Student in lab coat sitting at a table writing on graph paper with a pencil, while using a calculator

Keeping Laboratory Notebooks as Documentation for Intellectual Property.

A well-maintained laboratory notebook can serve as adequate documentation for intellectual property. Here are OTC’s general guidelines for procedures regarding laboratory notebooks:

The Notebook

  1. A laboratory notebook should have a hard cover and permanent binding; Avoid using spiral-bound notebooks or loose-leaf paper. Any loose sheets with graphs, drawings, or other pertinent information should be permanently attached to the laboratory notebook and referenced in a separate entry in the lab notebook.
  2. The notebook should be labeled clearly with the author’s full name, dates of use, and specific project (if applicable). If multiple lab notebooks are used for the same course of research, they should be numbered sequentially.
  3. Do not leave a page incomplete; Indicate unused pages or parts of pages by drawing a line through the area.
  4. Unless an electronic lab notebook program is being used, it is unadvisable to keep notes electronically since the date cannot be confirmed.
  5. A durable laboratory notebook with high quality paper is important to preserve the contents for a long period of time.
  6. Keep the first few pages of the notebook reserved for a table of contents that indicate the page number, date, and title of entries.
  7. Number the pages of the notebook.
  8. Each notebook page should be signed and dated by the author with a witness signature.
  9. Avoid delays between the author signature and the witness signature.

This way, notebook entries retain their credibility.

Notebook Entries

  1. Begin each new notebook entry on a new page.
  2. Notebook entries should be legible, complete, and factual. Notebook entries should include the title of the experiment, hypothesis/goals of the experiment, background information, procedures, calculations, reagents, and equipment used during the experiment, observations, and conclusions.
  3. Experimental procedures should be explained in full detail, recording all environmental conditions, test parameters, and apparatuses utilized. Provide sketches of the experimental set-up if possible.
  4. The rule of thumb is that the notebook should contain enough information for the experiment to be repeated and obtain the same result. Be specific in describing the objective, plan, and procedure.
  5. Observations of the experiment and the results should be carefully recorded. This includes both qualitative and quantitative data as well as subsequent analysis and calculations.
  6. Different types of data in notebook entries may include raw data, calculated data, and/or transcribed data. Include units and certainty of measurement for raw data, include equations of any calculated data, and include the original location of the transcribed data.
  7. Avoid writing opinions in the notebook because of risk of misinterpretation. Avoid slang and excessive abbreviation and technical jargon.
  8. If abbreviations are regularly used, reserve a couple pages at the end of the laboratory notebook to act as a dictionary reference for abbreviation definitions.
  9. The rule of thumb is that the notebook should be comprehensible to any patent attorney, judge, jury, or potential licensee.
  10. If there is an error or mistake in a notebook entry, it should be crossed out with a single line. The error should then be explained, and the author should add their initials.
  11. Avoid obscuring the error beyond readability. Do not use correction fluid or correction tape, and do not tear out any pages of the laboratory notebook.

Tips for Notetaking

  1. Use your laboratory notebook as you are performing the experiments. By taking notes and writing entries as you go, you reduce the chance of forgetting details or steps of a procedure.
  2. Write with black, blue, or red ink pens that are permanent, non-reactive, won’t smear, and are light-stable. Avoid using pencil or light-colored ink.
  3. All data obtained in the experiment should be recorded in the laboratory notebook, regardless of the success of the experiment or usefulness of the data collected.

Supporting Documentation

  1. Any supporting documentation (including photographs, computer program analyses, or test results) to the primary laboratory notebook should be organized and added to the laboratory notebook if possible. Otherwise, the supporting documentation should be stored such that it is easily accessible, available, and retrievable.
  2. All supporting documentation should be cross-referenced in the primary laboratory notebook in a consistent way with common naming conventions.


  1. The laboratory notebook should be stored safely and not publicly accessible. Consider the laboratory notebook a legal document, and protect it as such.
  2. Electronic methods of data storage including external hard drives are not a replacement for thorough notebook entries and a well-maintained laboratory notebook.
  3. Remember that your laboratory notebook and research data is property of the UAH, so your notebooks and other supporting documentation should be left in your PI’s or supervisor’s possession when leaving the university.

These general guidelines are intended to serve as an introduction to laboratory practices. Always check with your PI for specific policies and procedures in their lab. If you have any additional questions about the best practices for keeping laboratory notebooks as documentation for intellectual property, please contact OTC at