Lab Notebooking


The laboratory notebook is perhaps the single most important piece of laboratory equipment. A scientist's notebook may be directly entered as evidence in court, and as such may be worth millions to a company in patent litigation. While you may never be in a situation where your notebook is worth a million dollars, good record keeping is essential in all scientific research. In an academic laboratory, the consequences of poor record keeping are wasted time as you repeat the experiment, or simply failing the exercise. In an industrial laboratory, inadequate lab records ultimately cost the company money, either in the cost of time and materials or as the result of legal action. In either case, the cost to the responsible employee is their job and all possible future employment.

There are many different sets of rules for keeping a laboratory notebook, which range from the very elaborate rules followed by industrial chemists to the simplified rules listed below. Not all of the points given here will apply to all courses; your instructor will point out modifications to these procedures in his or her syllabus or in the laboratory. No matter what guidelines you use, the goal is to produce a record of a scientific endeavor that is understandable to a knowledgeable reader and which can be used to repeat the experiment and, presumably, get the same results.

Notebook Format and Rules

Laboratory records are to be kept in a bound notebook (i. e., secured with glue), not a spiral notebook or a loose-leaf binder. The pages are to be consecutively numbered. No pages are ever to be removed (except for the copies produced by duplicating notebooks). Leave the first 5 pages blank and start numbering page 6 as number 1.

All entries are to be made directly in the notebook in black or blue ink. Everything related to the laboratory work must be recorded in the notebook in an organized and neat manner (if it cannot be easily read, it is not adequately recorded). It is critical that the material is intelligible and understandable to the notebook author and any trained physicist who reads the records, attempts to reproduce these results, or endeavors to finish an incomplete analysis. This concept is often known as "traceable" in the industrial world. A lab notebook can be used in a patent filing.

It is unacceptable under all circumstances to rewrite (or "copy over") an experiment in the notebook outside of lab. It is also unacceptable to type up portions of the laboratory notebook in a word processor and then attach the printout to your notebook. Plan your activities in the laboratory so that all information is properly entered into the notebook while you are in the laboratory.

Include in the notebook a complete description of the work performed, all reference materials consulted, and ideas that you have related to the work. There should be no loose scraps of paper in the notebook. Graphs, charts, spectra, or spreadsheet analyses should be affixed to the pages of the notebook with tape or glue. Label the space where this material is to go with a description of the item and the results it contained. This way, if it is removed, there will be a record of it. Make no notes on the inserted material.

On the first page of your notebook are written the name of the class, your period, and your name. It is also a good idea to put contact information (e. g., your phone number or email address) here, in case your notebook is lost. The next two pages are reserved for a table of contents. The words "Table of Contents" are to be written at the top of these pages. The first entry is to be the table of contents itself. An entry is made in the Table of Contents for each experiment when it is begun. This entry includes the title of each experiment and the page number on which the experiment begins.

You may wish to dedicate one page to a "Preface" in which you describe yourself and the contents of this notebook. Another item that is sometimes included are pages titled "Abbreviations and Other Useful Information". Normally these items must be completed before the first laboratory session. We will work on this list as we go. This will be on page 4 and 5.

If a page is skipped, a large "X" must be drawn across it. The page is then initialed and dated. While generally frowned upon, you may skip a line as needed to separate sections. There should be no unused empty space on a page, except for the printed margins. Treat large blocks of blank space like a blank page (this assures the reader that no information was added later).

On the first page of an experiment write the title of the experiment that matches that in the table of contents. Also at the top of the first page place the names of each person that was invovled in this lab experiment. At the top of each page place the date that the last entry was made on that page. After the last entery of the experiment you should print and signature you name.

If an error is made, draw a single bold horizontal line through the error so that it can still be read. Write the correct information to the right of the incorrect entry and have a short accompanying explanation of the reason for exclusion. Never use whiteout or completely obliterate the incorrect entry.

Do not copy any information from the notebooks of former or current students. The only exception is when working in a group, and only one member of the group recorded the data during the experiment. In this case, you must indicate in your notebook that the results were copied from the other person's notebook. Write the recorder's name and the page number from which the data were copied next to the copied data.

In general, the notebook should be arranged in chronological order, so that when one experiment ends the next one begins. In a high school laboratory this is very easy to do, but as you progress in your study of science, things are not always so well-ordered. If you must start a new experiment before another is finished, you simply note on the last page of the unfinished experiment the page on which it will be continued.

Lab Name and Number

Name:_________________ (Your name first, followed by lab partners names)

This is a bulltet point lits of the objectives of the experiment. It should describe the scenario you are modeling without going into the detail of the procedure. Explicate goals of your investigation and what you expect to learn from the lab should be stated here. This should include a hypothesis about what you expect will be the results of the experiment.
List of Apparatus:
This section includes a list of all items used during this experiment. If this is the first time we have used this apparatus describe what the apparatus is, hand draw image of the object.

What steps do you take in the lab? This should outline the procedure you take in gathering your data. Do not simply copy the procedure from the lab sheet. Write down the steps you need to take in the order you need to take them to arrive at your results. Make sure to explain how you will use the apparatuses listed above.
The overall procedure should be complete enough that an arbitrary person could read your procedure and can perform the lab as you did it.

NOTE: Unlike a lab report, you will write a procedure, collect and record data, do the calculations, and then make a new procedure list for the second part of the labratory. This process repeats itself.

Charts, graphs, and tables that include all of your data. Make sure to label all charts, graphs, and tables (i.e. "Data Table 5-2" ect.) so that they can be referenced throughout your paper. Graphs should be done neatly and should contain a large enough scale to interpret all of the data. Please refer to the data table and graph guideline provided by your instructor during the chapter 1 of physics 1.

Provide one calculation for each of the different types of calculations you preformed. Make sure to show all steps. An example of this would be:

Total Normal Force
=Total mass of block (kg) * (acceleration due to gravity (m/(s2)) * sin(of the angle (radians))
=0.4136 kg (± error) * 9.80 m/s2 * sin (p/2 (± error) )
= 4.05 N (± propagated error)

Explain where your error came from and if your data is significantly off, greater than 5% error; predict what the acceptable values would be.

In paragraph sentence form explain anything strange about your data, for example, any new laws of physics you may have discovered. Example: If I drop a ball and a feather they both drop at the same rate according to the theory. If your data didn’t show that then did we forget something. If not did we discover a new law of physics?

Then, in a new paragraph, explain the significance of your data, and what your data is representing. In this paragraph explain, what the data is telling you. Interpret your data! Finally, in a third paragraph ask any questions you might have about the lab you performed, and create new hypothesis for future experimentation.

Remember, if there is something that doesn’t match your theory, that you didn’t explain in the results or analysis and you did not ask about it in the question paragraph, then you can expect to lose points.

Answer any questions that were asked on the lab hand out but were not answered above. The preferred method for you to do this is to answer the questions in one of the sections above, and then parenthetically site is by writing (Q1) or (Q2) directly after the sentence but before the punctuation.

Cite all references.

The some information on this page is based on the work of B. D. Lamp, D. L. McCurdy, A. E. Moody, M. C. Nagan and J. M. McCormick from Truman University.