THE OFFICE OF RESEARCH
RESEARCH INVESTIGATOR HANDBOOK
5. Being Responsible
5.6 Guidelines for Lab Notebooks
is a laboratory notebook?
• Who should have a laboratory notebook?
• How do you maintain a laboratory notebook?
• Additional guidelines
• How should you correct errors in your
• Are there other laboratory notebook guidelines
a laboratory notebook?
Researchers typically use a notebook to enter
all experimental data and other related notes and meetings associated
with a research project. It is usually a bound notebook, i.e.
pages are not loose, with sequentially numbered pages numbers
and all entries made in waterproof ink. It is kept in the research
area and backup copies are stored elsewhere for safekeeping.
Original records should not leave the research site.
The laboratory notebook ensures that there
is proper documentation of a research study. Not only can the
investigator accurately review the research data, monitor the
progress of the study and staff, but these records are also the
source documents for data analysis, reports, and publications
related to the research study. These source documents can also
be used to establish and defend intellectual property rights,
authorship, and other compliance issues resolved by auditing
have a laboratory notebook?
Each member of the laboratory should have a
properly maintained laboratory notebook to document the actual
events as they occur in a research project. This applies to all
levels of researchers including students, research fellows as
well as the Principal Investigator.
How do you
maintain a laboratory notebook?
Consider the following points when creating
and using a laboratory notebook:
Use permanently bound
notebooks, preferably with consecutively pre-numbered pages
to avoid the question of missing data. For loose-leaf notebooks,
it is critical that each page is numbered with no blank
spaces or pages.
||Use a separate, properly labeled
notebook for each study, if possible.
||Label the cover with your
name, study name/number or identification and dates covered
by the notebook (i.e., 01/07/03 - 10/23/03). Or, sequentially
number your own notebooks with your initials in the number
to allow for easy identification.
||Collect data using waterproof
black or blue ink pen to prevent erasures.
||Record all calculations in
your notebook in logical progression using and recording
||Record all observations and
anything that you do on a daily basis as a log of your activity.
You should be able to reconstruct your work step by step
from your notebook as this is what a collaborator, reviewer,
or auditor will do.
||As a rule, do not use scratch
paper, if you do, attach it securely into your notebook with
appropriate date and initials on the scratch paper.
|Consider the possibility of
loss, theft, misplacement, fire, water damage or other potential
loss of logbook and take appropriate measure (e.g., photocopying)
to prevent the loss of data. Be sure to store the copy separate
from the originals.
||Don’t tear out pages
from your laboratory notebook.
||Don’t leave blank spaces
or pages. Draw a line through the blank section or cross
out the blank page and date the blank section to prevent
||Never use pencil or something
that is easily erasable.
||Don’t erase data, black
out data, or paste new data over the original entries. (See
section below on correcting errors.)
|Don’t modify the original
record at a later date. Record any modifications on the actual
date that they were made and reference the data (i.e., date,
page of notebook) that they apply to. Simple errors can be
corrected as stated below.
guidelines: These suggestions are recommended
for establishing the timeline, ownership of ideas, authorship,
technology, inventions, patents, and other intellectual
These are typically used in industry or research studies
that may result in intellectual property:
||You should date and sign each
day's work or page to ensure authorship and time sequence
||If you are not the PI, your
notebooks should be examined, and if necessary signed off,
at a preset frequency (e.g., weekly) by the project’s
PI or Laboratory Director or your supervisor. Don't wait
until the end of the study to learn that a procedure is being
done incorrectly or that additional observations should have
||If your experiment or observation
has patent potential, then all events leading up to the invention
(conception) also need to be documented and witnessed as
||Have it witnessed by a colleague
who is skilled in the "art to which it pertains" and
who can "make and use the same", and
|Have the witness sign and date each page
in your notebook under a statement explaining what he/she
||Use first person active to
avoid confusion as to who collected the data or made the
||Everything that you write
down for the first time (not transcriptions) is considered
||Never put a stray mark on
the page without annotating its purpose. For instance do
not check or circle a number without recording why. A circled
number by itself raises questions of its accuracy if it is
|Avoid editorial comments that
may be misconstrued by reviewers or auditors as alteration
of original data. Rhetorical questions or question marks
next to a data value should have written explanations associated
should you correct errors in your laboratory notebook?
Errors happen; however, collaborators, reviewers,
and auditors want to see any errors and to reconstruct your line
of reasoning. Therefore, make error corrections in the following
|| Draw a single line though
|| Enter the correct information as close
to the original entry as possible.
Initial and date it.
|Enter a brief reason for the correction.
there other laboratory notebook guidelines at UCSF?