I often find myself performing synthetic preps written by others. Some literature preps are useful and efficient. More than a few are not. Many preps thoughtfully convey important issues for the operator to make note of. But very often, writers of synthetic preparations assume that users in the future will be as knowledgeable of the handling issues as they are when the paper goes to press.

The writing style used in American chemical journals is usually a past tense, passive voice style where an exuberant first person voice is frowned upon. Writers of papers in the peer reviewed literature write in a tight, condensed form that favors efficient use of space.

In industry, lab preparations are very often extracted from the literature and applied to the preparation of research or commercial products. The common style used in published procedures is such that some level of skill is assumed by the writer for the reader.  This is fair. If one is combing the literature for preps, it is usually the case that the browser has a significant level of lab skills.

But in industry, or at least in the brackish waters I splash around in, a tight literature-style preparation may not be sufficient. In order to satisfy the needs of the company as a whole, health and safety data may have to be front and center on the writeup. Proper personal protective equipment requirements must be posted, and HMIS, MSDS, and labeling data is included.  

To satisfy the cost accountants, a time and materials list might have to be tabulated in a way that makes sense to accountants. The regulatory folks need to know about air permits and TSCA status. To satisfy the Quality Assurance/Quality Control folks, lot traceability for raw materials, intermediates, and products must be defined and immortalized with a firm paper trail. This is done in the form of part numbers, certification data, inventory locations, lot numbers, and order numbers. 

A prep document itself can be a permanent record of what was done. It can be used to document the management of change. A prep document itself can be used to provide documentation in place of a lab notebook.

But most importantly, a prep document will be used by other chemists. Possibly those of a lower skill level. So it is crucial that key information is immortalized. Ambiguity must be wrung out like rinse water from a towel. Key art must be set forth, but non-critical actions must be written in such a way as to allow discretion by the operator. Overly rigid instructions restraining trivial aspects are merely burdensome and unduly constrain the operator.

Writing a procedure is a kind of brain dump. It is a disclosure of all of the art necessary and sufficient to perform an operation. For a company, a procedure is company treasure and should be jealously maintained as such.

The business of bringing a new product to market is a lot like putting in a new town along the frontier rail line. You have to build the tracks to get there. You have to haul all of your materials and skeptical people to this promised land. Once there you have to decide what goes where and who will do what. Always you must have buy-in from the settlers. Much time, energy, and acrimony goes into the progress toward the finished good. At any given moment funding can be pulled, sending everyone home and leaving you with a ghost town. A mere memory of what was and what could have been.

A well written lab prep contributes to this settlement in the new land of opportunity by providing structure and a foundation from which to build.

 

 

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