Technique A: Use of Laboratory Notebook
Section 1: Purpose of Technique
The laboratory notebook is a permanent record of a researcher’s activities. The main purpose of maintaining a laboratory notebook is to preserve experimental plans, study design or protocol, procedures that were followed, observations, results, conclusions, and recommendations. The information that is documented must be done in a way that another scientist can replicate the study based on the information presented in the notebook or binder.
Supplemental quality control activities and practices related to equipment maintenance and calibration are recorded on appropriate forms and maintained in log books as required under other laboratory Standard Operating Procedures. Unless there is a critical operation, it is generally not necessary to record supplemental data twice, though the activities should be referred to and cross-referenced in the laboratory notebook. For example, if the laboratory water supply is monitored, measured and recorded in a separate logbook, then you do not generally need to also record that monitoring result in your laboratory notebook.
Section 2: How to Start Your Laboratory Notebook
Requirements for a Laboratory Notebook
The laboratory notebook is usually bound with sequentially numbered pages. Several styles are available. Some organizations require acid-free paper for archival purposes. Others require a carbon-copy for immediate archival at the end of the day. Pages can be ruled or graph-ruled. Some examples are provided below:
For most educational settings a bound composition book is sufficient. If the pages are not sequentially numbered, then sequences can be established by diligent recording of entry dates:
Laboratory notebooks should be used with either blue or black permanent ink. Many non-black or blue inks fade with time.
Section 3: Components of a Laboratory Notebook
Part 1: Owner’s Name, Dates of Use, and Course Title
Put your name on the outside cover, inside cover, or on the first page of your notebook to identify that you own this laboratory notebook.
Identify what period of time this laboratory notebook is in service. Usually that is a start date on the cover, followed by an end date when the notebook is completed.
Record your course title, professor, and section number for reference.
Provide an email address and contact phone number in case you leave your notebook in a classroom.
Part 2: Table of Contents and Numbered Pages
A Table of Contents is optional, but useful for yourself and for other people.
Your Table of Contents should have the page number, title of experiment, and dates of when you started and finished your experiment. This makes it easier for others to read your laboratory notebook.
Make sure to include enough pages in the front for your table of contents.
After making enough space for your table of contents, if your notebook is not sequentially numbered, make sure to do so using black or blue ink. Date and initial all information collected, recorded, and calculated in your notebook at the end of each day of working in the laboratory.
Part 3: Experiment Entries
For each experiment include the day you started it and the title of the experiment at the beginning of the page.
Document your daily plan of the experiment before starting it. Include the purpose of the experiment, background information, what techniques you will be using, what equations you are going to be using for your calculations, and what reagents and materials will you be using.
Start a section for recording your observations. Write down clear, concise, and detailed descriptions of what you see. Include all that was expected and any observations you did not expect. You may have an idea of what you expect to happen if you have completed your pre-laboratory research and read the background information. Unusual observations should be recorded—these observations may lead to further experimentation. Entries should be grammatically correct, legible and honest.
Include your raw data from experiment. You never know what information may be important, so write down as much as you can. You can organize data in tables. Tape or glue in any data you have printed out or recorded on a separate piece of paper. If you use a computer program, record the program name and version number if relevant.
After observations, you need a data analysis section. This will include any calculations needed to properly interpret your data.
Include a conclusions section of what you did well, what you could have done better, and what future scientists can do to improve the results of the experiment.
Occasionally, another person may have done some parts of the experiment. Note any parts someone else may have done and have them date and initial the relevant parts of your laboratory notebook.
If an experiment is too long for one page, note that the experiment continues on to the next page. If you have to skip pages because you are doing multiple experiments, include references back to the original experiment. So if Experiment 12 ends on page 23 and is continuing on page 35, a note on page 23 should read ‘continued on page 35’ and a note on page 35 should read ‘Experiment 12 (continued from page 23).’
Keeping A Legally Defensible Document
All data goes in the notebook, even outliers, or “bad” data points. A failed experiment should still be documented in the laboratory notebook.
Do not take out any pages or remove any data or observations you have made in your notebook. Do not skip any pages in your laboratory notebook. Cross out any unused portions of your laboratory notebook and mark it with the date and your signature.
Cross out any mistakes with a single line only. Put in corrections without covering anything. Sign and date all your corrections.
To correct a large section, block out with one diagonal line from corner to corner followed by a date, signature, and reason for crossing it out.
“Standard Operating Procedure for Use and Maintenance of Laboratory Notebooks and Project Binders”, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pesticide Programs, Microbiology Laboratory, Environmental Science Center, Ft. Meade, MD. SOP Number: ADM-05-04; Date Revised: 06-20-17. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production.../adm-05-04.pdf (Accessed 10/29/2018).
Photos from: The Book Factory, Inc., and National Brand