Keeping a Lab Notebook
Keeping clear, thorough records is a vital part of any laboratory process. Careful attention to organization and details will have a positive impact on your laboratory experience. Keeping a notebook increases your ability to organize your thoughts and follow the development of your understanding over the semester. Recording comments, ideas, and thoughts about what you understand or do not understand as you assimilate the steps in a protocol or examine the results of the tests performed will make writing about your research findings much less difficult. It is essential to record reagent source information, media recipes, procedural details including effective concentration calculations (show all work), etc. before you leave the lab so that you will have all the experimental information necessary to easily construct a Materials and Methods section for your final paper when it is time to do that work. You should also take the time to carefully record results, observations, conclusions and notes about the progress and final findings in your experimental work.
Purchase a bound, professional style laboratory notebook with a stitched binding such as the black and white marbled “composition” books available in the Wellesley bookstore.
- Label the front cover of the notebook: Microbiology 209 lab notebook, Lab section, your full name, the year and semester.
- Label the INSIDE cover with your name, mailing address, and email.
- If your notebook does not have pre-numbered pages, immediately number by hand each page in the top right corner. Every page (even empty ones) must be numbered.
- Leave the first 4 pages of your notebook empty after entitling the first page Table of Contents. Fill in the page numbers and subject headers for this table of contents as you work.
- Use the right side pages for your daily record preparation and leave the left pages for any additional notes, observations, errors, and procedural changes made at the last minute.
Lab notebooks will be collected and evaluated.
Why Keep a Lab Notebook?
If you pick up a lab notebook years from now, anyone should be able to figure out what you did, why you did it, and how your data led to your conclusions to well defined experimental questions. The experiments should be easily replicated from your notes.
Your daily lab record should include:
1) a complete title or brief description of each lab and its goals (rather than just the descriptor LAB 1).
2) an outline or brief flow diagrams of your lab work. DO NOT PRINT OUT THE WIKI PROTOCOLS AND PASTE THEM IN YOUR NOTEBOOK!
3) how to make any reagent (with concentrations of all ingredients in stock solutions). Include all calculations with units for any dilutions from stock solutions.
4) raw data in tabular form with table title and legend describing the data, how it was generated.
5) data processed into a form that illustrates experimental conclusions (showing all calculations and units). Include a clear explanation of how and why the data were processed at each step (i.e. to account for a dilution factor or molar extinction coefficient, etc.).
6) personal observations, including notations of any mistakes and what was planned or done to correct errors.
7) conclusions, if conclusions can be drawn and/or remaining or new questions with proposed protocols for resolving issues.
8) with whom you worked on each experiment (if you had one or more partners).
9) all drawings/photos must have titles, total magnification and/or size information, information about how the image was generated (stain, etc), and labels of important/relevant sub-cellular structures.
Remember your lab notebook is designed to be a legal document. You can not use erasable materials anywhere, nor can you use “white out”. If you make a mistake, mark through the entry ONCE, making sure that the original entry is legible. Note why you made the correction, then initial and date the correction.
We strongly suggest that you outline every protocol in your notebook BEFORE coming to lab. DO NOT print out copies of the protocols from the wiki and paste them in your lab notebook!!!! Instead, you should distill the relevant protocols into flow diagrams and prepare tables for your data with titles and legends and leave space for your observations. If you do this preparatory work well, you will only have to make minor corrections or modifications to the protocols and have more time for recording the results and observations in the prepared sections of your notebooks during lab.
Never leave lab without completing the lab notebook record for that lab day. It is considered scientific misconduct to try to recreate what you did later or try to remember your results and enter them after the fact.