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Keeping a good lab-book or log-book is an essential part of your research work. The log book should be used to write down your plans for the project and to keep a record of the work undertaken, including any notes from meetings.
The log book should be used as a place to regularly record how your project is going and written at the time of the event so that the notebook becomes a diary and working document prepared in real time. All entries should be dated and recorded in chronological order so it is clear how the project is progressing throughout the year and if hand written the log book entries should be legible!
For lab-based projects this will usually be a physical notebook. For desk-based projects electronic versions are also acceptable.
Physical lab books
A lab book is an official document provided by your research place (i.e. your department, University, the lab in an industry where you are working, etc.) where you will keep records of your daily work in the lab. You should include protocols, results, and any other type of observation. There is a set of rules described in the tips tab for keeping a good lab-book, but overall we can say that a lab book should be well organised and informative.
- You need a lab book to keep records of your daily work. It will help you to write your report afterwards.
- If you make a discovery, the lab book also has a legal value and can act as proof.
- Your lab book represents part of the added value from a group; if the results from your experiment were interesting, your supervisor may want to initiate a new experiment where you finished yours. Therefore, your lab-book should be understandable by other people, so somebody could continue the work from the point where you finished.
- Identify the lab-book, remember to write your full name, contact details and all the necessary information to identify your department and specific lab.
- Most commercially available lab-books contain a set of blank pages at the beginning for the table of contents. If it was not the case, remember to create it yourself. In the table of contents, you need to write down an ‘easy to follow’ index that will allow you to quickly find the page where ‘x’ experiment or ‘y’ results are written.
- Always use a pen, not a pencil, it will make the hand writing durable. Remember to write neatly and clearly, another person should be able to understand it.
- You should write your notes in your book in the lab at the time you are doing the experiment, not later on.
- Every time that you are going to start a new experiment, do it on a new right-side page. Remember to date every page on the top outside corner. You will see that the pages are numbered, if your experiment continues for longer (or either the results from this experiment), remember to write on the bottom outside corner ‘continued on page ….’ and indicate the page.
- Write the title and purpose of the experiment at the top of the first page of the notebook dedicated to this topic.
- Do not leave white spaces in the lab-book, cross them with your pen.
- If you make a mistake, simply cross it out (but it should be still readable) and write the correct word next to it. You may need to read your mistake again, perhaps it was right the first time!
- If while developing your lab-work you are using a specific apparatus that can print the results, you should stick it into your lab-book.
- Finally, your lab book should be read and signed by somebody external to your research group who can act as a witness.
Log books for desk-based projects
There are a numerous things that could be recorded in your log book and the list below provides a few suggestions, however it is up to you to decide what to record in your log book. If in doubt speak with your supervisor about what they expect you to write in your log book and the amount of detail required.
Things that could be recorded in a log book:
- Meeting notes
- Project plans
- Search engines/databases used
- Keywords used
- References found
- Summaries of the main points from references
- Useful websites found
- Tables and graphs found
- Raw data processed
- Key tasks to complete
- Facts and figures, along with where the information was obtained from
- Guidance on how to complete specific tasks
Throughout the project you need to keep an account of the work you are undertaking in a log book and it may be suitable to record this information electronically. If you decide to keep an electronic log book then at the end of the project this will need to be printed out and submitted as a hard copy along with your final project portfolio. Before setting up an electronic log book check with your supervisor that this format is acceptable for the project you are about to undertake.
The log book could be entirely electronic or you could keep a hand written log book and stick in print outs, for example spreadsheets of collated search terms, as required. There is no one piece of software that you are required to use to produce an electronic notebook, it is up to you to decide which piece of software would be most suitable. However if you are producing an entirely electronic log book then it is advisable to have one master log book that contains all the relevant information and if necessary import work into this, such as graphs and spreadsheets, from other programs.
Software that could be used to produce an electronic log book:
- Microsoft Word / Pages for Mac / Google Docs
- Microsoft OneNote
Do not forget to keep at least one independent backup of all electronically stored data.