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Mentoring Manual

Documenting your work

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Guide for undergraduates

One of the fundamental principles of research is documentation. This is not just the process of writing a paper at the end of the research experience, but documenting all work throughout the research. Documentation has several goals, one is to communicate the results, but the most critical purpose is to provide the information so that the work can be duplicated. Duplicating work requires knowing the details of what was done.

Another issue is being able to verify the results after the work was completed. For example, suppose you have completed your work and you have left the field lab to return to your home campus. Work is being done to publish your work or being used in further work. During that follow up time, someone realizes that there is a transducer that is no longer calibrated or working properly. This was one of four possible transducers to use. Now one needs to know which transducer was used to collect your data. If you did not keep a notebook where the transducer serial number was recorded, then there may be no way to verify that your results were taken with the transducer that was operating correctly. Now someone may have to repeat all your work, to ensure that the results are valid.

Often, 90 to 99% of what is written in a lab notebook is not used. Unfortunately, one cannot always predict which 10% is really needed. The general rule of thumb is – document everything.

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Maintaining a lab notebook

Useful information on keeping lab notebooks can be found through the following websites:

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