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Physics projects for Y3 and Y4 students

Project report

Changes to the project guidance due to the coronavirus situation are highlighted using a blue background.

Project report

Marking scheme

5%Quality, comprehensiveness and appropriateness of the general audience summary
5%Quality, comprehensiveness and appropriateness of the scientific abstract
10%Overall understanding
5%Overview of project
10%Summary of basic physics and underlying theory
15%Method of investigation and experimental procedure
20%Results: correctness and presentation, incl. graphs, tables, appropriate precision and error bars
15%Interpretation and conclusions
15%Style and clarity of report: grammar, spelling, balance of contents, quality of diagrams

The project report is the main output from your project. It should be written in such a way that a scientifically literate person who is not expert in the field of your work can follow it. The report is a scientific publication, aimed at an audience you don't know, not just the people marking it. For this reason, it is important that you take particular care about the content as well as its presentation. When you have the opportunity later, you may want to make a few bound copies to give to potential employers and perhaps to people who have supported you during your studies. However, due to the current restrictions, the actual submission is electronic-only this year.

Your report will be marked by your supervisor and another lecturer. As the marking scheme indicates, both the factual content and its presentation will be assessed. The assessors will consider the details and milestones shown in the description of your project when assessing your results and their interpretation.

Writing the report

General guidance on report writing is contained in our guide to writing a good report or paper. This describes in detail the structure of any research publication, which applies to project reports. In particular, note that the report must present the objectives, results and conclusions of the projects in a logical manner; a blow-by-blow account of the twists and turns of the project is not acceptable.

You should include your literature review as a separate chapter for completeness, but of course it will not be marked again at the end of the year. Sandwich it between the introduction to your final report and the description of your experimental procedure. If you have additional literature to cite which you've only encountered after you've written the literature review, add another chapter titled additional literature after the original review and before you move on to your experimental chapter.

Keep results and discussion (interpretation of your results) separate. Once you've finished the substantial chapters, write a brief conclusions section and an abstract summarising your work. Aim for about 5000 words for the main body of your text, i.e. excluding title page, abstracts, tables of content and figures, the recycled literature review, additional literature, tables, figure captions, references and appendices. However, we recognise that all projects are different, so the 5000 words are neither an upper nor lower limit but just a rough target. Aim to be as concise as you can without sacrificing completeness.

When you've finished writing your report and are ready to submit, read it again as one piece to eradicate typos, unclear or incomplete sentences and poor graphics. It is also easier to spot mistakes and incoherent logic in other people's work than in ones own, so swap your draft report with someone else's and act as copy editors for each other. This can make a tremendous difference to the quality of your report and the mark you achieve.

General audience summary and scientific abstract

Once you have written your whole report, you need to prepare two half-page summaries of your work. The first is a summary for a general audience, while the second is a scientific abstract aimed at other professional scientists. Although these summaries go on the front of your report, together on a single page after the title page but before the table of contents, you cannot write them until the rest of your report is completely finished. The task, for both, is to condense the essence of your report into just a few clear sentences pitched at the appropriate level for two very different audiences. Therefore, you have to be absolutely clear in your own mind what the essence of your work is, and for that you have to have written it up already.

The summary for a general audience is aimed at people who, while having a general interest in scientific topics, have no specific relevant training in physics or even general science. You might think of an A-level student (of any subjects) as your readership here. Use the few sentences that space permits to put the topic of your work in context, explain how your work relates to current affairs, and mention potential applications. Refer to one or two key findings of yours and how they relate to these issues. Say why you think it is important to study the subject of your project. You must write this in everyday language and avoid jargon and subject-specific terminology entirely. Such general audience summaries (or lay summaries) are typically used in research proposals to enable funding bodies to communicate what the benefits are of the research that they fund. Press releases and short notices on the science pages of newspapers fall into this category.

The scientific abstract fulfils a different purpose. It is aimed at scientists, though not necessarily of the exact same specialism. You should still mention what motivates your work, but there is more emphasis on the methods used and results obtained. Make sure that the abstract contains all the keywords a skim-reading scientist scanning the literature for material relating to their own topic might be looking for: materials and objects studied and methods used. Key findings should also be included. Here you can assume that your readership will be broadly familiar with the subject matter. However, avoid unexplained abbreviations and highly specialist terminology. Your target audience are professional scientists of any specialism - ideally biologists and physicists (and all the other scientists) should be able to get the broad picture in each others' abstracts. Scientific abstracts are mainly used in data bases of primary literature and facilitate keyword searching - remember your own literature search and how important good, understandable abstracts were to you at that stage.

Pre-submission feedback

If you would like personalised advice on how to write your report, you can show your supervisor some of the diagrams you intend to submit and an outline of the structure of the document. Also, discuss the argument you're putting forward and the conclusions you will be drawing with your supervisor. They can advise you on ways to make your submission as clear and compelling as possible.

However, please note that supervisors will not read draft reports or give feedback on the full text of the document prior to submission - you need to take responsibility for your work.

Final report

You should hand in your report electronically on the projects server as usual at the beginning of Revision Week. Due to the current restrictions, hardcopy submissions are neither required nor acceptable.

Content updated: ruw/200326