Submitted by Barbara Reisner / James Madison University on Thu, 01/28/2010 - 22:03

In two weeks, my second semester general chemistry students (majors) will be doing an in house lab on the synthesis and characterization of metal oxalates. We are trying to focus on writing skills and we focus on different parts of a paper. For the synthesis week, I would like to have my students look at papers in the literature (probably Inorg. Chem.) to see how syntheses are written up. I was thinking that groups of students would look at 3-4 papers (while waiting for their materials to precipitate) and try to pull out the generalities of how synthesis sections are structured and get a better feel for the language used. Then I would have them write a preliminary synthesis section before leaving for the day. (They can't do the whole thing because the compounds need to dry and need to be identified. However, by the next week, I can hopefully give them feedback.)

Has anyone already developed an activity like this that they'd be willing to share? I'll be happy to test it and comment on it. Otherwise, I'll pull something together and post the results. If you have any favorite well-written synthesis sections from the literature, please post a link!

Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College

in my inorganic lab course the writeups are 1/2 discussion (general principles, discussion of characterization results) and 1/2 experimental section.  I provide an example experimental section (including characterization data format) for them to model theirs off of. By the end of the semester, they do 6 writeups, and they are generally quite well done by the end of the term.  I evaluate their experimental using a rubric, graded in terms of format, content, and correct interpretation of characterization data. Here are the instructions I give:

The experimental section is a very structured type of writing with its own formatting conventions (see below). Poorly written writeups will be returned for resubmission ungraded.  It is in your best interest to turn in reports in a timely fashion throughout the semester in order to receive feedback on your writing. The exact characterization data you choose to include is up to you.  However, note that if a molecule would be expected to have an intense IR stretch, that IR stretch should be reported.  The same is true for UV-Vis bands, NMR chemical shifts, etc.  All solids should be characterized by melting point as an indicator of purity.

The following experimental should be taken as an example of format only as many of the characterization numbers have been invented. The synthetic procedure is written in the passive voice and no personal pronouns are used.  A structural drawing of the compound is included.  Note the format for reagents (4.8 g, 17 mmol) and solvents (100 mL).  Your procedure should be written so that someone could follow your prep at a later date.  The proper format for data is somewhat open to interpretation.  I list my preferred format for a number of analytical techniques; you will not use all of these techniques in this course.  Other authors will use a slightly different format.  Regardless of your formatting, make sure to include all pertinent characterization data and make sure it is fully interpreted.  Make sure to cite the literature (when applicable) when comparing your data to a known compound.  Many other examples of well (and poorly) written experimentals can be found in the journals Inorganic Chemistry and Organometallics.

<<sample experimental>>

Thu, 01/28/2010 - 22:53 Permalink
Betsy Jamieson / Smith College
We do something similar in the first semester gen chem.  They do a synthesis of aspirin, followed by an experiment where they use a colorimetric assay to test how much starting salicylic acid is left in their final product.  We find that breaking the report into specific sections to focus on works really well.  We give them a sheet with basic guidelines about what to include/what not to include, conventions in writing, etc.  Then, they submit a draft, we give feedback, and they revise.  I was very pleased with these reports the past few times we've done it.  
Tue, 02/09/2010 - 10:00 Permalink