Standards for Keeping a Laboratory Notebook

In the scientific community, laboratory notebooks play an incredibly important role. More than being just a place to record random thoughts or observations, the purpose of a laboratory notebook is to exhaustively document experiments and observations to create a permanent, researchable record.

Properly maintaining a laboratory notebook allows for proper peer review, protects the integrity of experiments and tests, and allows scientists and labs to protect their intellectual property rights from unjust challenges.

In order to make sure your lab is doing everything it can to protect itself and its work, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the proper standards for keeping a scientific notebook.

Laboratory notebook standards

Record Everything

The scientific process is one of trial and error. Every step of the process should be documented in detail, so that every bit of information can be analyzed accurately. Even seemingly insignificant details should be recorded in a lab notebook, as controlling conditions exactly can often be the key to a successful experiment.

Make Clear Notes

It may seem obvious, but notes that no one can understand are essentially useless. In order to make sure that the records you keep are understandable, make sure to clearly note what you are talking about on any given page. Also be sure to include any sketches, diagrams, or other information that is necessary to understand the data.

Use Consecutive Pages

Using consecutive pages in your notebook (as opposed to skipping pages) allows lab scientists to create an accurate, chronological record of their work. This makes it easier to review the progress of an experiment and to protect the intellectual property of a lab if ownership of data is ever challenged.

While no scientist likes to think that they will have to contest the ownership of their data, the sad truth is that some unethical people will try to claim other people’s work as their own. When IP ownership is disputed, the party that is able to show records of the creative process – and their involvement in it – is the one that will win the case.

Lab notebook standards

Write in Ink

Laboratory notebooks should be written in ink so that everything recorded in them is permanent. By writing in ink, lab workers can be sure that no one can alter the data without leaving behind evidence. Also, since pencil writing can easily smear or become illegible, records made in permanent ink will last longer and are easier to read.

Have Coworkers Sign the Pages

In order to create an accurate record of the experiment process, lab scientists should have colleagues regularly review their pages, and then sign and date them to prove that they have performed a review. This step serves two purposes: It creates a system whereby laboratory work is regularly checked and reviewed for errors, and it also establishes a record of when data was recorded.

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