How to Keep a Lab Notebook

Laboratory Notebook Guidelines

Science student writing in a notebook in a lab

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A lab notebook is the primary permanent record of your research and experiments. Note that if you are taking an AP Placement lab course, you need to present a suitable lab notebook in order to get AP credit at most colleges and universities. Here is a list of guidelines that explains how to keep a lab notebook.

Notebook Must Be Permanently Bound

It should not be loose-leaf or in a 3-ring binder. Never tear a page out of the lab notebook.

If you make a mistake, you can cross it out, but you should not remove sheets or parts of sheets from your book. When you cross out an error, it should still be legible. You should be explaining the reason for the strikethrough and you should initial and date it. To that point, it is not acceptable to take notes in pencil or erasable ink.

Keep Everything Legible and Organized

Organization is key to a good lab book. Print your name, contact info, the date and other pertinent information on the cover of the lab book. Some lab books require you to enter some of this information on every page of the book.

If your book is not pre-numbered, number every page. Usually, numbers are located in the upper outer corner and both the front and back of each page is numbered. Your labor instructor may have a rule regarding numbering. If so, follow their instructions. It's also a good idea to reserve the first couple of pages for a Table of Contents.

To keep everything organized and simplified, start a fresh page for each experiment.

Be Precise in Your Record Keeping

This is a record of the lab work you have done during the semester or year, so it needs to be thorough. For each experiment, record the date(s) and list lab partners, if applicable.

Record all information real-time.

Don't wait to fill in the information. It may be tempting to record data elsewhere and then transcribe it into your lab notebook, usually because it would make the notebook neater, but it's important to record it immediately.

Include charts, photos, graphs and similar information in your lab notebook. Usually, you'll tape these in or include a pocket for a data chip. If you must keep some data in a separate book or other location, note the location in your lab book and cross-reference it with the relevant lab book page numbers wherever the data is stored.

Don't leave gaps or white space in the lab book. If you have a big open space, cross it out. The purpose of this is so no one can go back in and add false details at a later date.