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Lab notebook preference


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I prefer a electronic version of my lab notebook for it is easier to organize and make it readable (I don't have good handwriting). Hence I personally don't really care what my "actual" lab notebook is, for it's just for me to bullet point my plan for the day, or put down the data that I have in scramble.

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Our group orders in bulk from VWR- they're A5 size, approximately, so a bit larger, unlined, and have spaces for two signatures if you need to document for patents. Also quite water resistant, hardcover, and good paper to write in.

I keep both hardcopy notebooks, as well as digital copies of some procedures. But most labs I know of have a requirement for hardcopy lab notebooks that don't leave the lab.

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In the past, I've mostly done computational/theoretical work so I just need to mostly write notes so that I remember what I did / what each piece of code does. I also keep track of simulation progress and so on, so a "composition" book or "Columnar Book" (what they seem to be called at e.g. Staples etc.) works great. I prefer lined paper, slightly smaller than letter sized, and numbered pages. Sometimes I print out stuff (tables, plots) and tape them into the book. I'm having trouble finding this type of book with numbered pages now, though.

I've also used books with gridlines in the past and they are nice too. Very effective for making tables, sketching diagrams/plots, or just lining up things for readability. The ones I used were bigger than letter size.

I'm not sure what I want to be doing for projects this year. So far, I got a free notebook (standard coil bounded lined paper) from the school so I am using that for now. Eventually I will shift to a more sturdy book but I'm toying with the idea of electronic notebooks as well as just a binder of loose-leaf (not sure how I feel about that). The type of work I do does not really require "official" lab notebooks where pages are signed and can't be removed etc. It's mostly just notes to myself and typically, no one else will look at it -- even if another person takes over the project down the road, it's likely that I will rewrite the material into a more concise readme or guide!

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Sorry I did not clarify in my original post. I'm referring to research notebooks where you record experiments, methods and such.

My answer would still be the same. I would only copy any experimental procedure onces and refer to that page in the future (plus a side note for modification). For the reason that modification of protocols is pretty often in what my field, therefore I prefer to make updates in my electronic research lab notebook, which is a whole lot easier to edit (and share to other lab members, if necessary).

Edited by aberrant
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So you don't take exact notes every time you go through a procedure? Amounts, weights, colors, times, observations, etc?

For my research, it's not like I'm almost ever following an exact protocol. I'm going to take a similar protocol, adapt it, and then try a number of variations to see what yields the best results.

Hence, each variation, and not just the plan but exactly what happened, have to get recorded as I work.

Similarly, it lets me look up any stock solution, and see exactly how I made it, and on what date. Ditto with instrumental procedures.

It's been quite crucial in our group a couple of times for everyone to get together to compare results to find an exact date that an instrumental artifact started popping up, or to find out if a particular batch of samples/chemicals were bad at delivery.

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I might be unclear on my logic so apologize for any confusion.

When I'm new to a material / reagent that I have to prepare, I personally would record the weight and color (if applicable, partly due to my former practice as a chemist) of each material, amount of materials that I need to make the reagent that I want. Those numbers should be exact (e.g. some molar of NaCl in a 1 L buffer should be ##.## g of NaCl.)

In terms of writing up a protocol, the concentration / numbers change while optimizing it. But usually people (or my former lab) has a "standard protocol" -- a template where we start off with, and tweak here and there until we are happy with it (by happy, it means we get what we want. e.g. purify a protein). So, when a protocol is developed, those numbers (e.g. reagent use) don't change. Mainly because I would prepare a large amount of a reagent at once (i.e. buffer) as 1 prep probably consumes quite a lot of it, therefore, the exact amount of reagents that I use are relatively less important as long as it agrees with the "sig. fig."

And this is what I mean. For example, if I want 1 L Buffer X to be a 0.2 M Salt A, 50 mM Buffer X at pH 7.5, then it is okay that the reagent we use is not exactly 32.155 g of Salt A, 75.01 g of Buffer X (solid), adjust the pH to 7.500, then add ddH2O up to 1 L. I think there is always some uncertainty in these measurements, hence the condition of this buffer (in terms of sig. fig) "sort of" take care of it. As a result, each time I prepare a buffer, I can't really say it is exactly the same because I might just have 32.105 g of Salt A this time, and then 32.133 g next time. However, the Salt A concentration of this buffer should still be 0.2 M though. (In other words, 0.19 / 0.21M = close enough for us).

I'm pretty sure this cannot be the case for some other fields, particularly synthetic people (whether organic or inorganic) since the system that we are dealing with are totally different (in terms of how one system / reaction would react to a slight changes on some sort of factor(s)).

So my essay could ultimately be saying the same thing as you said lol. In my field, I don't think it is a common practice to put down a specific time daily, especially when you get used to an experiment that you have to do it all the time... (the amount of time an experiment needs to perform would be in a protocol, though.)

TL;DR -- depends on the field, I guess :\

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I'm in biological chemistry, my boss would have a fit if we didn't write down the exact measurements each time we prepped. You never get the same numbers for each buffer, but you should know exactly what you put into it, and how many mLs/drops of acid/base you used to titrate it to the proper pH.

I completely agree that the end buffer concentration isn't that important, but I've just had it drilled into me that procedurally, you should still know.

Then if you end up with interesting/different results, and are trying to track down why, you might find that there is, indeed, a difference between a 0.19 and 0.20 M buffer.

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I generally use a plain composition notebook or one with a nice pattern. I like wide ruled so I can add notes above each line if I think of something later. In my plant ecology lab, field work is typically recorded in any kind of waterproof notebook with grids for tables.


Like abberant, if I can, I try to record all of my data straight into the computer, even if it's measurements in the lab. I only use a notebook to keep track of daily tasks and quick records if I can't have my laptop out.

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