Important Things to Keep in Mind

While performing the experiments, some key concepts to keep in mind are: the importance of careful optical alignment, the manifestation of physical principles in the reality of lab setting, and the need to log measurements and estimated sources of error as well as the amplitudes in those errors. In addition to understanding how to set up and do the experiments, an important part of any laboratory class is the analysis, interpretation, and discussion of the lab in a written lab report. Each person must keep her/his own lab notebook. For each experiment you may have notes from the lab work, but then you must also produce a more formal description of the experiment, beginning-to-end.

How to Approach Lab Reports

When you are writing your report, it helps to keep the would-be reader in mind. If you imagine that your report is going to be read by a somewhat incompetent physicist trying to duplicate your resuls, it will help guide your thought process: the reader has some physics background (so you don't need to explain the obvious) but is prone to error (so you need to be clear, unambiguous and point out sources of error!).

Be complete, clear, and organized!

Structure of a Lab Report
I. Introduction
State the purpose of the experiment and explain, briefly, how will it be addressed with the equipment (typically half a page or more
II. Equipment
Describe what equipment was set up, and why. Don't just transcribe the lab handout, but accurately describe the equipment used. Do sketch the layout. You should have enough detail to allow others to repeat your experiment (or for you to figure out what went wrong if something goes awry!)
III. Measurements
Describe what measurements were made, including uncertainty estimates whenever possible. Check your measured values against expectations. Make sure your error estimates are reasonable. As in all real experiments, things often do not go according to plan. Equipment may not perform properly or unforeseen snags may arise. Describe any such problems and discuss what steps were taken as a result.
IV. Data Analysis
Discuss how you converted your raw measurements into meaningful results, showing relevant equations and calculations. Show tables and plots when appropriate, paying attention to axis labels and explanatory captions. Answer any embedded questions in the lab description and instructions. Discuss sources of error, and quantify measurement errors in your end results, paying attention to significant digits. Clearly state your conclusions.
V. Interpretation & Discussion
What do your results mean? Discuss any unexpected results and try to explain them. What might you do differently the next time, and how could the lab be improved? Also, include a brief discussion of what you learned.
VI. Summary & Conclusion
This should refer back to the introductory material and summarize your results relative to your expectations.