Laboratory notebook

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Page from a laboratory notebook of Alexander Graham Bell, 1876.

A laboratory notebook is a primary record of research. Researchers use a laboratory notebook to document their hypotheses, experiments, and initial analysis or interpretation of these experiments. The notebook serves as an organizational tool, a memory aid, and can also have a role in protecting any intellectual property that comes from the research.[1][2][3]

Many adhere to the concept that a laboratory notebook should be thought of as a diary of activities that are described in sufficient detail to allow another scientist to replicate the steps.

Structure and legal aspects

Page from the notebook of Otto Hahn, 1938

The guidelines for lab notebooks vary widely among institutions individual labs; however, some guidelines are fairly common. For example, the laboratory notebook is typically permanently bound, pages are sequentially numbered, dates are given, entries are signed, and all participants are cited. All entries are made with a permanent, non-erasable marking device, e.g. an ink pen, with errors being crossed out. The lab notebook is usually written as experiments progress rather than at a later date. In many laboratories, it is the original place of record of data as well as any observations or insights; no copying is traditionally carried out from other notes. For data recorded by other means, the lab notebook will identify the data set and where the data was obtained.[1][2][4]

Following all of these guidelines can be useful in proving exactly when a discovery was made, in the case of a patent dispute. Additionally, having a notebook inspected periodically by another scientist who can read and understand it is useful to ensure both legal uniformity and the ability to replicate the experiment.[1][3]

Electronic formats

Several commercial vendors and open-source projects now focus on electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs). This format has gained some popularity, especially in large pharmaceutical companies, which have large numbers of researchers and great need to document their experiments.[5][6] Modern ELNs have the advantage of being easier to search upon, support collaboration amongst many users, and can be made more secure than their paper counterparts.[6]

Open notebook science

Since the mid-2000s, laboratory notebooks have started to become as transparent to the world as they are to the researcher keeping them. Inspired by a 2006 blog post by Jean-Claude Bradley, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Drexel University, the concept of "open notebook science" was born as "a URL to a laboratory notebook that is freely available and indexed on common search engines. It does not necessarily have to look like a paper notebook but it is essential that all of the information available to the researchers to make their conclusions is equally available to the rest of the world."[7] It is the logical extreme of transparent approaches to research and explicitly includes the making available of failed, less significant, and otherwise unpublished experiments or so called "dark data."[8]

The openness of the notebook, then, specifically refers to the set of the following points, or elements thereof:

  1. The researcher's laboratory notebook is shared online in real time, without password protection or limitations on the use of the data.
  2. The raw data used by the researcher to derive observations and conclusions are made available online to anyone.
  3. All experimental data are shared, including failed or ambiguous attempts.
  4. Feedback and other contributions to the research effort can be integrated easily, with the understanding that everything is donated to the public domain.

The use of a wiki makes it convenient to track contributions by individual authors over the course of an open science project.[9]

See also


Some portions of this article are reused from the Wikipedia article.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tyagi, Kavita; Misra, Padma (2010). Professional Communication. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. pp. 165–167. ISBN 9788120342286. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pedersen, Steven; Myers, Arlyn (2010). "Chapter 2: The Laboratory Notebook and the Laboratory Period". Understanding the Principles of Organic Chemistry: A Laboratory Course. Cengage Learning. pp. 9–12. ISBN 9781111809881. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dunnivant, Frank M. (2004). "Chapter 1: How to Keep a Legally Defensible Laboratory Notebook". Environmental Laboratory Exercises for Instrumental Analysis and Environmental Chemistry. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 3–6. ISBN 9780471660279. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  4. Ebel, Hans Friedrich; Bliefert, Claus; Russey, William E.. The Art of Scientific Writing: From Student Reports to Professional Publications in Chemistry and Related Fields (2nd ed.). Wiley. pp. 15–20. ISBN 9783527298297. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  5. Rees, Peter (November 2004). "How to capture data to share". Scientific Computing World. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Elliot, Michael H. (December 2006–January 2007). "The state of the ELN Market". Scientific Computing World. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  7. Bradley, Jean-Claude (26 September 2006). "Open Notebook Science". Drexel CoAS E-Learning. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  8. Goetz, Thomas (25 September 2007). "Freeing the Dark Data of Failed Scientific Experiments". Wired Magazine. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on 01 August 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  9. Bradley, Jean-Claude (12 June 2007). "Open Notebook Science Using Blogs and Wikis". Nature Precedings. doi:10.1038/npre.2007.39.1. Retrieved 16 June 2014.