The final report can be no more than 10 pages (excluding references). Reports longer than this will be read and marked to the 10th page only. The deadline is midnight 13 June. No extensions will be given on this date expect for medical reasons which will require a doctor's certificate. Please ensure you have checked your report against the AVC report checklist prior to submission, as omission of any of these sections will result in a loss of marks for the final report.


Laboratory reports are a specific type of report, which engineers and computer scientists are often required to write. Although often analytic in content, information can be integrated into the report in order to demonstrate understanding and insight into the wider subject of the laboratory. Note that it is the work that is the subject of the report, e.g. to build the robot, rather than the ‘infrastructure’ around the work, e.g. do not write that the purpose of the lab was to pass Engineering 101!

Lab report sections.png
Report sections

How to Structure and Write an Engineering Report

Report writing is about communication. Hopefully, these hints and tips will provide a scaffold for successful communication between you as the writer and the reader.

Follow a standard layout - a reader can then concentrate on the message rather than worrying about the flow of the report. Use a standard format - clear presentation and less time thinking about what style to use. A consistent and common style makes the document easier for the audience to read.

A standard sequence of sections is as follows:
  • Title (does not have to take whole page)
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • future work
  • References
  • appendices

[ sections without capitals, i.e. future work, acknowledgements, appendices, may not be applicable to all reports ]

Each of these sections will be explored in detail below.

Suggested Writing Order:
  • Take a position.
  • Identify important results.
  • Discuss the results.
  • Conclude.
  • Method.
  • Background is very important as references to support the assumptions in the discussion need to be provided.
  • Set the scope to investigate.

The order best suited to writing is not often that the order of reading. Considering that the work and its findings are the most important element:
  • what are the main findings that need communicating?
  • consider a thread that supports this position. Then start writing the results \& findings. This leads on to clear conclusions, with any doubts or arguments (for and against) placed in a discussion. This is all supported by the methods, background and finally the introduction. The important points in each section are then lifted out to form the abstract.

  • Identify important results. (I.e. identify the/a main finding that needs communication)
  • Present and discuss the results relevant to that finding.
  • Make some summary conclusions about that finding.
  • Describe the detailed methods used to obtain the results.
  • Provide background references to support the assumptions in the discussion.
  • Set the scope of the original investigation in the introduction.
  • Summarize the report in the abstract.

Guidelines for what each section should include:

Title page: identifies the report to the reader

Title, name, student number, course code, lecturer, assignment number/description and date (including year) should be included.


Abstracts is for people who need to decide if report is useful for them worth to read. Scope, motivation, succinct method if vital, results, meaning of the results, conclusions and benefits. It is highly unusual to include equations and exceptionally rare to include figures and references. It is not a summary or a synopsis. A summary says what was done. An abstract says why it was done and what was important about it. [ Hint: throughout the report concentrate on the why, not the what. Demonstrate insight and mastery of the subject rather than repeat the story of what happened. ]


Think of the introduction as a funnel. Go from a broad scope to the focus of the work. This assists in leading the reader to a clear picture of the work.

The introduction can be also a standard sequence of sub-sections:
  • Scope - what is and what is not being included in the report
  • Motivation - problem to be sold, subject to be investigated, missing piece of theory and so forth. Not the laboratory, told to do it, gain a degree...
  • Aim - higher level of what is to be achieved
  • Objective - SMART outcomes that build together to meet the aim [ Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely ]
  • Anticipated Benefits - include if not covered by motivation

[ Hint: concentrate on the work itself, not the infrastructure. The readers are interested in the work, rather than the fact it was an assignment during a degree ]


This places your work in the context of previous related work. There is no need to show off the breadth and depth of your literature research if it is not relevant (unless you wish to specifically say why a standard approach is not relevant here).

It can also provide instruction on the subjects that the reader needs to know in order to understand the current work.

It can give contrast and alternatives to the approach being adopted, either highlighting similarities or explaining differences.

It only covers the area of work associated with the results, discussion and conclusion - it does not have to include the whole field!


The work must be reproducible. The method section should provide sufficient detail of the independent researchers to verify the results (cf. cold fusion in a test-tube). All presumptions and assumptions need to be stated. Clear diagrams, pseudo-code, details of datasets, equipment and so forth are often included.


This is sometimes 'Results and Discussion' when the initial results motivate further experiments. However, it is good practice to write discussions separately as this is the section way you can really demonstrate your A+ abilities.

This section presents the evidence for the position that was created by the work. The `position' that you take on the work is critical, i.e. what did the work show? For example, ``simulated and theoretical modelling techniques show good agreement and both contribute to the design of controllers".

Described the important details of what occurred. Tables are useful for summary and comparison, whilst figures display relevant trends.

