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Keeping a Written Record & Maintaining a Lab Notebook

  • Lab notebooks are the most useful resource that you can create for yourself in the lab

  • Maintaining a lab notebook will require a bit of effort every day

  • It’s a great tool for maintaining rigor and reproducibility - It is helpful for current and future lab mates who may need to do a similar experiment months or years later

  • It can provide written evidence that everything was done in a clear, transparent, and ethical manner

  • If you are serious about doing good science and holding down a technical job in the future – learn to keep a record of everything you do.

  • Maintain and save a written record for every research endeavor (for example – animal surgery forms, post-op monitoring, and tissue harvest). Even if all this information gets digitized later, a paper copy where the information was originally collected is important to keep - You can secure the paper forms in your notebook or in a separate binder.

  • A well-maintained lab notebook can settle intellectual property disputes and authorship issues


What a lab notebook should contain -

  • Technical details of what was done on a given day

  • Observations and notes – did you look carefully? Noticed anything odd – good or bad?

  • Ideas for what to try next – develop the ability to think and troubleshoot

  • Failures – what did you learn? What do you think went wrong?

  • Optimizations – how did you make it better?


When should you write in your notebook?

  • Procedures and observations need to be updated in your notebook in real-time – but you definitely need to plan ahead and prepare in advance for all experiments.

  • Do not push it off for the next day or the end of the week – that’s a very bad habit and you will miss a lot of details.

  • Let’s say you have a typed up protocol for immunostaining or making a hydrogel – I would recommend that you print it out and tape/glue it in your notebook. DO NOT stick it in as a loose page – that defeats the purpose. If you do not have access to a printer, hand-write the steps in short as you follow along with the protocol.


It has important details even though most of your data is digital -

  • Although the majority of your data is collected digitally, your notebook should still record important technical details (e.g., exposure settings on microscope or any instrument operating parameters).

  • Yes, lab notebooks are not searchable. But you will be surprised how much easier it is to flip through one and figure out important information. Include an index to make it easier for others to look through your notebook.


Don’t worry about making it pretty!

  • As long as it clearly and legibly records the date and details of what was done – you are good

  • Don’t worry about writing out full-sentences and color-coding your notes

  • You can also use it for planning, making to-do lists, taking notes during a meeting

  • Keep it with you at all times while working in the lab or collecting data and record as much as possible diligently


Don’t worry about repeating information -

  • Making 10X PBS for the sixth time? You only need to record recipe (the reagents weighed and pH) once. After that, you can state “Made 10X PBS as per page #XX)”.






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