Terry R Richardson
         Senior Instructor, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy


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ASTR 130 Lab Best Practices

This page has some suggestion that will guide you in producing high quality lab work by outlining some of the pitfalls those unfamiliar with scientific methods might fall into.

  1. Title page. Each lab activity submitted should have a title page with the following items:
    1. official lab title,
    2. name of the author,
    3. name of partners and
    4. date of lab
  2. Give your submission a professional appearance.  Bring a pencil and eraser to lab and use them. Scratch-outs of mistakes looks sloppy and as if you don't care about the quality of your work. Humor your prof and at least appear to care.
  3. Use a ruler for straight lines of any kind. Even the edge of a book can guide a nice linear mark.

  1. Unless a question asks for a simple yes or no, then write the answer in complete and explicatory sentences.
  2. Talk about what you want to say among the group members. Be careful with phrasing. Make your thinking clear.
Working with Numbers in the Laboratory

  1. Any number being read from a scale in the laboratory usually has the last digit estimated. For example when reading length using a millimeter scale, readings are reported to the nearest tenth of a millimeter with that last digit estimated between two millimeter marks.
  2. In laboratory work any number that is a "reading" must be written down as it is coming from the instrument before anything is done with the number. Don't convert it, subtract it from or add it to another number. Write it down first.
  3. Suppose the number is a length in millimeters and you need the value of the length in meters, you first write down the reading from the instrument and then convert the value to meters.
  4. Almost every number has a unit (meters, seconds, etc.) as part of the number and it is meaningless with its unit.
  5. If the number is in a column of a table it is best to make the units part of the column header rather than writing it after each number.
  6. Pay attention to significant figures with every number you measure or calculate. Significant figures are important because they tell us how reliable a number might be.
  7. If you are rusty on significant figures check the link at the top of the web page containing our lab schedule.
  8. Don't overlook zeros as important placeholders. Write 0.XXX and not .XXX (for example do write 0.123 not .123). Writing the zero tells everyone you did not slip up there and forget a digit.
Smart Use of Spreadsheets

  1. Work in Print Layout View (Excel's term for it) so you can monitor how the document will print. Keep everything in one workbook if possible and always configure your document to print one page wide.
  2. First format the document by setting the margins to 0.5 inches.
  3. Next format your title page with all the relevant information: lab title, lab week, date and group members. You can add a page break if you wish so you will not have to scroll so much between the title page and the rest of your lab. Come back to this title page before you save and send or print it. You may need to move cells around after you changed column widths when working on the subsequent pages.
  4. Now open up the view header/footer which can be done in most spreadsheets by double clicking on that part of the page. Put the title in the header in the center. In the footer in the center enter the last name of each group member in a horizontal row separated by commas. Then close out the header/footer view and get to work.
  5. Keep your work one page wide and work down from the first page and not across unless instructed to do so. You can eliminate unnecessary while space by resizing the column width
  6. Pay attention to formatting for both how it affects the professional appearance of you document (keep all the date centered in the column) as well as matter such as significant figures, commas in large numbers and rounding of numbers.
  7. Complete calculation steps in a vertical fashion always indicating both the value of a number and its units in a cell to its right. The units must reside in a separate cell or the spreadsheet will treat you number as text and cannot do any calculations with it.
  8. For constants that are used in equations more than once (except for numbers such as π) the best approach is to group them at the top of the page or to the right and include them in calculations using absolute reference (example $B$22).
  9. Very few numbers except for integers and exponents are entered in equations directly in a cell but instead are placed in separate cells. The number need in an equation is entered by referencing the column and row number of the cell where it resides.

prof's cell: 843-670-7878

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