General Science Lab Note Taking
A lab notebook should be an organized and detailed account of anything you do when conducting research or doing an experiment. It is necessary to prepare your notebook in detail before you do your lab and to fill in data as you do the experiment.
The answers to these questions should be thought out before you do your experiment and you should write them down in your lab notebook. Later, when you are doing your experiment analysis and results, you can refer to your notebook and see how well your research answered your questions or supported your predictions.
Here are the general steps that you should follow while doing your lab note taking for a science fair project. "When you are done reading these steps, you may want to check out more detailed information for particular subjects or see our lab note taking samples!"
Write the Dates:
- Write the date that you are doing the experiment in any format you prefer.
- Keep in mind that some experiments run for multiple days, so you will need to record the date each time you work in your lab notebook.
Define Objectives and Tasks:
- List the major purposes or objectives of your research. For example: 'In this experiment I will test the quality of Chicago tap water in relation to its Magnesium and Calcium concentrations.'
- Then list the tasks necessary for completing the research objectives. For example, one task would be 'determine the amount of calcium and magnesium in a sample of tap water through titration.'
- Record the materials used, including the brand, the amount and any other important features.
List Expected Steps for Each Task:
- Indicate the name of the step performed. In the tap water experiment, for example, one step might read 'Add HCl.'
Create Tables and Fill-in-the-Blanks:
- Often, one of the best ways to organize your data, especially when dealing with measurements, is in a table. You should neatly prepare all data tables you know you will need before you begin your experiment, complete with units and titles.
- If you know that you will have to record other information, you should create a fill-in-the-blank line so that you do not forget to take that measurement.
- While you work on your lab, you will only have to fill in numbers into the tables and the fill-in-the-blanks instead of scribbling down your data randomly.
- Although it seems time consuming, creating these tables and fill-in-the-blanks before you begin your research will save you time in the end and will help you avoid many types of errors.
Begin your Research Following your Expected Steps:
- Write down the starting time, ending time, and duration of each step.
- List all of the equipment used and their sizes. For example, '125-ml flask.'
- List any major safety and sterilization procedures used for the equipment and the working areas. For example, 'Use Chemical Fume Hood to protect against dangerous chemical fumes.'
- Show any calculations involved in determining your procedure.
- Complete your tables and fill-in-the-blanks as you do your research. Make notes whenever something unexpected happens that may alter your results.
Explain your Technique
- Briefly explain where you got your protocol, method, or procedure. Some students will devise their own procedure from scratch, but most get theirs from a book, lab manual, or a website like ours.
- Be sure to note any changes from the original protocol and explain why they are necessary or desirable.
- Indicate concerns related to protocol change in terms of safety and feasibility.
Keep your Data and Repeat
- Keep the original/raw data acquired in each step. If you make a mistake in data analysis you will often need to return to the original data to begin again.
- As for your measurements, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. The best way to get the most accurate results is to perform many trials and record many sets of data. Tabulate them if several trials are performed under controlled conditions.
- Attach all obtained figures for the research and describe the figures. Mark any portion of the figure that indicates the result of the experiment.
- Compare what you expected to get from the experiment and what your results actually demonstrate. Briefly describe the results in your lab notebook.
- Make a note of any imperfections or complications that could have arisen during the research. This will help you explain any discrepancies between the expected results and the actual results.
- Make calculations for discussion in your lab notebook. These should include percent error calculations or simple statistics such as means and standard deviations.
- The last thing you should do in your lab notebook is to think about whether your research succeeded or failed in general and jot down bullet points explaining your reasoning. These will be helpful when you write a formal discussion of your results for the science fair poster.