Sunday, May 15, 2016

Archiving and Documentation Skills (an Introduction)

In most labs (read: all labs), good documentation is absolutely a necessity, and it's something you should begin to learn in college.

What if you're not in research? Well, here's why it's important:
  • It's a chronological log of your work. Data, when documented properly, can be read from start to finish. If people can't understand what you did, then it basically didn't happen.
  • It defends you when people aren't happy with your work. This happens very often in research. Higher ups see data they don't like and will order an investigation. Good thing your data is well documented, right?
  • It benefits researchers for years to come. Let's face it, you probably will jump from lab to lab, building skills. People who follow in your footsteps will know exactly what you did, from cradle to grave.
  • It boosts your credibility as a scientist and researcher. When people look at your data weeks, months, or years from now, what will they think if your data is disorganized? What if your boss sees messy cluttered data, and when you list that boss as a reference, they say your data is always a complete mess? Now, think about what could happen if they can boast about your good documentation.
  • Data becomes very, very easy to find. Think about what would happen if (in reality, when) your boss asks for data from three months ago. How will you find it? How will you know what you did?
(As a fun anecdote, I introduced one of my college buddies to these skills. He missed three labs in one of his courses but ended up getting a better grade than most of his lab partners because his data was so well documented.)
  • Federal Regulations. The FDA and EPA require documentation of work done. If the documentation isn't there, then guess what: it didn't happen. It doesn't matter how much you insist the work was done.
There is one major drawback, however:
  • Time. It takes time to properly document your work. There are ways that documentation time can be minimized. Ultimately, documentation will take some time out of your actual work in the lab.

That's all for now; stay focused for next time.

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