Reasons for Laboratory Notebook Format and Rules

When it comes to putting a value on all the equipment in a laboratory, there is perhaps nothing more valuable than a laboratory notebook. The documentation it contains makes it useful as evidence in court, if needed. If patent litigation becomes an issue, it can save a company millions. This is seldom the case, but it’s nice to know that, should the need arise, the means of irrefutable evidence lies within its pages.

Maintaining good records is at the root of any scientific research.  Without those records to back up results, experiments would have to be repeated — over and over, in some cases. In academic settings, without the proof of the work done, students would simply fail the exercise. In industrial settings, the consequences are more severe. Missing data can cost time, money and materials, and can result in employees losing their jobs, or in legal action. These are just a few of the reasons that it is important to follow rules regarding the formatting and maintenance of any laboratory notebook.

These notebooks should be bound, not spiral in construction. Pages should be consecutively numbered, and no page should ever be removed. To do so invalidates the credibility of the data. Anything and everything related to the work being done must be recorded in an organized and easy-to-read manner.

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. Make all notes while in the lab, and avoid updating the notebook later, when you are away from the lab. The idea is create a complete written account of the work that can be read and recreated by anyone else, from start to finish.