Laboratory Notebook Guidelines

Note:  This is an updated version of LACC’s chemistry laboratory notebook guidelines.

The following guidelines are provided to acquaint students with the expectations for maintaining a laboratory notebook.  Most laboratory activities will include preparation of a pre-lab; gathering of experimental observations and data acquisition; and submission of a report form after completion of each lab. 

The laboratory notebook is first and foremost a record of one’s work in the lab.  If that seems obvious, consider the fact that many students insist on recording experimental observations and data on their hands, scrap paper, etc.  A good scientist learns to “work” in a notebook just as surely as he/she learns to work in the lab.

While an expert at lab note taking may produce a notebook that is a work of art, the ultimate aesthetic appeal of a notebook is far less important than its logical sequence and clarity as a record of investigation.  “Wanting it to look neat” is therefore not an acceptable excuse for not entering all data and observations directly in the notebook.  Please continue to develop the habit of recording ALL your observations.  This cannot be emphasized enough! You will not lose points for a “messy” lab notebook. It’s a notebook, for note taking, it shouldn’t look neat or perfect. If it is, then I know you didn’t do it right. Don’t make me suspicious, I’ll look at it twice and you don’t want me to do that.

Before lab starts, prepare a pre-lab.

The purpose of the pre-lab is to allow the student to become familiarized with the basic principles of the experiment along with the tasks that he/she will be expected to execute in order to gather the appropriate data.  The pre-lab should contain the following:

  1.  at the top of the first page of an experiment:    
    • the complete experiment title
    • the date
    • your name and lab partner’s name (if appropriate)
  2. at the top of EACH succeeding page:   
    • your name
    • the experiment title
  3. the body of the pre-lab should contain:
    • Purpose – Using complete sentences, briefly state the purpose or goal of the experiment. Why are you doing it? What are you trying to figure out? Make sure to use the active voice in this section and throughout your report.  It is usually more precise and less wordy than the passive voice.
    • Materials and Equipment – This list should contain a compilation of all the necessary chemicals and equipment to carry out the experiment.
    • Procedure – A brief paragraph explaining the basic techniques and steps you will perform while doing the lab. This section should explain how you intend to accomplish your task in the laboratory (i.e procedure plan).  Give balanced chemical equations as needed along with a logical sequence of data processing. Don’t copy the procedure , summarize it.
    • Safety Information – Before beginning any experiment, it is important to note potential hazards, safety precautions, and any pertinent physical data necessary for the experiment. Google the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for each chemical that you are working with and provide a succinct phrase noting its potential hazards.
    • Pre-Laboratory Questions (if any, none for Chem 60/65) – Answer these questions in your lab notebook, number the problems, and box the final answer (if applicable).  You do not have to write the questions in your lab notebook, but it’s a good idea to paraphrase the question.  If you prepared a graph, include a copy in your lab notebook (for your own reference) and turn in another copy to your instructor (if required).
    • Observations/Notes Start this section on a new page. You may have to turn in half of your pre-lab (everything up to this point but not the observations/data & calculations) to your instructor. This section is to record any pertinent observations during your experiment or any other notes you want to include while the instructor is lecturing before you start the experiment. This space is yours to work with. Non-numerical information may be written in simple comment form. Leave a half to a full page in your lab notebook for your observations and notes.  
    • Data & Calculations Copy the report pages into your lab notebook and leave space for any calculations that you might need.  Tables should be neatly prepared and numbered prior to coming to lab. Numbering of the tables will facilitate discussion of results at the conclusion of the experiment.  I recommend you leave enough room (top, bottom, left, and right) in case you need to re-record your data.  You do not have to include the questions in your lab notebook. Those can be answered directly in the report pages.

A sample pre-lab can be seen here:  Sample Pre-Lab, and here are some excellent completed lab notebook pages for Exp 09 and Exp 17.

Your pre-lab (everything up to the observations/data & calculations) will be collected and signed by me BEFORE lecture starts.  Anything turned in after lecture starts will receive no points.  You may have your pre-lab signed day(s) before it is due.  

During lab, record your observations and data.

During the experiment, fill in the data tables, provide sample calculations, and record your observations in your lab notebook.  The data should be recorded in black or blue ball-point ink (no pencils, gels, or markers). Do not record your data on scratch pieces of paper, your printed report pages, or on your hand.  Do not decorate errors; a single line through an entry will suffice—you may decide later it was correct after all!  Be sure to record PRIMITIVE data—for example, initial and final buret readings, not the difference done in your head. At the end of each lab, have your instructor sign the data pages of your experiment. Points will be deducted if it is not. We will not sign blank pages, incomplete assignments and sign any other document but the laboratory notebook. You can not go home, re-copy your data in your lab notebook and ask us to sign them after the fact. We won’t.  

After lab, fill in the report pages and answer the questions.

When you have completed your experiment, filled in the report pages neatly with a ball point pen, answer the questions at the end (these don’t need to go in the lab notebook), include any graphs that you may have, and attach the signed carbon pages from your lab notebook.  

A complete laboratory report is provided here. Student’s data have been intentionally whited-out.  

If you have any questions, please ask.