A lab protocol, also known as a standard operating procedure, is a list of instructions to perform an experiment. It is a plan used to duplicate favorable results from a previous test. In a research laboratory, many protocols are needed for safety, to operate analytical equipment and to make solutions with minimal mistakes.
Scope and Application
Every protocol needs to focus specifically on one type of experiment to be performed. This part of the protocol states the hypothesis and any methods that can reference it. It is important that results and any maximum detection limits are defined so that the user knows what to expect at the end of the experiment.
Summary of Method
The summary of method is a detailed, formal explanation of what the experiment is about. Pennsylvania State University describes this part as explaining the set up of the experiment, groups and controls needed and any referenced material needed to repeat an experiment accurately.
Equipment, Reagents and Sample Preparation
Usually in list form, all equipment and supplies needed should be written in this part of the protocol. If reagents or standards are to be made, the recipe is included so the reader knows how to make it. It is imperative that safety tips and what personal protective equipment is required are given.
Analysis and Quantitation
A description of how to analyze the experiment is included in this section, such as how to operate any equipment. All data collected needs to be reviewed and organized to find out if the hypothesis is supported. Most formal laboratories will export the data into a statistical package for quality assurance.
Quality Control and Safety
Depending on the experiment, quality control is a way to test the accuracy of the procedure performed. Most laboratories will include control samples that have a known result to help discover any errors in the report. The safety part usually includes suggested material safety data sheets, hazardous waste disposal recommendations and pollution prevention.
Definitions and References
Protocols are developed by performing many different experiments in many different ways and summarizing them into the best practice. Therefore, any terminology that may be unclear to the reader needs to be defined. Also, all published work cited needs to be referenced so that the reader can obtain more information if desired.
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