Background Information in Lab Reports

A female student standing in front of a whiteboard with a lot of background information.

It is important to include background information in your lab reports.

The first paragraph or two of your lab’s introduction section should provide information about what it is that you are studying. You want your reader to understand a bit about the general topic before you get to the specifics of your report.

Historical Background Information

For a lab report in most physics classes, you should include a bit of information about the early experimenters of the topic. You don’t have to write an incredibly detailed background. If you are studying an experiment that uses Snell’s Law, you should say a few words about Snell. Why was the law named after him?

The Physics Being Investigated

Describe the physics that you investigated. Using Snell again as an example, describe what refraction is. Explain the importance of this phenomenon. You should describe where people apply the physics used.

Equations and Variables

It is almost a given that a physics lab will investigate an important physics equation. While your final analysis might use a modified form, be sure to include the base equation. Write these equations using the equation editor for your particular word processor. For Snell’s law, this would be…

\( n_1 \sin{\theta_1} = n_2 \sin{\theta_2} \)

After showing the equation, you should define any variables in those equations. Explain what these variables are. Describe where you measured things to and from. Mention any applicable units.

Descriptive Diagrams

Including a labeled diagram may help in some situations. You can find inspiration from your textbook, but create the diagram yourself. This diagram would be in addition to the setup diagram for your experiment.

The angles in Snell's law are measured from a line normal to the interface. The incident angle is often labeled as theta one, and the refracted angle is labeled as theta two.
A diagram showing the variables used in Snell’s Law.

Sources of Information

Reference your textbook and lecture notes. Do a quick internet search on your topic and cite any useful websites you found.