Sunday, October 12, 2014

Conciseness, Conciseness, and Conciseness

My first draft of the M1D1 – D2 method section took up 2 entire pages with detailed explanations of how we obtained the pCX-EGFP sequence from which website and a huge table showing how much enzyme was used for each digestion reaction. In my final methods summary, I was able to fit in 5 days of lab protocol into less than a page and a half. My first attempt to analyse the recovery gel image listed every single lane individually and almost made an 800-word essay. In my final report, I was able to combine similar results and retell essentially the same story in 6 bullet points.

So what’s going on here?

I was never worried about writing assignments that have a minimum word count requirement. I mean, even though I am not a particularly talented writer, once I start writing, I can write a lot. I was trained to be a detailed-oriented programmer before “converting” to course 20 (another blog post to follow), so I am extremely cautious about conveying the technical details in any form of written or oral communication. For example, I wrote a lengthy tutorial about hosting your website online ( which contained every single piece of information you could possibly want to know. Now, as I look back at my most “proud” work after finishing the first module of 109, I feel deeply uncomfortable.

The most important lesson 109 has taught me so far is to communicate concisely. I realized that the three golden rule of communication is conciseness, conciseness, and conciseness. If three words can do, never use five. Just write no more than I should. Writing is a two-way process – choosing the right level of detail is showing the readers the respect that they deserve.

Like everyone else (judging from the high frequency with which “sleep deprivation” appeared in Mod1 blogs), I sat by my laptop 12 hours straight right before the report was due. But I was glad that the majority of that time was devoted to condensing lengthy expressions and getting rid of unnecessary details. The final report is still 12 pages long, but at least I tried my best to cut it down from 14 (not by reducing font!). I am sure my report is far from perfect, but now that I realized my tendency to ramble, and that I am making slow progress to correct it after receiving useful feedback from our beloved instructors, I believe I can do a better job in Module 2.

A few other goals for the upcoming challenges of 109:

1) Gain an understanding of the big picture: only until last Tuesday did I realize that we can actually use the assay for a variety of other applications like cancer screening – I need to better connect labs and lectures!

2) Discuss with my teammates more often: we shouldn’t start the discussion only at the last minute. Each time after lab, we should make sure everyone’s on the same page – that will also help each other do better in lab quizzes! Bria and Ashley, you heard me!

3) Start work early: yes, literally now! Mod2, here I am. 

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