Your laboratory notebook is an important tool that goes well beyond research management and can have important implications for issues ranging from intellectual property management to the prevention of fraud. Furthermore, it is the permanent record of your work in the lab and will be a critical source of information for you and future laboratory members. As such it is critical your laboratory notebooks be well organized, legible, detailed and contains all pertinent details about your experiments, the raw data collected, the subsequent analysis, and the location of any computer data files. While this notebook contains a record of your work it remains the property of the laboratory. As such it should never be removed from the laboratory, and will remain with the laboratory when you leave. It is your right to make copies of your notebooks, and it is highly recommended you make copies and keep them archived elsewhere as you fill your laboratory notebook.
General Laboratory Notebook Structure
- This guide should be stapled to the inside of the front cover of all laboratory notebooks.
- The front cover and a secondary location (spine, first page, etc) should be labeled with your name, the project name, the date of the first logged experiment in the notebook, and once filled, the date of the last experiment logged in the notebook. For individuals with multiple notebooks, notebooks should also be numbered.
- Laboratory notebooks should be hard-covered and bound in a fashion which prevents the removal of pages.
- All entries must be in permanent ink. Do not use pencil or erasable ink. Never remove pages.
- Any printouts, blots, or other external materials should be stapled into the laboratory notebook. Adhesives and glues break down over time, leading to loss of these materials.
- Each new entry/experiment should start on a forward-facing (right-side) page.
- The first 2-3 pages should be left blank, so they can be used to generate an index.
- Errors should not be covered up, erased, hidden with white-out, etc. Instead, put a single line (a strike-through) through the error.
- The pages of the notebook should be sequentially numbered.
- Your name, campus address, and campus phone number and/or e-mail address should be written on the front cover of the laboratory notebook, to ensure its return if lost.
What Should be Included in Every Entry
- At the top of the page should be the date of the experiment. If the experiment progresses over multiple days the results of individual dates should be recorded under sub-headings, while the date range of the experiment should be logged at the top of the first page of the entry.
- The first line of the entry is a clearly stated purpose, goal or aim.
- A methods section containing a description of the method/protocol used, in sufficient detail that others can reproduce it. If referring to a method used previously, cite it using the notebook number, page and date where the full method can be found. If following a paper, a full citation of the paper must be included.
- A results section containing the raw data resulting from the experiment and any statistics/analysis preformed*
- A conclusions section containing any notes or highlights of the experiments, probable interpretations, and improvements or suggestions for later reputations of the experimental procedures.
- If the experiment failed, in place of a conclusions section a detailed description of the failure, and potential corrections to prevent future failures, should be logged.
- Once complete all entries must be signed and added to the contents page at the front of the laboratory notebook. For critical experiments (i.e. first discoveries or patentable discoveries) a witness should co-sign the notebook.
For results contained in a computer file which cannot be practically included within the laboratory notebook itself, a note specifying the location of the computer files must be included in the results section. See other side for specifics.
Logging Computer Files
It is not uncommon for experiments to generate large quantities of computer files containing raw data, analyzed data, statistics, intermediary stages of analysis and publication-quality images. It is critical these files be saved in a fashion whereby they can be easily retrieved and assigned to the specific experiment in the laboratory notebook which generated the files. Because of this it is critical that you save your files using the following guidelines:
- All files for all laboratory users should be saved on the laboratory file server, which is backed up nightly. A personal computer must never be the sole site where data is stored.
- CD’s, DVD’s, blu-ray disks, memory sticks and most other forms of removable media are not sufficient for primary data storage or backup due to the risk of damage or loss.
- Raw and analyzed data must be kept. Files containing intermediary stages of analysis can be deleted unless reproducing the analysis requires an inordinate amount of time or effort.
- All files from one individual should be saved in a single folder. Ideally the folder should bear that individuals name.
- For short-term laboratory members all experiments can be saved within this folder.
- Long-term laboratory members should split their computer files into subfolders, either by year, by project, or by notebook number.
- The results from a single experiment should be logged into a folder named with the following format: year-month-day (i.e. an experiment conducted January 14th, 2011 would be saved in a folder titled 2011-01-14). This ensures folders will easily linked to the corresponding entry in the laboratory notebook.
- Experiments spanning multiple days should be saved in a folder dated to the first day of the experiment.
- For multiple experiments done in a single day, place each experiment in its own folder using a letter suffix to indicate the separate experiments (i.e. 2011-01-14a, 2011-01-14b). Make sure the suffix indicating a specific experiment is clearly logged in the results section of the laboratory notebook.
- If there is doubt about whether a file should be saved or not, defer on the side of caution and keep the file.
- In some cases files may contain confidential information about patients, donors or experimental subjects. Storage of these files is regulated by the university and by the various funding and governing agencies overseeing the research. It is incumbent on the researcher to ensure this data is stored in accordance with the relevant guidelines. At a minimum, identifying data should be blinded or stored elsewhere. If this is not possible, files must be encrypted using a sufficiently robust encryption algorithm.
Note: a word-formatted version of this document is available in the "Lab Files" folder on the server. A printed copy of this owrd file should be attached to the inside of the front cover of all laboratory notebooks.