Sea urchin, Calobocentrotus atrata. Hawai'i. Photo©CLCase

Biology Lab Notebook
Christine L. Case


My home page  



Why is proper record keeping in a bound notebook important? In the U.S., the first person to conceive of an invention, product, or process is awarded the patent for that product or process. Notebooks properly kept and witnessed are legal evidence of conception to practice an invention.

Why A Legal, Scientific Notebook?
Everyone involved in research or product design and development in a must keep a legal, scientific notebook. A legal, scientific notebook contains a record of all work done by the scientist.

  1. To settle patent disputes, such as when someone argues that they made a discovery first and says a discovery or process belongs to them.

  2. When a specialist must report findings from testing, such as in paternity suits or criminal cases.

If the scientific notebook is not produced in an acceptable fashion, it will be inadmissible as evidence and it will not be used. The following protocol will help you setup and maintain your legal scientific notebook.


Record Keeping Procedures:

  1. Use only your official notebook to record your work. A lab notebook is a bound book from which you cannot remove pages.

  2. Date and sign every page.

  3. Maintain a table of contents as you make entries in notebook. Leave the first few pages blank and fill them in as you go along.

  4. Make all entries legible in permanent ink only.

  5. Do not erase, ink-over, or white-out any errors. Line through errors so they can still be read. Place your initials by the correction.

  6. State the objective (purpose) of each experiment, and reference previous work or projects. Use "See page..." or "Go to..." statements.

  7. Record all materials, quantities used, reaction or operating conditions in sufficient detail and clarity so someone of equal skill could understand or repeat the procedures if necessary.

  8. Avoid abbreviations and codes when possible. Reference or key those used.

  9. List all persons from whom samples were obtained, shared, or transferred.

  10. For important entries, such as key conclusions or new ideas, have a coworker sign and date the entry. Be sure the coworker is not a coinventor but is capable of understanding the meaning of the notebook entry.

How To Set Up A Legal, Scientific Notebook

  1. Obtain a bound notebook.

  2. Use only black or blue pen to make all entries into the notebook. Incorrect entries may be scratched out with a single line only and must be labeled with your initials.

  3. Graphs and other small sheets of paper may be pasted into your notebook, when necessary. When pasting, only use a gluestick.

  4. Number every page of the notebook (in the top corner) starting with the front side of the first page being number 1 and the back of the first page numbered 2. Continue numbering the front and back of every page of the notebook.

  5. Make page #1 your Title Page. In the middle of the page, in bold print, write:

  6. Make pages #2-5 the Table of Contents. Write Table of Contents at the top of each of these pages. Each time you start recording information for a new topic or lesson, an entry is written on the Table of Contents showing where the record of work begins.

  7. Your record of work will begin on page #7. All notes, procedures, data (tables, charts, drawings, graphs, and written observations), analysis, conclusions, and comments are recorded in your notebook in chronological order.

  8. Reserve a few pages for your Materials.

  9. As you are working, and reach the bottom of the page, you must sign the page and date it. Also, write Go to... and tell the reader where the rest of the information for this topic is found in the notebook. If you set your notebook up this way, it should be relatively easy for you or anyone familiar with the work you are doing to find specific data, observations, and conclusions about a specific topic.