The Technical Writing Process
4 steps to help you create better technical writing documents and instructions
You get handed a lab protocol that is so incredibly detailed and well-written on paper, why would you need to recreate on Dux?
During my first year as a graduate student, one of the earliest pieces of advice that I received from a senior student in the lab was to keep detailed protocols. In fact, she had a folder of her own protocols, all of them extremely detailed and riddled with notes. Super old school! When she showed me how to do an experiment, she pulled out her own protocol and gave it to me. Now, if you get handed a protocol that is so incredibly detailed and well-written on paper, why would you need to repeat the process and write out your own on Dux? I’ll give you three reasons why.
You Will Make Changes to This Protocol
Even if you are doing the exact same experiment, you are still doing something completely different. Therefore, you need to write down your own notes, and perhaps changes to the protocol. For example, you may be interested in a different protein. So you’ll need to use a different percentage acrylamide gel to better resolve your protein of interest. The most you can get from someone else’s protocol is the bare minimum, the steps of the experiment. You have to fill in all the details that are specific to your experiment. In addition, you will be troubleshooting and optimizing this protocol and making it your own. You can edit your Dux instruction anytime by clicking the […] options button on an instruction from your profile page.
You Won’t Remember Everything Unless You Have Detailed Protocols
Let’s face it, our memory is not infallible. Sure, in the beginning, you only perform a handful of experiments. It won’t be hard remembering those details. But don’t forget that graduate school spans an average of 5–6 years. The number of experiments you do will continue to increase. When someone showed me how to use the plate reader to measure luciferase signals, I wrote down every single step as well. The plate reader was a dual-injection system, and you had to configure the machine specifically for your experiment. I ran assays several times a week for three or four months, and because I was doing it so much and so often, sometimes I wouldn’t need to look at the protocol. I knew exactly how much to add of which reagent, and how to run the plate reader.
That’s well and good, but then I did not have to do another luciferase assay until I was in my fifth year. By then it had been so long since I did the experiment, I had to go back and read my methods. It was a good thing I had detailed protocols, from performing the actual experiment: what the controls were, transfection conditions, and most importantly, how to use the plate reader. Otherwise I might have been re-inventing the wheel.
Best of all, I was able to share this instruction with new members of our lab with ease. Dux allows you to share instructions in Groups that you can admin.
You Need to Write All of It Down… Someday… Maybe
Eventually, you are going to have to write about something you haven’t done since your first few months in the lab. Or worse, your professor or principal investigator will make you do it. It will be much easier the more detailed your notes and protocols are.
Having detailed protocols in a file somewhere has made writing the Materials and Methods section a lot easier and smoother when writing my thesis. In addition to writing your thesis, you will submit articles to journals. Nowadays, there is a big push for more detailed methods in your manuscript submission in response to reproducibility issues. Also, when you are the senior student in the lab, you need to impart your knowledge to younger students. If you hand them a detailed protocol, the process will be easier. If you share the Dux instruction, the process will be even easier!
So, why write detailed protocols? It’s good practice, and it makes for good science. Dux loves science. Science loves Dux! Get started for free today.