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How to Keep a Notebook

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One of the most useful skills you will acquire in the laboratory is the proper use of a laboratory notebook. Notebooks, or other formally kept records, are an essential tool in many careers, ranging from that of the research scientist to that of the practicing physician. The effort invested in developing good habits of notebook use will be amply repaid for students who pursue a future in the basic or applied sciences. Experience has indicated that most students develop skillful notebook use only through continued special effort it does not come naturally. Some of the main principles of sound notebook use are outlined below.

The laboratory notebook is a permanent, documented, and primary record of laboratory observations. Therefore, your notebook will be a bound journal with pages numbered in advance and never torn out. This notebook contains double pages, so when you write, you will produce an original and a copy. You will keep the original in your book as a permanent record and turn in the copies for grading. Note that there is a periodic table at the front of the notebook. Tear at the perforation and place this underneath the page you are writing on to prevent making multiple copies on several pages. All notebook entries must be in ink and clearly dated. No entry is ever erased or obliterated by pen or white out. Changes are made by drawing a single line through an entry in such a way that it can still be read and placing the new entry nearby. If it is a primary datum that is changed, a brief explanation of the change should be entered. If a calculation or discussion is changed the section to be deleted is simply removed by drawing a neat "x" through it.

In view of the fact that a notebook is a primary record, data are not copied into it from other sources (such as a lab manual or a lab partner's notebook, in a joint experiment) without clear acknowledgment of the source. Observations are never collected on note pads, filter paper, margins of the lab manual, or other temporary paper for later transfer into a notebook. It is important to use a notebook routinely as the primary receptacle of observations.

A laboratory notebook should be legible, and data in it should be readily accessible, clearly labeled with units, and grouped in a logical way. Your notebook should include enough explanatory information so that someone else with your knowledge of science could, from your notebook alone, enter the lab and repeat your work. For more detailed information about how to use your laboratory notebook, consult your lab text or your lab instructor.

© Dartmouth College, Department of Chemistry