Submitted by Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College on Thu, 05/15/2008 - 14:09

I thought it would be fun to prepare a list of pet-peeves for lab writeups to include in my lab manual after grading this last batch of lab reports. I figured, "tell them what you want" up front.  I do that, but some of these get missed, since they are more "tell them what you DON'T want."  So, here is my preliminary list.  Very tongue in cheek.  Not sure if I would edit them before putting them in the lab manual or not.  Probably not much.  Keep it light.  Thanks to Scott for the last one.

Does anybody want to add to the list or share their own?



Professor Johnson's writing pet peeves.
Don't make these mistakes, they make me see red.  That's never good.

1)  Reacting things.  Molecules react with each other.  You don't react molecules with each other.  React is an intransitive verb.  You can mix things, you can treat one compound with another, you can allow two chemicals to react, but you can't react them.

2)  refluxing things.  same as 1.

3)  creating.  You can synthesize things.  You can also prepare, make, or bring them about, but You can't create them.  I don't see major religions being formed around you.  Sure, its pedantic.  Sure, its petty.  But these are _my_ pet peeves.  If you don't like them, go become a professor and teach your own class...

4)  you don't take an NMR.  you use an NMR to acquire an NMR spectrum.  You characterize something by NMR spectroscopy, using an NMR spectrometer.

5)  no discussion in the experimental.  No interpretation.  Just the recipe and the facts.  The discussion is for interpretation/analysis of the facts.

6)  first person pronouns.  Most science should be described in a distant protracted way.  Don't use personal pronouns.  You can almost always strengthen a sentence.  "We studied the properties of this compound" turns into "The properties of the compound were examined" or, using an active verb, "examination of the compound revealed these properties."

7)  yields to 4 sig figs.  Come on people.  If you were to repeat the experiment exactly the same, would you get the same mass to 4 sig figs?  lets be realistic and truncate to the ones place.

8)  "Passive voice" does NOT mean "omit the subject from every sentence"?  Passive voice makes you sound like a scientist.  Leaving out the subject makes you sound like Thag the Caveperson. 

Lori Watson / Earlham College
Reaction mixtures can be filtered.  You can collect the filtrate.  But your solution can never be filtrated.
Mon, 05/19/2008 - 09:42 Permalink
Nancy Williams / Scripps College, Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna College

"The purpose of this lab..."

"In Part A of this lab..."

"Our major source of error was..."

    Under this subheading, "human error" or     
"unsophisticated equipment"


    -"The reaction is slow because of the small rate constant"

    -"HCl is more acidic than HOAc because the pH is lower."

    -"Co2+ is more labile than Co3+ because the ligands come on and off more easily."

Wed, 05/21/2008 - 18:03 Permalink
Maggie Geselbracht / Reed College

"The reaction was subjected to genital boiling."

I photocopied this lab report for my personal archives! 

Sat, 05/24/2008 - 13:38 Permalink
Joanne Stewart / Hope College

Love Scott's tautologies.

Mine is similar to the verbs "react" and "reflux," but has to do with sublimation.

A compound can be purified by sublimation. You might even be able to "sublime" something, although I suspect that's equivalent to "reacting" or "refluxing" something.

But you can never "sublimate" something. Nor do you use a "sublimator" (although Google will tell you otherwise). I tell my students that "sublimate" means to repress certain feelings in a Freudian sense.

I welcome disagreements on this one.

Joanne Stewart

Tue, 05/27/2008 - 21:31 Permalink
Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College
Moiety.  All it tells me is that you know a fancy word for "thing."  When I see the word moiety, I read the word "thing."  And using "thing" as a noun in a junior level chemistry class just doesn't get you very far.
Wed, 11/12/2008 - 13:53 Permalink