John Bochardt recently posted tips for editing laboratory reports in the Lab Manager blog. In the article he quite correctly points out that many laboratory professionals have difficulty in writing reports and that the process often takes longer than it should with the result being a poorly written report.
As scientists we have “scientific methodology” ingrained in our blood. This has provided us with a rigorously structured approach to science and has given us a formula for working towards success. Unfortunately, scientific methodology has also created an insular environment that has enabled us to hide behind scientific jargon and poorly written pieces of literature. One area that we can focus on to improve on our written work is the area of context. Context is the way we organize disparate pieces of information and random thoughts into fully developed ideas that flow. Context has become increasingly important in the scientific community. Years ago, biologists would often focus on their favorite gene and perform a million and a half different experiments to define the gene’s transcriptional and translational activities. While this was very useful in creating publishable results it was quickly discovered that it is much more effective to study a gene in context of it’s biological surroundings than in isolation. This gave rise to the field of genomics and proteomics and to the advent of microarrays, multiplex bead arrays and various other differential display technologies. Everyone now understands that while protein X may behave a certain way under one condition (i.e. acidic, basic etc) it likely behaves very differently under a different set of conditions and that the interplay between the multitude of biological materials (DNA, RNA, Proteins etc) is the key to our biological responses.
Just as we have discovered the importance of studying of our favorite gene in the appropriate biological “context,” we must define the organization of our experimental methodology and results in their appropriate “context.” This will provide us with more clarity and assist us formulating our written thoughts in the same structured manner that we approach scientific experimentation.