Writing reports in organic chemistry lab may differ from the way it’s done in general chemistry. One goal of this course is to introduce you to the record keeping methods used in research labs. Such methods are designed to organize experimental data in a format similar to that required for publication in major scientific journals. Here are some important considerations that apply in research settings.
1. Your work is unique, meaning that you might be the only person performing certain experiments.
2. Research is an ongoing process. The projects assigned to you will likely continue after you leave. People assigned to those projects will need to access your records for reference, or to attempt to reproduce work you did. Permanence is a characteristic of properly kept research records.
3. It is therefore important to follow guidelines for clear writing. In addition to writing legibly, you should use permanent ink. A ballpoint pen is adequate for this purpose, but a pencil is obviously not.
4. Write your records by hand, either while conducting the experiment, or immediately afterwards. This is important to avoid forgetting important details. You will make mistakes, but that is less important than recording data while it’s still fresh in your mind.
5. Mistakes are not to be erased. A “mistake” might turn out to be important information later. You and others must be able to read what you wrote. If you make a mistake, draw a line across the text, but make sure it remains legible
, like this.
6. Remember: your lab notebook is the first line of documentation that exists of your experiments. It is important that this information be as fresh and accurate as possible. Don’t worry if it’s imperfect. You will have occasion to produce a formal, well written report later. It may be a thesis or a scientific publication, but it will likely bring together several experiments with a common theme. Your lab notebook will be the primary source of data for such publication.
7. Do not write on loose sheets of paper, or even in spiral notebooks from where pages can be torn. Use a hardbound notebook, with numbered pages, that makes carbon copies as you write. That makes it easy to spot missing pages, and it gives you two sets of records that you can keep in separate locations in case one of them gets lost or damaged.
8. Do not tear pages from a research notebook unless they’re damaged or threaten the integrity of the notebook (by catching acid, for example). If both original and copy get damaged, try to reproduce their contents the best you can, with a note explaining the absence of the originals.