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How to use a lab notebook

An important skill you will learn while working in the laboratory is the proper way to keep a laboratory notebook. A well-kept notebook is an important record of exactly what you did in lab and the observations that you made while conducting your experiment. The information should be complete enough that someone else could conduct the exact same methodology using the information from your notebook alone. The following is a general description of how to keep a proper laboratory notebook.

  • Because your laboratory notebook is supposed to be a permanent document of your laboratory procedures and observations, it is bound with the pages numbered in advance for you. Each page has a duplicate, so when you write you will produce an original and a copy. Never remove both pages, since you will need to keep one of the duplicates in your book as a permanent record and turn in the other page for grading.
  • Note that there is a back cover that can be folded over—place this under the copy sheet before writing to prevent making multiple copies on several pages.
  • Be sure all of your entries are done in ink and that corrections are made by drawing a single line or an “x” through the material to be deleted or changed. Never erase or scribble out data so that it is illegible. Any changes made to any data entries should have a brief explanation describing why the change is being made.
  • Procedures and observations should be recorded in your notebook as they happen and not recorded on other pieces of paper and then transferred to your notebook at a later time.
  • Always give credit for any data, descriptions, etc., that may have come from another source, such as a lab partner’s notebook.
  • Be sure your notebook is well organized and as legible as possible, with the proper usage of appropriate units and significant figures.
  • Keep in mind that specific requirements for how you use your laboratory notebook may differ depending on the discipline, instructions from your instructor, and/or any particular rules of your institution. Maintaining a laboratory notebook is a common practice in many careers, and your commitment to learning how to use your laboratory notebook properly will pay off in the future if you decide to pursue a career in the sciences.

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