When you spend much of your time working in a lab, your notebook is one of your most indispensable tools. A laboratory notebook keeps a reliable and provable record of everything you do, why you did it, and what comes of it. This documentation becomes invaluable when you want to patent your ideas or prove your work is your own. As such, there are a few rules you need to follow when it comes to keeping a proper notebook. A simple mistake can invalidate your work and make it hard to publish or patent your ideas. When researching and recording your process, make sure you avoid these common mistakes made with lab notebooks.
Not Documenting Everything
If you want to get the most out of your lab notebook, you need to record every single step of your process. Write down every theory, experiment, and result, as well as all the details that come up along the way. Your lab notebook is a record of all your work, no matter how small it may seem. Even simple equations or other seemingly irrelevant marks that you might otherwise put down on scratch paper should go in your notebook. Avoid tearing out pages, as well, as this will make your work seem incomplete and inauthentic. In fact, it’s best to use a bound lab notebook so that you can easily identify any missing pages and ensure your work stays intact.
One of the most common mistakes made with lab notebooks is erasing errors or disproven information. After all, mistakes are a frequent and necessary part of any scientific endeavor. Resist the temptation to erase, cross out, or white-out any errors in your notebook. These mistakes are still a relevant part of the research process—they can even help you refine your work and find the correct solution in the future. Furthermore, mistakes help authenticate your work and the process behind your findings. If you do make a clerical error in your notebook, mark it with a single line through the words or numbers. This method will identify the writing as a mistake while keeping it legible for readers.