Saturday, December 20, 2014

Time-saving tip–make a FAQ for almost anything

One of the fundamental tenets of programming is DRY: Don’t Repeat Yourself. If you find yourself writing the same thing multiple times, you’re creating a problem in that you have to maintain consistency if you ever make a change, and you’ve had to write it twice.

In thinking about what I have to do in my daily life, a lot of it also involves repetitive tasks. The most onerous of these are requests for information that require somewhat length e-mails or what have you. Yet, many times, I end up answering the same questions over and over. Which brings up a solution: refer to a publicly available FAQ.

I first did this for RNA FISH because I was always getting similar questions about protocols and equipment, etc. So I made this website, which I think has been useful both for researchers looking for answers and for me in terms of saving me time writing out these answer for every person I meet.

I also recently saw a nice FAQ recently (can’t find the link, darn!) where someone had put together a letter of recommendation FAQ. As in, if you want a letter of recommendation from this person, here’s a list of details to provide and a list of criteria to determine whether they would be able to write a good one for you.

Another senior professor I met recently said that she got sick of getting papers from her trainees that were filled with various errors. So she set up a list of criteria and told everyone that she wouldn’t look at anything that didn’t pass that bar. Strikingly, she said that the trainees actually loved it–it made a nice checklist for them and they knew exactly what was expected of them.

I think all of these are great, and I think I might make up such documents myself. I’m also thinking of instituting an internal FAQ for our data management in the lab. Any other ideas?

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