A STudent's Guide

To Engineering Lab Writing

Written communication is the most important learning outcome identified by employers and academics alike. Engineering lab reports are an ideal place for you to practice and improve your disciplinary writing. This webpage is meant to be a concise, simple, and easy-to-use aid to help you improve your engineering laboratory report writing skills.

Each page can help you develop one particular aspect of writing a lab report, from the overall format and contents, to individual sections, to data analysis methods, to more demanding skills like conclusion writing and effective methods of reasoning. 

The pages are scaffolded – that is, they are structured such that those with little experience writing technical documents may choose to work sequentially through them as they are tasked with their first engineering lab writing assignment. But the pages can also be referenced independently, not sequentially, so you can start with a page on any topic and find references to other useful pages.

I'm Rad See?! RA!

The modules are organized according to the sections of a laboratory report, which you can remember by telling yourself I’m Rad See?! RA! or IMRADCRA, relating to the fundamental sections of a scientific or engineering report: 

Introduction - Methods - Results - Analysis - Discussion - Conclusions - References - Appendices

Traditionally, in both engineering and science writing, this format is simplified as IMRDC for introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion. 

Lab report sections are a more detailed way of organizing writing, but are similar to the structure you have learned in earlier writing classes: introduction, body, and conclusion. In this case, the body is structured to describe the methods, results, analysis, and discussion of experiments or activities conducted in an engineering laboratory. See Table 1 for a comparison of intro-body-conclusion to laboratory writing organization.

These same sections appear in genres of lab writing that aren't formal reports like letters, technical memos, or even brief emails summarizing lab work. 

Table 1. Sections of documents in prior writing courses and engineering lab reports. 

Lab report sections, as they appear in this resource, are associated with the laboratory report writing outcomes shown here. 

In addition to the typical report sections, there are three outcomes that are more overarching in nature: reasoning, format, and conventions. These outcomes describe what you should be able to do after instruction and your own effort. There is guidance provided in the linked pages related to each of these outcomes that you can reference depending on the focus of the writing instruction in the laboratory course you are taking.


You should be able to ...

Demonstrate appropriate genre conventions, including organizational structure and format (i.e., introduction, body, conclusion, appendix, etc.).

Develop ideas using effective reasoning and productive patterns of organization (claim-evidence-reasoning, cause-effect, compare-contrast, etc.). 

Establish solid and consistent control of conventions for a technical audience (grammar, tone, mechanics, citation style, etc.).

Address technical audience expectations by providing the purpose, context, and background information, incorporating secondary sources as appropriate.

Present experimentation processes accurately and concisely.

Illustrate lab data using the appropriate graphic/table forms. 

Analyze lab data using appropriate methods (statistical, comparative, uncertainty, etc.).

Interpret lab data using factual and quantitative evidence (primary and/or secondary sources). 

Provide an effective conclusion that summarizes the laboratory's purpose, processes, and key findings, and makes appropriate recommendations.