Keeping a Lab Notebook
You must purchase a hardbound 'composition' notebook (the bookstore has them) before you attend the first lab. Spiral-bound notebooks will not be accepted. The pages in the notebook may be graph paper, wide-ruled, college-ruled or any other type approved by your lab instructor. This lab notebook will be used to write down notes to yourself before, during and after performing your experiments.
Many scientific companies require that their employee’s laboratory notebooks be dated, signed, and witnessed since notebooks can be used as evidence in a patent dispute to establish the timing of a discovery. You will not be required to have your notebooks witnessed, but the front cover should have your name and lab section. Each page of your notebook should have a page number and date. You must use a pen to write in your lab notebook. It would not be of much use as a legal document if it were written in pencil.
The organization of your lab notebook is somewhat flexible. Please leave a few blank pages at the front of the notebook to use for a table of contents. Many find it useful to make a schematic diagram of the procedure (called a “flow diagram”) in their notebooks, which can be referred to while performing the experiment; however, it is not necessary to write the complete hypothesis and procedure from the lab manual into your notebooks (as some of you who have taken Chemistry at Wellesley may have done). Your lab instructor may provide you with more specific information on how to format your lab notebook.
Your lab notebook is the place to record what you actually did in lab, including any changes that you made to the procedure or any unexpected happenings during lab (for example a water bath at 30°C, when it was supposed to be 37°C). Don’t expect to remember exactly what happened later, since chances are good that you won’t.
Your notebook is also the place to perform any calculations and to record all your data. It is much more difficult to recreate what you’ve done in lab if parts of your experiments are written on scraps of paper instead of in your notebook. Since science is founded on the ability to reproduce the results of an experiment, it is vital that the details of the experiment be accurately and completely recorded.