A good lab report or scientific paper will contain one or more setup diagrams.  This article will help you make a diagram that helps your readers better understand your experiment.

What is a Setup Diagram?

Setup diagrams are a simple drawings that shows the important equipment, materials, and measurements that you used in a lab experiment. The diagram is either hand drawn or created using a simple sketching program. It is used in addition to a setup photo.

Here’s an example of a setup diagram from one of the experiments used in my physics courses.  We’ll look at it in more detail throughout this lesson.

Setup diagram for an oscillation experiment that includes a spring, mass, ruler, and support.  The diagram contains labels for equipment and important locations.

Why Should I Include a Setup Diagram in my Lab Reports?

A diagram helps your readers better understand the experiment. You’ve heard that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” There’s a good reason for that. A diagram helps readers visualize the experiment.

The diagram may also help you better understand the experiment better. For example, I’ve had students doing labs on lenses suddenly realize the difference between focal length and image distance when drawing their diagrams.  The image is in focus at the image distance, not at the focal length.

A good setup diagram also shows your instructor that you understand the experiment. If you have a faulty diagram, that can help your instructor understand your confusion.  A good instructor will then help you fix that confusion.