The skill of Writing the Laboratory Notebook – even the existence of such a Notebook – has probably fallen somewhat into disuse with the advent of the photocopied worksheet. Yet it is a vital part of industrial and academic research, and indeed can in these activities be required in law to establish, for example, patent rights. Our article in Business Training in Kenya has more.
Plain language in Writing the Laboratory Notebook
In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, it would be a brave professional scientist, let alone teacher or student, who would take issue with Faraday. Notebooks ‘couched in plain language, with vivid phrases….’ All of Faraday’s notebooks exist and are the perfect example of a lab notebook in Writing the Laboratory Notebook.
The whole point of a laboratory notebook is that it should
- say exactly what was done, and when;
- make clear who did it;
- enable someone else to do the same thing at some future date;
- Be durable and verifiable.
Any rules that are used must attend to these points; anything else is spurious. Plain language is the least spurious of all.
In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, books, pens and paper are the tools of your academic trade; skimping on them is absurd. Paper trees are a crop – paper is not made from rainforest timber, it’s made from spruce or larch grown for the purpose – so do not be mean with paper.
Here are some rules for hardware:
- In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, laboratory notebooks should be hardback bound notebooks – you can stick worksheets in where needed.
- In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, writing must be done in ink. Black ballpoint pen is best; fountain pen inks are not as durable as ball pen inks and are more prone to fading, and do not withstand solvent spills as well as ball pen does. Blue ink fades more readily than black, and red is least fade-proof of all.
- Pencil should not be used for anything when Writing the Laboratory Notebook
Organizing Your Notebook When Writing the Laboratory Notebook
Anyone should be able to pick up your notebook and understand what you have written. This must be the main thing – in Writing the Laboratory Notebook, you are writing for someone else. If the writing is clear to them, then it certainly will be to you. Achieving this requires some organization as well as a certain style.
- Title page - Give a page to state your name and address (you might lose the book) and a brief indication of its purpose.
- Table of contents - Give two pages to the Contents so that you can list the experiments and find them easily when needed. But you will need to: -
- Number the pages. In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, it is tedious but essential. Do it when the notebook is new.
- Have a table of abbreviations. When Writing the Laboratory Notebook, abbreviations save time and effort. If you use them, give a table to explain them.
- When Writing the Laboratory Notebook, it is always good to start each new piece of work on a fresh page.
Good Notebook Practices in Writing the Laboratory Notebook
The Experimental Introduction
In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, the introduction to your experimental report should have the following:
- The title of the experiment – and this should appear on any added pieces of paper, graphs, whatever, that are pasted into the notebook.
- A statement of the problem or task – short and to the point. The elaboration of this comes later.
- The date – In industry or research, this is exceedingly important and may be in your work too.
The Experimental Plan
In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, this part of the account that tells what you are going to do. It may be that you have detailed instructions already, in which case they can be written or pasted into the notebook. If you are planning an investigation you will have to write out your own plan. If so:
- Use simple, direct statements or a bulleted or numbered list of instructions as per Writing the Laboratory Notebook;
- Look forwards to what you intend to do – do not repeat the introduction when Writing the Laboratory Notebook;
- In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, safety must be mentioned. Part of chemical education is the instruction in handling potentially hazardous materials safely. One should take these into account when planning the experiment in Writing the Laboratory Notebook.
- Comment on any special features of the materials to be used – perhaps they require special storage or handling, or there may be several varieties of the compound available (hydrates or anhydrous, maybe). Such factors are very important and must be recorded.
Observations and Data in Writing the Laboratory Notebook
The observations you make and the data that you record when Writing the Laboratory Notebook will lead to the acceptance or rejection of your hypothesis, and will decide what future experiments may be done. The observations and data are therefore central to the whole exercise. They need to be:
- Recorded honestly.
- Recorded as you go along, in the notebook, in ink, immediately.
- Do not trust memory, even for a minute or so – someone will talk to you, and the data will be forgotten when Writing the Laboratory Notebook.
- When Writing the Laboratory Notebook, the data must be recorded as completely as is possible. Don’t worry too much about interpreting the data as you go along, and don’t worry if some of the observations appear banal.
- Use good penmanship. When Writing the Laboratory Notebook, take care with numbers. Never over-write, always cross out erroneous material with a single line and re-write the correct data.
- Do not use odd scraps of paper or the edge of your lab coat to record data.
- NEVER use Tipp-ex or other white-out liquids.
Format in Writing the Laboratory Notebook
When Writing the Laboratory Notebook, spread your work out – paper is a crop, not a rarity, and you are not depleting rainforests. It is a necessary resource for your work. Tables in Writing the Laboratory Notebook must be written in vertical columns, each column being headed with the quantity and the appropriate units.
Drawings when Writing the Laboratory Notebook need only illustrate novel apparatus – everyone knows what a beaker looks like. Drawings should normal i.e. drawings when Writing the Laboratory Notebook should be large enough to allow labeling, and should be simple and to the point.
Graphs in Writing the Laboratory Notebook
In Writing the Laboratory Notebook, do not computer-plot your graphs. Graph-plotting is an art, and once you have learned it you can then decide whether to use machines, and whether the graphs they plot are silly or useful. Each graph in Writing the Laboratory Notebook should have the experimental title and the date written clearly. The axes must be labeled quantity divided by its unit. Include error bars in Writing the Laboratory Notebook if you know the error limits. Also, when Writing the Laboratory Notebook, give a clear table of the data you used to plot the graph.
Discussion and Conclusion in Writing the Laboratory Notebook
- Write any calculations out clearly, showing all the steps and using units throughout
- Relate your results to your hypothesis – do they support or refute it? Comparisons must be as quantitative as possible. Of course a simple analysis practical will only produce a result.
- Record any ideas you have, however brief – if you don’t write them down, you’ll forget them when Writing the Laboratory Notebook