So I finally have access to an oscilloscope, after wanting to use one for a very long time.

Now that I am in university, I can use the lab equipment. So my first question is, what should I do with this new found resource?

Are there any experiments which you all suggest I should try as an introduction to this tool?

Thanks, I hope this question is not too vague.


3 Answers 3


The first thing I would do is read some literature on how scopes work. Tektronix has a good white paper called XYZs of Oscilloscopes.

Next, you should hook up a function generator and figure out how the different display controls work. This includes the Y scale [Volts] and the X scale [Time].

Once you feel comfortable with those get comfortable using the triggers. Triggers allow you to capture a waveform at a certain point based on your trigger settings. As an example, you may set the trigger to start capturing a waveform once it sees a rising edge at 300mV. If you are on single capture in "normal" (not auto) mode it will freeze that waveform on the screen until you push a button to capture another one! Being able to use triggers is something many new engineers don't master, effectively making scopes useless to them. Get good at them and you will be teaching the rest of the class!

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 For mastering triggering. Really gave me the chance to start using the scope comfortably for practical purposes. As a side note a learned a whole lot simply by reading through the manufacturer's manual. \$\endgroup\$
    – GummiV
    Sep 12, 2012 at 7:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree, +1 on triggering. I used to rely on quick eyesight and guesswork for catching strange behaviour, but triggers make everything so much easier. No idea why I never looked into them in the first place! \$\endgroup\$
    – Polynomial
    Sep 12, 2012 at 13:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @justing: "Normal" mode means that there is no line unless the signal triggers. What you are describing is trigger mode "Single". \$\endgroup\$
    – Curd
    Sep 12, 2012 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Curd There are DSOs which will show line in normal mode even with no triggers! Some of them have a separate single mode too. \$\endgroup\$
    – AndrejaKo
    Sep 12, 2012 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AndrejaKo: of course in "Normal" "Single" mode (both modes don't exclude each other) a DSO shows the last triggered line. Nevertheless what justing is describing is not what is typical for "Normal" mode but for "Single". \$\endgroup\$
    – Curd
    Sep 12, 2012 at 15:26

If you're using a scope in a lab where others have access to it and can use it at will, I have a suggestion that will save you a ton of frustration at the bench! Develop a routine where as soon as you walk up to the scope, you check all those nasty settings on the individual channel menus and trigger menus that others could have changed, and set them to your personal baseline. I can't tell you how many students I've seen work at a circuit for tens of minutes without understanding what they were seeing only to find that somebody had set a channel to AC-couple the input!! Same with channel inverts, and trigger settings like HF-reject, etc.


If you can afford to spend a few bucks, hit up Amazon for a copy of Charles Roth's programmed text Use of the Dual-Trace Oscilloscope. It is ancient (1982), but still useful. Two, maybe three full generations of EE students have learned the basics of scope fu from this book (or its predecessor).

Full Disclosure: I own a copy, although I never used it in class, and instead learned my scope fu hands-on. I had Dr. Roth for two classes, Back In The Day. He is one of the best teachers I've ever encountered, and that's saying something, as UT Austin had a LOT of good ones. He's the only professor I ever encountered who could write a test that would take me exactly the time alloted, cover exactly the critically important stuff, not cover any of the fluff, not throw any trick questions, and still leave me limp as a wet dishrag at the end of it. I think that must have been his superpower.


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