Lab Notebook

Keeping a Research Notebook
Your notebook is a legal document.  It is a record of what you did in lab, and can serve many purposes in your future experiences, some of which include:

  • Establishing the authenticity of work
  • Providing a basis from which you can defend protected work, for example, with patents.
  • Serving as a source form which to write publications or patents.
  • Avoiding repetition of someone else’s work.
  • Preventing repetition of failed procedures.

You will be keeping notes for all experiments in a lab notebook (paper notebook for the Spring and electronic notebook for Summer/Fall).  You need to use a specific book for this lab.  You have several options for a lab notebook.  But, do not get a carbon copy lab notebook.
a.  You can purchase this one from the Student American Chemical Society Chapter here at UT.  They sell these notebooks in the grand hallway of Welch during the first two weeks of classes.  I believe they are $18.  You can also order them from Amazon in the link above for a much lower cost.  It has a soft cover and has green graph-style paper.
b.  You can order these two notebooks from Amazon as well:  this one has a soft cover and this one is hard cover.  They are both white paper with graph-style pages.

How to Write in a Notebook

1.  Paper notebook: Write everyone in pen, no pencil!
2.  Do NOT write your notes on a separate sheet of paper and then transcribe them to the notebook.  It should be legible but neatness is not only a bonus, not a requirement.  You are only creating more work for yourself by having to write your lab notebook notes twice and creating an opportunity to make mistakes.
3.  Paper notebook:  Leave enough pages in the front for table of contents (1-2 pages).
4.  Paper notebook:  Pages need to be numbered and dated. Do not skip pages unless you know you will need to write on the next page. Each page is for one experiment (there are exceptions to this but do this wisely).
5.Paper notebook:  Title: Write the title at the top.
6.Paper notebook:  Goals: List the goals or the reason for the experiment.
7.  Tables: When an experiment is a reaction of two or more chemicals, the reaction should look like a table showing the reaction conditions and calculations.


Chemical name/ structure



Chemical name/ structure




Chemical name/ structure

g/mole g/mole g/mole
g g Yield (Yd):                g
g/mL g/mL Theoretical Yd:        g
mL mL
moles moles moles

8.  Log of Actions:  Your notebook is like a journal log of your actions.  Don’t re-write the procedure but jot down notes about what you have done.  It should be formatted as a list.
9.  Dates:  Put the date down next to sections that you write, another day you will come back to that experiment and write that date down with what concerns that page.  It is good to do this in the margins.
10.  Everything should be in past tense, so you really shouldn’t write down what you are going to do but wait and write down what you did. Things change in your plans unexpectedly.
11.  Make sure you put down how long something stirred and at what temperature.
12.  It is definitely okay to use abbreviations, but you should have key to these on the front or back inside cover.
13.  Describe the workup you used to isolate the product and what colors and phase your product is in.
14.  If you used spectroscopy in the experiment and saved data, you should make a note of it and the file name.
Melting point:  should be a range (e.g., 121-124 0C).
NMR:  put down what nucleus (1H, 13C, 31P, etc.), what solvent (CDCl3, C6D6, etc.) and give the sample a name.  My format is Book #, initials, page number, letter for each different NMR (1LD64a).  Write down relevant peaks.  In an electronic notebook, provide an image of the NMR.
15.  Notes: At the end of your time in lab, you should write notes about the experiment or what the next step is as a reference for when you return to lab and open your notebook.  Here you can write down reminders, thoughts, any errors, and ideas on what to do next.
16.  If you are making a known compound then at the bottom of the page put the reference to the article you are using to follow the experiment.
17.  If the reaction failed and you threw it away, write that down too.

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