Lab Notebook Guidelines

Purpose.  Your lab notebook serves as both a recipe and a diary for each of your laboratory activities.  It also serves as the basis for an annotated inventory of the materials you generate in the lab.  Maintaining a neat, detailed lab notebook is essential for productivity in the laboratory.

Content and protocol.  Notebooks should include all procedures, measurements, calculations, data, and clear references to the sources of such information.

Write down your protocol in step-by-step fashion before beginning an experiment.
Keep your notebook up to date as you work; never re-copy your notes later.

Give each experiment or procedure a title.  Below the title, briefly explain why you are performing the particular procedure.  What is the purpose?  What is the expected outcome?  Are there alternative outcomes?

List the procedures in a step-by-step fashion using black or blue ink.  As the steps are completed, check them off using red ink.  Also use red ink to record:

At the conclusion of an experiment or procedure, be sure to briefly interpret the results, noting specific observations and recommendations for how to proceed.  Attempt to reconcile your observations with your expectations.

As you generate materials, be sure to label the tubes with the contents, descriptive details (e.g. concentration or solvent),  your initials, and the date.  This allows subsequent users to quickly locate detailed descriptions of the material in your lab notebook.

Notebooks should be written so that years from now someone can go to your notebook, locate your data, understand the details of procedures used to obtain it, and repeat the experiments, if necessary.

Notebooks should have an index in the front, listing date, experiment, and page numbers.  This is easily accomplished if you leave the first 2-3 pages blank and subsequently enter the name and date of each activity as you go along.

Believe it.  At first glance these detailed procedures may seem cumbersome and unnecessary.  However, diligence in record keeping can save enormous amounts of time as you prepare manuscripts and reports of your work.  Failure to keep careful records brings frustration and heartache.  This is a tried-and-true system that has proven its value many, many times.

Lab notebooks belong to the lab and will remain in the lab when you leave.  You may make copies of any lab notebooks you use, to take with you when you leave.