An important aspect to scientific research is effective communication of one’s findings.
Today’s scientific problems are not solved in isolation but rather by groups or communities of researchers working together or building on the results of others. Methods of communication include publication in a peer-reviewed journal, presentation of results at public forums through posters or seminars, submission of data to databases such as GenBank, and communication to the public through media outlets or informal gatherings. An important component for research to be accepted by other scientists is reproducibility.
Good recordkeeping is imperative for ensuring that others can replicate one’s experimental procedure. The work we are doing in lab is a real research project with a worldwide community of undergraduate researchers. To this end, it is important to keep accurate records. This includes the upload of required information to the database, documenting experimental procedures in your lab notebook and recording digital photographs of results.
Tips for keeping a laboratory notebook:
- Notebook entries should be made in ink and in chronological order. Entries should not be erased or whited-out. If an entry contains an error, a line should be drawn through the error and new text should continue in the next available space.
- Start each entry with a title and a clear description of the objective of the experiment.
- Date each experiment. The dates indicating when the work was begun and completed should be recorded.
- Record all materials used in the experiment.
- Experimental design as well as protocols used should be recorded. Any modifications to existing protocols should be thoroughly explained. Never assume that any protocol is common knowledge. Be sure to write your own descriptions and definitions.
- Record all data collected and observations made in the experiment. If possible, include photos and diagrams.
- At the end of the record, evaluate your experiment results in an interpretation or discussion section. Draw conclusions and future directions, if possible.
- Explain all abbreviations and terms that are nonstandard. Explain in context, in a table of abbreviations, or in a glossary.
- Document everything; take detailed notes and photographs during lab. Immediately download and annotate photos to capture accurate data.
- Record negative results. Scientists, especially novice scientists, can learn a great deal from negative results. Reviewing the protocol, brainstorming where the error occurred or reasons for the negative results are key teaching and learning moments. Take advantage of them.
- In general, a good practice is to make PowerPoint slides as soon as you obtain data. Summarize protocols, experimental designs, and results, make presentable tables, and incorporate the photos taken during lab.