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Assignment Design

The most updated lab writing instructional modules are available:

Learning Objectives

Although all engineering instructors “know how to write”, they may struggle with assigning writing projects to students. Well-designed writing assignments lead directly to student learning. Traci Gardner from National Council of Teachers of English identifies three goals for a writing assignment:

  1. Define the writing task.
  2. Explore the expectations.
  3. Provide supporting materials and activities.

In the context of lab report writing, engineering instructors need to address the following to students as explicitly as possible when preparing lab report assignment:

  1. Definition of the lab report writing task.
    • The audience (Specific people like instructors? engineers? peers? public?).
    • The pedagogical purpose of the lab report (Why is the assignment given?).
    • The “fictitious” professional purpose of the lab report (Why is the assignment given?).
  2. Expectations for the lab report writing task
    • Specific requirements (if there are any).
    • Checklists or Presentation Expectations (format, submission, deadline, etc.).
    • Assessment rubrics (or any type of grading guidelines): The details of assessment rubric design and development are introduced in the Lab Report Assessment Rubric Module Assessment Rubric Design.
  3. Support and explanatory materials
    • Acceptable sample reports with or without addressing the standard conventions of finished and edited texts.
    • Unacceptable sample reports with or without addressing the standard conventions of finished and edited texts.
    • List of recommended reading resources.
    • Other resources to assist students’ writing process.

Sample 1: Lab Report (as a Technical Report) Writing Assignment

  • Overview: You (the writer of the report), a 2nd year engineering student, are assigned to write a technical report (the genre) to convey engineering and technical information, including the lab background, process, data, analysis results, and conclusion (the purpose of the report), to the instructor, the TA, and the peers (the audience of the report).
  • Lab Report Audience: Assume you are submitting the lab report as a technical report to a peer in class. Therefore, your audience is familiar with the lab materials; however, you need to explain the engineering and technical information as precisely as possible. The executive summary of your report should be able to be read by a professional audience such as industry partners, or other professors in the program.
  • Purpose of Lab Report: You are assigned to write a technical report on how your analytical analysis can be verified with the experimental results of the lab. Your report should include effective presentations of the lab data and thoughtful discussion based on the inspection, measurement, and test results. This lab requires conducting research with secondary sources (outside references available on the net and/or the library).
  • Required Lab Report Writing Style and Format: The technical reports are typically written using third-person perspective and past tense, and in many situations, an active voice provides better clarity and succinctness. One of the unique features of “technical reports” is a clear and easily accessible format. Technical reports need to be divided into sections that allow different readers to access different levels of information. Technical reports mostly consist of executive summary, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and reference sections. Use the Metric System of units for this lab report.
  • Lab Report Submission: Please submit your completed lab report to the course website by the due date listed above. This allows you to have enough time to conduct data analysis and research with the secondary sources (references) as well as the primary sources (experimental data).

Sample 2: Lab Report (as a Research Paper) Writing Assignment

Assume you are an engineering intern working at the product design group of a company in the automotive industry, which may be similar to ABC Motors, City. Your boss, Ms. Boss, assigned you to conduct research on the mechanical properties and hardness of the materials used in a future project. Note that she is not asking you to pick the best material. All of these materials will be used for future vehicles because there are many parts and components. She will eventually share your report’s technical information with other engineers and/or people in the organization. For the project, three different material types such as 1018, 1045, and 4140 steels are considered. This means that you are assigned to write a lab report as a research paper primarily based on the testing results from the lab. This lab will provide you with the opportunities of reviewing knowledge on the mechanical properties and strengthening mechanisms of engineering materials (textbook chapters 6 and 7), conducting additional uniaxial tensile tests as well as hardness tests, conducting a comparative analysis with the obtained experimental data, and discussing the analysis with the outside sources or references in order to advance your knowledge.

In this experimental research paper, you can conduct a comparative study to compare three different steel samples in many different ways (e.g. 1018 vs 1045 to see the effect of carbon contents). In order to write a good research paper, you need to have good research questions to discuss. Your engineering team and organization might have the following questions:

  • Any technical questions from your own.
  • What would the effect of the carbon and/or alloying element contents have on the mechanical properties (strengths, ductility, etc) of the samples?
  • Does the fracture look ductile, brittle, or moderately ductile for each coupon?
  • Which sample does have the highest yield strength and/or UTS, ductility, toughness, hardness, etc. values? Why?
  • What are the average hardness and standard deviation values of each coupon? Is there a visible deviation in the measurement? What are the possible sources of errors?
  • Textbook page 179 shows the relationship between the tensile strength and the hardness values in HB for most steels. Is this formula accurate?