If comparing technique A with B, then please use mathematical significance testing, e.g. Students T-Test, to show that the results were not a fluke. [ Hint: good students will now be typing 'Students T-Test' into wikipedia and then following up the links ]

Think about what you want to show. If comparing simulated/theoretical results with real life/empirical results, then plot the trends on the same axis. [ Hint: label, units, keys, captions, figure/table number, citation in text - are all necessary ]

Identify any anomalous results, both supporting or contradictory to your position, stating why they are interesting. Results are a statement of fact, which includes identifying any uncertainty. Consider the difference between accuracy and precision when presenting the results.


This is the intellectual argument of the work. Here is where you explore the position taken based on the results and the background information from past studies. Alternatives and uncertainty are described, but where possible a single position should be taken, which can include the null result (there was no improvement due to the novel technique compared with the existing technique).

It has similarities to a debate where both sides of the argument of presented, e.g. why might the position taken be incorrect? It is the best place to demonstrate understanding, mastery and insight into the subject.

Conclusion (generally not ‘discussion and conclusion’ unless a very short report)

The statement of the position the work takes.

What was found, Why it is important and its meaning. Benefits may be included.

It is not: A pure summary, e.g. we did this and then that and this. An argument (this was the discussion) although it can be stated that the results were inconclusive. A place for new information Self Reflection (e.g. "I learned how to use Matlab and really enjoyed it..."), which may belong in an appendix, but much better on a blog.

Future work (not always necessary)

This is not a place for what should have been done already, but ran out of time. Instead, it identifies interesting follow on work. Either - breadth more comparison or experiments, depth more analysis or preferably opportunities (how does this work provide a platform for the research community).

References (vital!)

Even a short laboratory report should have three-five references! No work is completely devoid of context or past work in the field and this must be referenced.

Journal papers are preferable as these have been thoroughly peer reviewed - then conference papers and books - finally, lecture notes and Internet resources are the last resort and should be only a small percentage of the references presented.

There are many standard formats of reference. Please use IEEE style referencing.


Repository for additional and supporting work that is not central to the argument or positions taken. For example, tables of values that are summarized in a graph in the main sections. Details of experimental setup where an overview is given in the method section. Data sheets of important components.

Self-reflection %[ Hint: personally, it is good to take a step back from any task and analyze your interaction with it. It helps you identify what you learned and how you could improve for the next similar task. However, this belongs in a blog rather than an academic report as it is not central to the work. Some academics like self reflection as it helps them adapt the set work next year, so please check individual requirements. If you are unsure, then it is highly unlikely that any academic would mark down a student for having self reflection in an appendix, but you may be mark down for having self reflection in a conclusion] %

Additional Tips and Hints

Tip 1. Imagine a prospective employer will read this work - the report will reflect your professionalism. Care is needed with layout, content and proofreading. It also creates a good vibe about the content.

Tip 2. An engineering report is about the work - not the assignment, not the laboratory, not the report itself... The report is on the work itself, the findings, what it all means and why it is important. The report should not be about the intangible infrastructure around it, e.g. it is not about the laboratory class or assignment or student or the document. All of these led to the important consideration that is the work, e.g. determining the effectiveness of PID controller for stabilising an underdamped system.

Tip 3. Write - start writing and keep writing. Whether you enjoy/hate, good/bad, motivated/bored, perfectionist/sloppy, at the task of writing: a very good place to start is just by writing without the fear of failure. Have fun and keep doing it whilst absorbing lots of different advice is the best way to improve. Balance the need to go back and revise/iterate, with the need to get your thoughts down on paper. Polishing each sentence/word as it is written is too time-consuming, whilst no revision is often suboptimum, so a balance between the two extremes is needed. Tend towards simply writing thoughts down until the contents of whole document is complete in draft.

[ Hint: do not use first person in your writing, i.e. 'I' or ' the author'. Increasingly, it is becoming acceptable to use 'we', but I would recommend it is recommended to practise writing without the use of even this 'second person'. Thus, a sentence such as 'I thought the experiments were good as the results were as intended' becomes 'it was considered that the experimental results supported the position taken on the effectiveness of PID controllers in industry as an initially unstable system was stabilised'. Academic English is very formal as it seeks to avoid ambiguities.]

{Summary:} The ease of communication successfully for both the writer and reader is important. These guidelines seek to help a writer to achieve this goal, but they are not perfect, omniscient or the only method of report writing. Please use this and alternative guides to help scaffold the writing process.


  • Do you have a title page?
  • Have you included a link to your github repository? does that repository
include all necessary code, diagrams and project documentation? Is it up to date?
  • Have all members made at least 1 commit to the repository and has the
repository been updated at least once per week?
  • Have you included a completed version of your AVC plan?
  • Have you incorporated the feedback you got on your plan and from the
progress report?
  • Does your report include references in the IEEE style?
  • Is your report less than 15 pages?
  • Does your report include all of the following sections:
    • Title Page
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Background
    • Methods
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • Conclusions
    • References