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Guide for Keeping Laboratory Records

What To Do and What Not To Do


  • use a bound notebook
  • write legibly
  • write in ink
  • explain acronyms, trademarks, code or unfamiliar jargon
  • attach to your lab notebook loose notes, emails, letters, graphs, figures and charts containing any part of conception of an idea or result of an experiment
  • title, sign and date each attachment, as well as each laboratory notebook page
  • record the objective of an experiment as well as the results obtained in as much detail as possible
  • have at least one non-inventor person who is familiar with your field sign and date each page, stating that he/she has “read and understood” your work
  • obtain a signed and dated statement from collaborators and/or contractors who carry out the experiments you designed, stating "experiments run by [insert contractor/ collaborator name], under the direction of [insert the experiment designer's name]”
  • record thoughts, conversations, lab meeting discussions, contractor oral reports and discussions, as well as wild speculations and future plans
  • write in the active voice
  • report completed experiments in the past tense
  • give cross references to previous experiments and/or projects
  • use a table of contents to provide cross references
  • keep your lab notebook under lock and key when you are not in the lab
  • track and save completed lab notebooks

Do not:

  • use binders, loose leaf or spiral notebooks
  • blot out or erase mistakes
  • modify the data
  • rip pages out
  • skip pages 
  • leave a page blank
  • cover any writings in the notebook by affixing graphs and/or charts over them 
  • write in the passive voice
  • use words such as “obvious” or “abandoned” as they have tremendous legal significance

Tips for Electronic Notebooks


  • clearly define what you/your lab mean by electronic notebooks: To some, data generated on a computer and affixed to a paper notebook is an electronic notebook. To others, saving data on the desktop or hard drive of their computer is an electronic lab notebook. Yet to a third group, a particular software, e.g., LabTrack, is an electronic notebook
  • adopt an official procedure for electronic record keeping. Who will be the custodian of the electronically stored data? Is there a backup?
  • back up and write protect all electronic data
  • retain all electronic copies for the duration of the appropriate document retention period
  • store your electronic notebook contents on unchangeable mediums, e.g., CDR, or in an electronic archive that cannot be modified
  • use software/ hardware which prevents editing the original document, i.e., WORM (Write Once, Read Many)
  • time stamp your entries.
  • restrict access to the electronic notebook using key and screen locks, and/or passcodes.
  • associate the identity of each author and/or witness with each record automatically

Do not:

  • create and store records randomly on disks, desktops, or hard drives
  • store records on media that have limited shelf-life
  • allow access to the electronic records by unauthorized personnel
  • rely on methods of dating your entries that can be altered
  • alter any portion of an electronic document

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