In order to write a good report or earn high scores, you do not need to answer all of these questions and/or come up with difficult-to-answer questions. A good lab report possesses well-defined questions and well-developed answers supported by both your experimental data (primary sources) and further research results using the internet or reference books (secondary sources). A good report has a well-defined introduction, body, and conclusion. In the introduction section, write about what you want to discover in the report. The objectives provide guidance on what you are going to say to your audience (your boss and engineering team in this case) throughout the report. In the body section, you summarize the experimental methods so the audience can confirm your testing was sound. You present the experimental data clearly and discuss them to follow your objectives. In the conclusion section, you need to summarize the main points of the lab along with a very brief restatement of the objectives and lab procedure.

Please submit your completed lab report in PDF on the course website by the due.

Sample 3: Lab Report (Memorandum or Letter as a Format) Writing Assignment:

Prepare a technical memorandum for your submission. The content of most memoranda to the technical audience can be organized into four main parts: heading, introduction, body (methods, results, discussion), conclusions, and closing. Depending on the intent and length of the memo, each part can be as short as a single phrase or as long as several paragraphs. Most memos are less than two pages. The following elements should be included

  • Letter/Memo Heading – TO: (readers’ names and job titles), FROM: (your name and job title), DATE: (complete and current date), SUBJECT: (subject of the lab).
  • Introduction – Objective and overview. Within the first two sentences, the purpose of the letter or memo is clearly stated. Provides background context for the discussion and educates the reader so they can understand the discussion.
  • Body – Methods, data presentation/analysis/interpretation. Include a brief description of the methodology, relevant findings, interpretation of data, and other significant items, including a brief explanation of significant errors.
  • Conclusions and Recommendations – Should recapitulate results and conclusions and recommend future work or action.
  • Courteous Closing (Includes your contact information).
  • References – Should be of sufficient quantity and quality, and cited properly within the text. Bibliographic information is included as a footnote.

Additional information to the written text is often required. Typical attachments include:

  • Attachment 1* – Results (If only one or two small figures or tables are required, they may be embedded in the letter/memo, if they are large, they should be an attachment). Tables and figures:
    • All figures and tables discussed in text, but self-explanatory.
    • Numbered and properly titled, contain units, and axis labels.
    • Referenced (if information not created by author).
    • Appropriate to communicate effectively.
  • Attachment 2* – Test Set-up: clear and self-explanatory, photos, sketches…
  • Attachment 3* – Data: self-explanatory data sheet; proper symbols and units.
  • Attachment 4* – Calculations: clear and self-explanatory, sources cited.
  • Additional attachments as required

Submit the lab report to your TA by the due.


Sample 4: A technical memo as a lab report (a technical memorandum) writing assignment


Structural Materials Supply, Inc. 

3201 Campus Dr. 

Klamath Falls, OR 97601 


To:              Materials Testing Consultants 

From:          MJ Johnson, Ph.D., P.E. 

Date: June 24, 2022 

Subject:        Creep deflection of bookshelves 


Structural Materials Supply, Inc. is developing a line of bookshelves for use by prominent commercial office suppliers. Creep of bookshelves is a well-recognized problem across the industry. While we recognize that elastic deflections can be significant for heavily loaded shelves, we would like your help estimating the creep behavior of the Douglas-Fir beams we intend to use. Please help us determine a mathematical model of creep that can be used to predict long-term creep deflections so that we can further refine our product to meet long-term performance goals.  


Specifically, we would like you to load a 1×6 Douglas Fir beam with enough weight to observe creep deflections. Please collect deflection versus time data, fit with an appropriate trendline, and predict long-term creep deflection at 100 years. Provide a description of creep behavior and let us know if we should be concerned about it in our products.  


Please present your response in the form of a technical memorandum employing the IMRADC format. Submit this memo as a pdf along with a copy of the Excel file you developed to analyze the data.  Thank you in advance for your attention to detail and professional work.