Keeping a Laboratory Notebook

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Adapted from A Beginner's Guide to Technical Communication by Anne Eisenberg.

While performing your work in lab, you will be required to keep notes. There are three types of note paper provided on the EG website to do this. At the end of each lab you will hand your completed lab notes in to your lab TAs, who will scan them and post the resulting images on the Documents section of the EG website. Include your scanned lab notes at the end of your lab report for extra credit. You may pick up the hardcopy of your lab notes at your next recitation or in the TA office (RH 515A).

Why Is Note Taking so Important?

It is easy to forget the details of your experimental work unless you write them down. The best place to do this is in your laboratory notebook. Besides bolstering your memory, taking notes will enhance your observational skills. Keeping careful notes is an essential component of all scientific practice. Engineers must train themselves in the discipline of note taking to preserve procedural details and design specifications.

What Should You Write in Your Notebook?

The short answer is anything and everything that occurs during the performance of the lab. Include sketches, dimensions, possible construction materials, formulas used, calculations, design ideas and improvements, and of course, the procedures you follow as you perform your work.

Your note taking should be quick and accurate. It is not necessary to use complete sentences; however, be careful not to be so cryptic that your notes are useless later.

For your semester-long design project, your notebook is an invaluable resource to keep track of experimental work in progress. Note taking, for a semester-long design project like this one, is critical to preserve data and design ideas until the end of the semester, when you will be preparing your final presentation. Keeping a notebook will make the writing of this document much easier. You will be able to find all the ideas you need there.

As the semester progresses, you will become an expert at maintaining a laboratory notebook. Attentive observation is a critical skill for an engineer. Keeping detailed and accurate notes will help you develop this skill.


Eisenberg, Anne, A Beginner's Guide to Technical Communications. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998.