User:Sarah Knight/Notebook/Biology 210 at AU

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January 23, 2014: Biology 210 – Organismal Biology How to keep a complete lab notebook

The Importance of the Laboratory Notebook: Keeping a good lab notebook is a vital part of science. Before the digital age, accurate record keeping was the only mechanism that was in place for advancing science. Long before each of us started school, a scientist was at his/her bench spending hours writing down how he/she did an experiment and what was witnessed. It is only this detail that allowed us to understand chromosomes, describe organelles, or develop vaccines. The whole point of the laboratory notebook is to: (1) write down exactly who did an experiment, when it was done, and the methods that were used (2) allow information to be validated and sustainable (important for legal issues like patents too!) (3) enable someone else to replicate the experiment at a later date Lab Notebook Guidelines: Similar to the requirements that are set forth by industry (and government research institutes like NIH and FDA), laboratory notebooks should be:

  (1)  hardback bound notebooks or electronic format
  (2)  documentation of original thought, even if that thought is a mistake. 
  (3)  If you make corrections, simply cross out old information and write the corrected statement next to it
  (4)  as complete as possible.  
  (5)  You may write things down on scraps of paper and transfer to the notebook later, but don’t rely on your memory for the details

Organization of the notebook: Your notebook should be so clear, complete, and concise that anyone could pick up your notebook and understand what you have written. Your notebook should contain the following format.

  (1)  Introduction (general description of what you are doing)
  (2)  Purpose (general description of why you are doing an experiment)
  (3)  Materials and Methods (detailed description of how you did an experiment)
  (4)  Data and Observations
  (5)  Conclusion (and ideas for future experiments)

Introduction: Your introduction should have the following: a) the title of the experiment - keep your title descriptive yet concise b) the date (make sure you include the year, not just the month and day) Purpose: The purpose should be a statement of what the problem that you are studying is. Be short and to the point. It is in this section that you will want to include a hypothesis or prediction. (Remember! Your hypothesis does not need to be correct to be doing good science.) Materials and Methods: This section explains what you did in the experiment. You should use simple, direct statements that may be written in bullets, numerically, or essay format. As long as the detail is there, it doesn’t matter what format you use. I can’t state enough that you need to be very complete in this area. No detail is too small to be included. A fellow scientist (and group member) should be able to repeat your experiment based on these details. Observations and Data The observations and data should be: (1) Recorded honestly!!! Remember, sometimes unexpected findings are what lead us to the best scientific advances. Everything has some meaning, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time (2) Recorded as you go along in the notebook. Don’t trust your memory. You will forget the little details. You can make notes and then transfer to a lab notebook or openwetware. (3) Recorded as completely as possible. You don’t need to interpret the data in this section, for you will do that in the next section (4) Recorded in an easy to read format. You can draw graphs or write tables in this section to illustrate your data in a more user-friendly way Conclusions Your conclusions should be based on your data. Therefore, they may not agree with your purpose or hypothesis, and this is O.K. Explain whether your data supported or refuted your hypothesis. You may want to include any ideas that this experiment generated before you forget them. This is where you can make suggestions to improve your experimental design and say what you plan to do next (e.g., “next time I may want to harvest a sample from 5 inches below the surface because I think that the temperature at the surface is too cold to get a diversity of protists…”)

I suggest that with each new entry you enter it to the top of the notebook and start with the date and title in bold. After each new entry initial your work.

Remember, unless your data is recorded in a notebook in an accurate and precise fashion, it can never be used to advance science!!!