Lab Notebook Guidelines

The following are guidelines describing how to keep a proper lab notebook for my physics courses. When done properly, it will be a record of all the information needed to successfully complete an experiment, whether it is a "plug and chug" lab or a full lab report. Since you are students, I've included sections to help you organize your thoughts (e.g. "Prelab Notes") that might not appear in a real research notebook. Keeping a notebook represents very little additional work since it is mostly comprised of things that you should be doing anyway before handing in a lab (e.g. like NOT giving me the first version of your calculations).

What follows below are the printed criteria from my syllabus. Then, there are a few INTERACTIVE sample notebook pages, including one that amounts to a rant about things I shouldn't see.

 

Purpose:
To provide a formal, organized work space/log in which one can record data and work through the calculations of an experiment.  It will help you organize your thoughts and retain useful information.
General:
The pages should be fastened securely, so the laboratory notebook should not be spiral-bound or perforated.  A string-bound composition notebook is a good example of an acceptable notebook.
  1. Write in blue or black ink that won’t bleed through the page.  Neatly cross out mistakes.  No white out!  Do not rip pages out!
  2. “X” out white space and blank pages.
  3. The inside cover should have information such as your name, email, address, home phone number, instructor, etc.  This will ensure that the notebook and all the data that you have worked so hard to obtain will always find its way back to you.
  4. The third page is where you should start a table of contents.  Update this as necessary.
  5. Number the pages as you go, using both sides of each page.
  6. The first experiment should start on about the 5th page.
  7. Keep the notebook in chronological order.  (I.e., record the data as it comes.)  DO NOT leave space for things and filling them in later.
  8. If you miss a lab, you must still write the title and date of the experiment at the appropriate point in the notebook and table of contents, noting that you were absent.
  9. You may use the last several pages for reference.  Write universal constants, equations, and reminders that you find frequently useful.
  10. Show your lab notebook to the instructor before leaving lab!
For each experiment:
Title
Title, Date, Lab Partners, etc.
Lecture Notes

Record any diagrams, mathematical derivations and procedural notes given by the instructor.  The purpose of the experiment should be prominently displayed first.   Everything mentioned in the prelab discussion should be here.

Data/Calculations
  • All data you take goes here first!!!  Data must be taken directly into the laboratory notebook as you acquire it.    The laboratory report is a final draft only.  I reserve the right to deduct points if you are not taking data directly into the notebook.  I mean it!
  • Attempt all calculations in the notebook first.  You do not have to write every individual calculation, but your format must make it clear where the numbers come from.  Don’t forget to record slopes!
  • Your results should stand out!
Remember: Data is taken directly into the lab notebook. Your first attempts at calculations are also written there. You don't have to write everything twice, but make sure your calculations are correct in the notebook before attempting to fill in the lab report. If you are observed not using your lab notebook, a penalty of 10 points off your lab grade will result!
Interactive Sample Pages
Page 22 (Start Here)
Page 23
Page 24
Page 25
Page 26
Page 27
The "Bad Habit" Page
The Grading Sheet