The Technical Writing Process
4 steps to help you create better technical writing documents and instructions
Here are our hints and tips for writing an effective lab protocol on Dux. The first step should be to decide on your layout.
We’ve all been there. You’re looking to replicate a result you have read in a paper, or maybe even one that has come from someone else in your own lab. But try as you might, you can’t get your head around the less than effective lab protocol that’s been provided. Or, worse still, you are convinced you are doing everything correctly, but you just can’t seem to get things working. Of course, it might be that the original data is flawed. But it could equally be the result of a poorly written set of methods. Good methods are the backbone of good research, and with replication problems seemingly becoming ever more common in science, it’s as important as ever to be able to write your own effective lab protocols, so that this problem will not be passed down to the next batch of scientists. This article aims to tell you how!
Use a Template
The first step should be to decide on your layout. The best option is to have a set structure that can be used for multiple different procedures, that way you will come to know where to find any given information. Dux allows you to split a step into two elements, where one could be an image or video, with support text underneath. This template format is a best practice in many leading institutions.
Include All Reagents and Equipment Required
The Required Items section when creating an instruction will come in handy for this. You can list any required items, tools, solutions or equipment here and also attach an URL link. This URL link can be to any page on the internet, or another Dux instruction. If you are really starting from scratch, it’s a good idea to start off with a list of all reagents and equipment required, along with details of the source, so that they can be easily replenished when they run out. This will come in very handy when it comes to writing up papers, where such information is almost always requested. If you’re using communal buffers or solutions, I would recommend creating the instruction to produce those, and then attach the shareable link in the Required Items section of your original instruction. Our current lab users love this practice!
Cover Safety Protocols Too
Including important safety information that may be relevant to any solutions and chemicals. Any detail that would be needed to safely use and dispose of any substances you will be using should also be included here. Again, cross-linking other instructions in the Required Items section can help with this.
Detailed Protocols Are Effective Lab Protocols
The most important thing to consider is that anyone performing your protocol for the first time ever will need more guidance than you might first think. To you, it may seem obvious that you need to vortex your sample for a certain length of time, but to someone else it may simply not occur to them. The devil is in the details! If you were making a nice meal, you wouldn’t expect to have to follow a long recipe that at the end simply said “bake”. You would want to know the temperature and time needed, and so a lab protocol is the same. So instead of saying “spin samples down”, say “spin at 12 000 xg for 10 minutes at 4ºC”, much more useful!
Break up Walls of Text with Numbered Points or Multiple Steps
Make sure your text is easy to follow. We prefer short, numbered key points rather than a wall of intimidating looking text. There's no limit to the number of steps your instruction can have, so feel free to break up instructions over many steps. This makes your protocols much easier to read and follow.
Make It Personal with Tips and Tricks
Perhaps the biggest key to an effective lab protocol is to let your experience with the method show. This comes from the little tips or techniques that you would know, but that someone performing the experiment for the first time may not. The engineering team at Dux runs on Red Bull and Sun Chips and are busy working to create ‘commenting’ features to help other users share their expertise and tribal knowledge.
Store Them Properly on Dux
Storing your protocols is one of the most important things you can do in a lab setting. Written in your lab book is all well and good, but what if that book gets lost or damaged? You don’t want that wisdom to be lost too! I find keeping a copy on a cloud system that’s easy to access and share with others a good starting point. This is why Dux wins at labs and is loved by students and professors around the world. You can store lab instructions & protocols on Dux within groups and share them to people too. This allows for everyone in a group (or a lab for example) to have all the instructions in a centralized library.
So, there are our hints and tips for writing an effective lab protocol. I hope you find them useful, but please do reach out with your own ideas. Science is best when it’s collaborative, and by making sure our protocols are good, we can help to ensure our methods are as rigorous, repeatable and complete as they should be.