Laboratory notebook guidelines

Adherence to good laboratory practice is important to avoid claims of scientific misconduct, to provide verification or reproduction of procedures and support for any patent protection based on the research. Correct laboratory notebooks are required in determining inventorship and/or date of invention.

Laboratory notebook checklist

  • Records should be kept in a bound notebook with consecutively- numbered pages to ensure that entries cannot be inserted or removed.
  • Entries should be made in permanent ink, not pencil.
  • Blank sections of pages should be drawn through with a single diagonal line.
  • The date should be entered on each page.
  • New ideas and plans for experiments should be recorded. This is because the date of conception, as well as diligent pursuit of reduction to practice, is important in establishing first to invent.
  • The purpose of each experiment should be indicated.
  • Entries should be made directly in the notebook as the experiment is carried out. Results should be entered immediately they are obtained.
  • All non-standard terms and abbreviations should be defined in the notebook.
  • Each experiment performed should be described in detail in the past tense, and the date the experiment was started and completed should be recorded.
  • If some of the experimental work is carried out by another person, the data generated by that person should be entered in the bound notebook as soon as the researcher receives it.
  • Some results may be difficult to enter directly into the notebook.
  • Photographs, graphs etc should be stuck in and signed and dated across the border to show that they have not been added later. Bulky results, such as large computer printouts, may need to be kept separately. Some laboratories keep separate catalogues of signed and dated printouts, numbered by consecutive catalogue numbers, with a description of the results and a cross-reference to the catalogue number entered in the notebook.
  • Each page of the notebook should be signed and dated by the person actually carrying out the experiment as soon as it is completed.
  • Each page of the notebook should also be signed and dated by at least one witness who can understand the experiment and, ideally, who has observed the experiment.
  • The witness should be someone who is not likely to be a co-inventor of any invention embodied in the experiment being witnessed. Where possible, critical experiments should be conducted by someone who is not likely to be a co-inventor. A laboratory technician who is working under the direct instruction of the inventor, using standard manipulations, and who is not required to solve any problems in order to perform the experiment will probably satisfy this requirement.
  • Incorrect entries should never be erased but should be struck through with a single line. Correction tape or fluid should not be used. If corrections are required to an earlier page, the correction should be made on the current page with a reference back to the page containing the error and the reason for the correction. Never alter a previous page that has already been signed and witnessed. Signatures should never be backdated.
  • It is also possible to keep records electronically, provided that such electronic records can be shown to reliably and accurately identify who created the entry and the date the entry was created, as well as ensuring that the entry cannot be amended without full details of the amendment (content, date and person) being recorded. Electronic laboratory notebook programs are commercially available.

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