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Electronic Lab Notebooks: Maintaining good research records.

Electronic lab notebooks are a digital platform for organizing and saving research records. Researchers can use them in place of or in addition to hardcopy notebooks. This guide is intended to provide information about advantages and pitfalls of differe

Record Keeping for Research and Laboratory Notebooks

Hardcopy notebooks have been used for maintaining research records for a long time. Shown are some images from the 1876 laboratory notebooks of Alexander Graham Bell. Bell's notebook pages demonstrate some of the drawbacks of using paper records.  The handwriting from 1876 is difficult to read and the ink has been smeared in places, making them almost illegible. Modern researchers have adopted many forms of electronic record keeping and often use a hybrid of the traditional paper notebooks and digital records.  

                alexander graham bells lab notebook page 1

Notebook of Alexander Graham Bell from April 18, 1876 to September 30, 1876


Laboratory notebooks, either hardcopy or electronic, perform several important functions in a research laboratory including:

  • A daily record of research workflows
  • Record details of experiments for publication and reproducibility and for preparation of reports and presentations
  • Allow project transfer between students or researchers
  • Allow supervisor review and avoid research misconduct
  • Defend patents
  • Meet contractual obligations of funders
  • Validate research
  • Facilitate good research products through clear communication

Guidelines for keeping laboratory notebooks:

  • Permanently bound book with pre-numbered pages
  • Make entries legibly in permanent black ink with no erasures
  • Record entries chronologically
  • Date each page and include descriptive information about the experiment or investigation being conducted
  • All entries should be in English
  • Printouts, graphs and tables should be printed and secured with permanent glue, signed and dated.
  • Explain acronyms and include units for all data entries
  • Enter observations immediately 
  • Entries should include all relevant details that would allow someone else to repeat the experiment including:
    • Instrument type, manufacturer, serial number, software version, calibration information
    • Reagents and specimens including name, manufacturer, registry (CAS) number, lot number
    • Diluted reagents should include any appropriate info about stock preparation, method of dilution and storage
    • Methods or protocols should be detailed in full
  • Summarize findings on a regular basis