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Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

good practice for

good practice for laboratory notebooksScientists everywhere are expected to keep dailyrecords of their work. These records allow workto be reproduced by others and serve as a recordof your progress and the evolution of your ideas.A well-kept lab notebook documents failures justas thoroughly as it documents successes, not onlybecause it is meant to be a fair record but alsobecause sometimes what seems to be a failureturns out to be an important insight and the beginningof a new success. Even routine proceduresshould be documented each time they are carriedout. This not only reinforces the habit of keepingnotes but also preserves a record of how shortcuts,“tweaking”, or individual’s way of carryingout the work changes with experience.Why are notebooks so important?n Spotting problems quickly. Having a look ateveryone’s notebook a few times a month, andreviewing your own periodically, will help youensure that the work in the lab is being done upto your standards, and will let you find out quicklywhen things are not working or when a worker isstruggling to achieve an expected result.n Avoiding technical drift. When working in thelab, one often comes up with “tweaks” and“work-arounds” that make work go faster. Whenthese changes evolve, they should be noted,especially if they improve the work process andshould replace the original method. Keeping aneye on the lab’s notebooks will also help you spotwhen an attempt at efficiency or conveniencecauses an established procedure to become lessaccurate or reliable.n Avoiding fraud. You will be responsible for theintegrity of all of the work that comes out of yourlaboratory. Checking notebooks and setting a goodexample by keeping exemplary records yourselfwill help prevent fraud.n Defending patents. In many countries, whoeverpatents an invention first has rights to it. But insome places, including the U.S., if you can proveyou thought of an idea first, you own it, even ifsome-one else tries to patent it before you. Carefulrecord-keeping can help prove your claims of priority.New electronic tools for laboratory record–keepingare increasingly coming into use. So far, they havenot been exposed to much legal scrutiny or beenpart of many controversies. For this reason, manylabs continue to use paper records even if theyare also using electronic systems.Ensure that daily records arekept of all of the work in your labThe precise way in which to document scientificresearch varies from field to field and from placeto place, but some general rules apply:n Use a permanently bound book, with consecutivedated entries. Never remove pages. Sometimes,especially when you have written down a boldnew insight or done a profoundly important experimentfor the first time, entries should be signedby you. Periodically, they should be witnessed bya scientifically competent reader in case you laterneed to prove that your work came before anotherscientist’s.

n Use only pens, preferably with waterproof, solventproof,and fade-resistant ink that does not smear,to write in the notebook.n Make sure that your handwriting is clear and thatothers can read it.n Each entry, even for a routine task, should standon its own, to permit others to replicate the work.Entries in the notebook should be written in orderof the time the work was done, not groupedtogether with related work done on various dates.n Loose items like photographs, drawings, ormachine printouts should be permanently attachedto the notebook pages using glue or staples.n Lab notebooks should not leave the laboratory area(including the researcher’s office, if it is close tothe lab). They should not go to anyone’s home. Ifsafety and security of the notebook is a concern,a locked, fireproof box in the lab is a good place tostore notebooks overnight.n Laboratory notebooks usually stay with the lab inwhich the work was done. For this reason, it canbe useful for researchers to keep a personalnotebook full of procedures, methods, recipes, andother useful information using a second, sturdybook which they have purchased themselves. Thispersonal book, which will leave the lab, shouldnever function as a separate lab notebook.Keeping a well-organized recordn Organize material with sections and headings.n Identify and describe reagents and specimensused.n Identify sources of those materials (e.g., reagentmanufacturer, lot number, purity, expiration date).n Enter analytical instrument serial numbers andcalibration dates.n Use proper names for items and real verbs todescribe how you used them.n Write all entries in the first person, and be specificabout who did the work.n Explain nonstandard abbreviations.n Use ink and never obliterate original writing; neverremove pages or portions of a page. If you writeout an experiment and do not carry it out, make anote that it was not done, including a brief explanation.n Write down some analysis of your results andoutline new experiments, including their objectivesand rationale, suggested by your observations.

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