The page will support you in satisfying Writing Learning Objective:
CONVENTIONS - Establish solid and consistent control of conventions for a technical audience (grammar, tone, mechanics, citation style, etc.).
You should be able to
Use the appropriate narrative and tense for a given report section.
Employ formatting that is expected by technical audiences.
Use a consistent and appropriate citation and reference style.
What are Credible References (Secondary Sources) When Writing Engineering Lab Reports?
The audience always expects the information writers are stating is actually true and closely related to the lab topics. Instructors often introduce examples of credible sources typically accepted in the discipline.
Credible sources: Scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals/conferences, books, course webs by engineering instructors, and Webpages from well-established organizations (professional societies)
Unreliable sources: The public editable internet database or pool such as Wikipedia, Reddit, About.com, etc.
What is the Difference Between Citation and Reference?
Writers need to acknowledge any works from others by including in-text citations in the body of text and their corresponding literature reference in the Reference section of the report.
Does the Technical Audience Care About Citation and Referencing?
Including citations and references is an important convention in lab report writing. First, the audience wants to distinguish your ideas/works and others. Second, they want to trace the references to check their credibility, evaluate their appropriateness to the report contents, and conduct additional reading.
What are the Differences Among Popular Citation Conventions Used in College Writing?
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics): Used heavily in electrical engineering communities; Citations are numbered; Popular in engineering labs.
“The theory was first put forward in 1923 ” “Einstein  has argued…”
 A. Einstein, “The Theory of the Affine Field,” Nature, vol. 112, pp. 448–449, 1923.
APA (American Psychological Association): Used heavily in social sciences communities; Author name and the published year are valued; Popular in science labs.
“The theory was first put forward in 1923 (Einstein 1923).” “Einstein (1923) has argued…”
Einstein, A. (1923). The Theory of the Affine Field. Nature, 112, 448–449.
MLA (Modern Language Association): Used heavily in humanities communities; Author name and the location (page number) of work used by the author are valued; Popular in first-year-composition (college composition) courses.
“The theory was first put forward in 1987 (Einstein 448).” “Einstein (448) has argued…
Einstein, Albert. “The Theory of the Affine Field.” Nature, 112 (1923): 448–449. Print.
Frequent Questions From the Students and the Answers
Do I have to cite all fundamental scientific knowledge, such as Newton’s laws?
No. Basic scientific facts are considered common knowledge. Typically, these facts do not need to be cited because they may not influence your work directly. If your lab work is about Newton’s laws, yes.
I used a lot of materials from the instructor’s lab handouts. Do I need to cite it?
Citations are usually used for documenting published information. Assignment prompts are usually considered “boilerplate” writing that does not need to be formally cited. If you reference another person’s teaching materials in your materials (or research), do cite them.
Citing other works in the conclusion section is not desired. Why?
The conclusion is your wrap-up of the report to restate the main points; therefore, introducing other works in the conclusion is not desired.
Citation Generators: https://www.zotero.org/
Note that citation generators follow the garbage in, garbage out principle--you have to start with correct information to get a correct citation.
Picking secondary sources from inappropriate places such as Wikipedia.com, About.com, etc., which anyone can update.
Picking inappropriate technical information from credible sources such as peer-reviewed technical journal papers. For example, technical information about polymer crystallinity from a journal paper is used when interpreting lab data about crystalline metals.
“Writing Engineering Reports”, Purdue University, Purdue Online Writing Lab, available: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_engineering/writing_engineering_reports.html
“Conventions of Technical Documents”, Scott Hale, University of Oklahoma, available: http://www.ou.edu/englhale/techdoc.ppt
University of Pittsburg University Library System Course and Subject Guides, “Citation Styles: APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, IEEE: Home,” https://pitt.libguides.com/citationhelp
What are the Conventions of the Lab Report Genre?
Lab reports are an important communication genre for students addressing a technical audience expecting engineering language, styles, and conventions commonly agreed upon in the engineering discourse community.
First-Person Narrative vs. Third-Person Narratives
Use of the first person (“I” or “we”) is quite restricted in lab reports because writers themselves are not personally important to the procedure in the experiment. Someone else can produce the same results as the writer. This doesn’t mean that students never use first-person in lab reports. When it is used by the writer(s) to illustrate something unique that others cannot do, first-person narrative can improve the report.
Using the Right Tense in Each Section
The present tense can be used to express general truths and atemporal facts (i.e. information about what the paper does or covers). The past tense should be used when describing.
The past tense is used in the methods section because the lab happened in the past.
The past tense is used when describing the lab results that have already been completed. The present tense is appropriate when the writer refers to tables, figures, and graphs.
The past tense is used when summarizing findings. When interpreting the results and discussing them, the present tense should be used.
The present tense is used to present the conclusions. The future tense can be used to make recommendations for future work.
What Conventions Allow Engineering Lab Reports to be Effective Communication Tools?
Use white space to guide the readers’ attention to headings, subheadings and visuals. It divides the report into small digestible groups of related information. It separates sections, headings, tables, and images from text. White space is used to improve document appearance, clarity, and emphasis.
Right-justified text creates channels of white space and can be more difficult to read. Uneven right margins can be easier to read.
Page numbers help the reader to navigate the report.
FONT CHOICE AND SIZE
Avoid using too many fonts. All body text should use the same font and same size. Font and size changes can distract and annoy the reader. Headings and captions may use a different font and/or size from the body text.
TEXT AND FIGURES
Handwritten text and figures are unprofessional in the 21st century. Use appropriate computer applications to create a report with a professional appearance.
Lines that are too long tire can the eyes and can annoy the reader. Ideal line length is 60 to 70 characters per line or 9 to 12 words per line.
In engineering lab reports, results are generally presented both textually and visually using graphs, tables, diagrams, charts, and photographs. Each figure and table should be captioned and numbered, and should be explained fully in the text, e.g. “Fig. 1 shows…”
VISUALS SUCH AS GRAPHS, TABLES, DIAGRAMS, CHARTS, PHOTOGRAPHS
Visuals should be used appropriate to their purposes and be easily understood by readers. See the Results page for more details of presenting data in tables, graphs, and images.
Outside sources referred to in the report should be cited in the Reference section of the report. There are multiple referencing styles (i.e. APA, IEEE, etc.). Instructors usually specify which style they expect from you.