If you’re in the process of creating your lab notebook, you might be wondering what should be included. But, what exactly is a lab notebook? If you’re unfamiliar, a lab notebook is a comprehensive record of methods (what you do), reagents (what you use), observations (what you see), and the associated mental processes that would allow another scientist to replicate your findings.

In this post, we’ll cover the basic elements that should be included in a lab notebook. We’ll also share some tips to help you stay organised as well as examples of good Lab Notebooks, such as Sapio LIMS.

The Basic Elements of a Lab Notebook

The Title Page

The title page is the first page in your lab notebook, and it should include the following information:

  • Your full name,
  • The date, and
  • The notebook’s owner (typically the principal investigator or a designated lab administrator).

If you’re at a university or another type of academic institution, be sure to check with your institution’s guidelines.

Table of Contents

The table of contents is also an important element. You should include a list of every section included in your lab notebook, followed by the page numbers for each experiment. This will allow you and other researchers to easily reference past experiments without having to turn through pages upon pages of experiments to find one that you performed in the previous years.

Date and Signatures

Every notebook you fill should have a date. We recommend keeping this page on the very last page of your lab notebook to ensure it doesn’t get lost, which could lead to inaccurate record-keeping. Each time someone takes possession of the lab notebook or adds an entry, they should sign their name. Again, we suggest keeping this page as the last in your lab notebook to prevent it from getting lost.

Document Authentication

In addition to a signature by everyone who takes possession of your lab notebook, it’s also a good idea to have documents authenticated by an impartial third party. This could be another student, a faculty member, the lab administrator, or someone else who wouldn’t benefit from your findings (unlike yourself). We recommend using an authentication page from day one of your experiments and keeping this as the last file in your lab notebook.

Cover Page

The cover page is typically where you would include some general information about your lab notebook. This includes what area you’re exploring, where you obtained funding for the project, and how much time you dedicate to the research.

Introduction Section

The introduction section should go over your laboratory goals in more detail. This section will help you better track progress and might even assist you in drafting a paper after your experiments are complete. You’ll also want to include some background about the field of study, as this will help give context for your work. If you’re exploring a specific inflammatory pathway, provide some background knowledge on why that pathway is important and why it’s interesting to researchers working in this particular field of study.

Methods Section

The methods section should be a comprehensive account of all the experiments you perform, including the purpose for each experiment, your hypothesis, and how you executed the experiment. If you have an observational experiment, be sure to include any measurements and observations you made.

The Importance of a Lab Notebook

Enhances Proper Science Protocol

A lab notebook helps to ensure that proper scientific protocols are followed and recorded, even if someone else has to complete the experiment in your absence. Because you can’t always be by yourself while performing an experimental protocol, it’s crucial to have a documented record of what was done for every step of the process. This will allow others working on the project to understand how to complete each step and thus, follow the scientific method.

Better Documentation of Your Work

The lab notebook is also critical for documenting the work that you’ve done. This will allow you to go back into your notes and see what previous experiments yielded, which can be useful when trying to troubleshoot or reproduce results in future experiments. In a lab notebook, it would be beneficial to write down why certain steps or protocols were necessary in the first place.

Better Reviewing Protocols

Lab notebooks are great for review as well, and they’ll come in handy when reviewing the work that you don’t remember doing at all. When looking over a protocol, you’ll be able to see what was done and when it was done. It will also allow you to remember why certain steps were necessary and provide an explanation for certain findings or conclusions that you arrived at. Even if the protocols are extremely complicated, reviewing the experimental process will be much easier with everything documented in your lab notebook.

3 Quick Tips for Organising Your Lab Notebook

  • Always ensure that all sections are labelled
  • Be sure to number all pages
  • Utilise and maximise both sides of the pages

Lab Notebook Final Thoughts

Lab notebooks are a great way to keep track of your work throughout an experiment. If you follow a strict protocol and take notes of all the methods, it becomes easier when you have the proper documentation in your notebooks.