections for “Apparatus”, “Observations”, “Discussion”, and “Results” are rarely necessary. Often, one can combine one or all of these into one section so that the discussion of the data and observations follow naturally.


This is a very brief overview of the major points of your paper.  It should always be a separate, labelled section near the very end of the paper.

Abstract and Title:

Finally you should decide on an abstract and title for your paper. The abstract is presented immediately after the title as a separate paragraph in a different font or type-setting than the main body of the paper.  The abstract is usually a few concise sentences that summarise what you did and your results.

Some other hints:

Put a space between the value and the units (ie 100 km and not 100km.)  Please use page numbers.  Make references to any sources you use, including the authors’ name, web-link if appropriate, and the date the information was published and retrieved by you. If you borrow a figure, for example, that is not your own work, you must at the very least acknowledge that fact by saying where you obtained that figure. For a figure or diagram, this is most easily accomplished in the caption.