The Importance of Written Records

There’s a saying I heard from one of my science teachers (I don’t remember if it was in high school, college, or maybe both): “If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”  Writing is one of the most important skills for a scientist to have.  Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise!  Researchers write constantly – reports, grant proposals (how they ask for money to, for example, charter a research vessel for a month), and articles.  Published articles are the main way scientists communicate their findings and share information with the rest of the community to continually update our knowledge and innovate.  There is no progress in science without writing.

This is why I grade your lab reports for proper grammar and spelling!

As my students know from labs (and some of my other readers may remember from their time in science class), everything must be documented.  You not only write the purpose and procedure, but also your observations, data, and any other factors that could affect your results.

We do the exact same thing on the Endeavor for our research.  We collect five samples during a day: the CTD Cast (that’s when we drop the Niskins off the side of the ship) and four Underway samples.  Underway sampling is pretty ingenious; the ship continually pumps in water from 5m below the surface.  We can access this water through a tap and four times a day (at 10am, 4pm, 10pm, and 4am) we collect a whole bunch of samples.  These samples are then analyzed in the exact same way as the samples from the Niskins.

So, back to writing – meticulous records are kept for each CTD and Underway collection.  We write down the exact time and location (latitude and longitude) of the collection, the depths sampled, outside temperature and water temperature at the different depths, surface salinity, and the currents.  Each of these factors can affect the results o the experiments and must be taken into account when performing our analyses.  We update two logs with this information, one is computerized, and the other a hard copy backup in case the computer fails.

Mundane information, like the water’s temperature, can play a crucial factor in the results of everyone’s experiments.  When the scientists aboard write their papers utilizing the data we collect, this information will absolutely be included (in fact, it must be).

Students, I want you to start to see that the procedures and research/lab methods you use in your experiments are the same ones actual scientists use in the real world!  Don’t forget to head on over to the Assignments page to see this week’s assignment.

Until next time,

Ms. B.

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of Written Records

    • We write everything into a notebook as well as keeping the information on the computer. It would be disastrous if we didn’t keep a hard copy backup and the computers failed!

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