University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering

ME 4331: Formal Lab Report

Guidelines for Formal Lab Report

The formal report documents the experiment that was performed and provides a detailed discussion of the results obtained and how those are important. It organizes and clarifies the information that can be found in a good lab notebook, adding background material and a more detailed discussion of the results.  From such a report, a peer group of engineers (or engineering students) who are familiar with the same general subject matter should be able to reproduce the experiment and perform their own analysis, such that they could either verify or dispute your conclusions. Reports generally have three goals: 1) to justify the reasons for performing the experiment; 2) to record the results of the experiment; and 3) to allow others to evaluate the results.

You should consider your audience to be familiar with the general engineering background associated with your experiment, but not familiar with the specifics. For instance, your target audience has a general background in heat transfer but only very limited or no specific knowledge of the topic of the report. As with the informal report, the formal report must incorporate grammatically correct sentences, correct spelling and be structured in a clear and concise manner. In addition, it should contain publication-ready, professional graphics and illustrations.

Formal reports should contain the following components:

The parts not in bold have been discussed in the Guidelines to Informal Report.

More details on the new parts in bold are given below:


One or two paragraphs which clearly and concisely present an overview of the report. Complete sentences must be used, not phrases. Nine out of ten readers will read only the abstract of an engineering report. Therefore,it is imperative that clear, concise, to-the-point information be used.Include information on:


This section is written to provide the reader with all the background needed to appreciate why you did the experiment and to understand your results and conclusions. To accomplish this, you may need to provide a brief review of previous work or of relevant theoretical material, including appropriate references. The introduction should provide:


Cite complete references for all information on which you draw. Look again at the last few sentences of the "Informal Report" description, about plagiarism. Plagiarism will not be tolerated.


Appendices in the formal report are even more important than in the informal report. Appendices contain detailed information that is not necessary for the understanding of the key points in the body of the report. Be honest to the statement "The details can be found in Appendix XXX." Very few of the readers who read your report will actually go through the Appendices; yet that is where you must provide detailed documentation for the few who need the details that are important to the experiment but too cumbersome for the general text. You should include Appendices on the following:

Important note on figures:

Different from the informal report, figures in the formal reports must be included in the text. This enhances the readability of long reports and allows the reader to continue without constantly flipping pages. Each figure must be carefully labeled and accompanied by an informative caption. Figures must be referenced in the text by their number. Each figure must have text which discusses it; otherwise, it is superfluous.

Length of the report:

There is no strict guideline for the length of the report. However, if it is significantly shorter than 10-15 pages it might not meet the requirements for a writing-intensive course. If it is significantly longer than 20 pages, it is probably too wordy. Write is succinctly, yet completely (as indicated herein). In general, length will not have an influence on grade. Avoid duplicate information. Do not use cut and paste if the experimental procedure in part X was the same as in part Y. Rather, refer back to the earlier text.