based on the Laboratory Notebook Policy at

Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA

Why is proper record keeping in a bound notebook important?

            In the US, the first person to conceive and to be diligent to develop an invention, product or process is awarded the patent for that product or process.  Notebooks properly kept and witnessed are legal evidence of conception and diligence to practice an invention.  Don’t think you’ll ever get a patent?  Your notebook is your record of what you did, and making a poster for a science fair (or taking a lab practical!!) will be impossible without a clear record of what, why and how.

Record Keeping Procedures

1. Use only your official lab notebook to record your work.  All work must be recorded in the notebook and no other document.  Do not write on scraps of paper!  Never write on a separate piece of paper and copy it into the notebook later.  Always record directly into the lab notebook the first time!

2.  Sign and date every page.  Signature, not just initials.

3.  Maintain a Table of Contents as you make entries in the notebook and number each page.  The first page of every lab investigation should be in the Table of Contents.

4.  Make all entries legibly and in blue or black ink only.  No pencil or erasable pen!  Colored pencils are acceptable on some drawings. 

5.  Do not erase, ink-over or white- out any errors.  Put a line through errors so they can still be read.  Place your initials by the correction.

6.  Briefly state the objective (purpose) of each experiment and refer to your previous work.  For example, use “from” or “see page” or “go to” statements to tie together sections of your notebook to show continuous work.  This step is critical to keeping track of ongoing experiments!

7.  Record all directions, materials, quantities used, reaction or operating conditions in sufficient detail and clarity so someone of equal skill could understand or repeat the procedures if necessary.  In other words, all your protocols should appear in the lab notebook.  Do not copy procedures before performing them, as chances are you will make modifications.  Write down what you actually did, immediately before or after completing that task.  NEVER “fudge” to make your procedure match what the published protocol described.

8.  As you are doing the experiment, note any observations you make.  Anything surprising or unexpected should be recorded.

9.  Avoid abbreviations and codes when possible.  Only abbreviations for metric measurements may be used universally.

10.  List all persons from whom samples or data were obtained, shared or transferred.

11.  Attach as much original data as practical in the notebook.  Where it is not practical to attach original data, attach examples and make clear reference to where the original data is stored.

12.  When procedures, data, conclusions etc. are continued from previous pages, each one must have a “from page #...” listed.  When continuing to another page there should be a “go to” statement directing the reader to the continuation of work.

13.  You may paste charts, protocols, graphs, computer printouts etc. into your lab notebook but you must initial the extra paper. 

14.  After completing an experiment, write a few notes concerning the results.  State what the data show; if the results are inconclusive or the procedure did not work (controls did not behave as expected) state what might have gone wrong, and what experiments you could do to obtain the data.