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Homework Help: Archived Labs written in pen?

  1. Aug 29, 2015 #1
    A student asked if the labs need to be written in pen.
    Apparently, the lab instructions say to do so.
    Actually, I forgot that was in there. It’s kind of a hand-me-down set of instructions from ancient times (a few years ago). I should probably take it out, but it's worth a short discussion.

    The thinking goes like this: If/when you ever get into “real” research, you will be required to put everything in pen so that your notes will be more “pure”, less likely to be altered, etc.
    After all, if you discover something wonderful and go tell the world, they will be less likely to believe you if your notes are full of corrections.

    But then, these days, you could probably type the whole thing up on the computer.

    The grading for written lab “reports” is always quite cumbersome, especially since this is just a first semester course, so I re-wrote all the labs so that your work could be written directly on a lab “form”. Other instructors push for a more formal write-up.

    I suppose pen is still preferred, just because it doesn’t smudge, and it encourages “commitment” to what’s being written, but I’m not going to enforce it.

    Alternately, student who have access to Acrobat can open the PDF of the lab document and “add text” to it (in some other font or color), save it and print it out, which is tricky, but looks VERY nice.

    But understand that if you just print a second copy for your lab partner, that's not acceptable. You collect data together but interpret it individually. If I see two identical labs, I'll just divide the grade by two.

    Hey, it's your tuition. Are you paying to learn how to photocopy?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Yeah, I'd say its best to write in pen so as not to lose an intermediate results and to document mistakes as they occur.
  4. Aug 31, 2015 #3
    Oh I completely agree. I'm just telling my students I don't enforce it as the "law of the land" for a first-semester course. They'll just end up using a lot of white-out, which really defeats the point.

    My labs are set up so that students write their official information on a pre-set lab "form", not as free-form written attachments. But they only get one copy of the lab to write on, so they try not to make mistakes. (They can download a second copy if they need to and print it at their expense, if that becomes necessary.)

    For this first exposure to the lab, they are figuring out what works and what doesn't ... What unit are we measuring in? How many sig.figs? ... and until they get into the habit of reading the instructions carefully and asking for help when they don't understand, they have 4 options:
    • write in pen and white out mistakes
    • write in pen or pencil but use scratch paper for the first draft
    • write in pencil and erase mistakes (which can eventually become a smudgy mess; use a quality eraser)
    • do it on the computer and print it out
    Later in their college science career, lab instructions might be written by really smart people who barely know how to write. (It happens. We've all seen it.) The entire "to-do" list will be mashed in one long uninterrupted single-spaced paragraph with no illustrations. It will be a third generation photocopy. It will be concise in one spot, vague in another, and generally ambiguous and inconsistent. Students will be expected to figure out what to do and create their own formatted submission, which will, unfortunately, be held to a higher standard than the original lab write-up, assuming it's even read at all.

    And it will either be required to be written in ink, or word-processed. (I always did my work on the computer, cuz I type faster than I write and it's readable.)

    Also, as a final suggestion, please try to use handwriting that is better than my elementary school kids. Unless there is some medical reason for not holding a pencil correctly, remember this is college. Your work needs to reflect a collegiate scholarly presentation. Just get into the habit now. No one will take you seriously if your brilliant insights look like they were written with your left foot. If you just can't manage readable writing, use a computer. No excuses.
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