This page will support you in satisfying Writing Learning Outcome:
DISCUSSION - Interpret lab data using factual and quantitative evidence (primary and/or secondary sources).
The discussion is the part of the report where the author explains and interprets the data for the audience using factual and quantitative evidence (primary and/or secondary sources).
You should be able to
Interpret lab data
Explain what is meant by "primary source" and "secondary source."
Focus on lab data as a primary source for analysis and interpretation.
Explain how secondary sources (technical information from outside references) are used to support lab data analysis and interpretation.
Primary Sources & Secondary Sources
PRIMARY SOURCE: the data collected during the lab that the author interprets for the audience. It is the principal product of the laboratory work.
SECONDARY SOURCE: data not collected during the lab; it is collect prior to the lab and/or after the lab. Typical secondary sources include credible textbooks or outside references. It provides additional information to help the author interpret the lab data for the audience (and for themselves).
COMBINED: The technical audience expects the author to use both sources (primary and secondary) when discussing lab results. Many college students are familiar with writing papers in humanity or composition courses, and therefore may have some experience using both primary and secondary sources in a research paper. Use of sources is compared and contrasted in Table 1.
What Conventions Allow Engineering Lab Reports to be Effective Communication Tools?
Results are discussed
In the context of engineering labs, students are assigned to focus on lab data when delivering technical information (key outcomes or deliverables from the labs) to the audience. Lab data needs to be presented in the Results section and explained (interpreted) in the Discussion. The discussion section is the core of the report and often requires the author to put considerable thought into writing the discussion in order to create an effective report.
Figures and tables are referenced and discussed specifically
The author must discuss (interpret, explain) the data shown in each table and figure (Results); therefor, each table and figure must be referred to specifically (example: "as shown in Figure 1..."). By convention, tables and figures are numbered sequentially (Figure 1 appears before Figure 2, and Figure 1 is discussed before Figure 2). By convention, tables and figures are discussed before they appear. In other words, tables and figures appear in the report below (after) where they are discussed.
It has a logical flow
The author is responsible for determining the order of presentation of results that best communicates what the author is trying to communicate. There is more on this aspect of reports on the Reasoning page of this site.
Characteristics of an Ideal Discussion
All figures and tables are referred to by figure number or table number and are explained (discussed) in the body of the report.
After reading the discussion, it is clear to the audience that the author is explaining the value of the lab results and placing them in context for the audience specifically.
Secondary sources may be used to help interpret and explain the lab data (primary source) for the audience.
Not referring specifically to results (figures or tables) and not explaining the significance of the results.
Instead: "Figure 1 shows that the current through resistor 1 was less than resistor 2, this was due to...."
Showing feeling to strengthen the claims: “This lab is unsuccessful.” “I am glad the system works!” “Data make sense.”
Instead: engineers rarely use emotional appeals.
Make claims without relevant evidence.
Instead: leave your opinion out, rather use engineering judgment when discussing results.
Use of extreme (and subjective) adjectives to strengthen the claims: very, extremely, significantly, etc.
Instead: use quantities to strengthen the claims (“the value was increased by 200%.” “the average decreased more than half.”)