Laboratory Journal Format
- All laboratory work should be kept in a lab journal, which is a bounded notebook. Separate sheets combined do not constitute a lab journal. The lab journal can be a composition book, though specific books are sold for laboratory work.
- A pen (not a pencil) should be used in a laboratory journal.
- Mistakes are to be crossed out with single line. Under no circumstances are they to be erased or scribbled out. They should still be observable to the lab reviewer. In some instances trying to hide mistakes might be looked on as dishonesty. If you believe you made a really stupid mistake, cross it out and put a statement next to it (for example "opps, my brain stopped functioning for a bit."). Everyone makes mistakes even the smartest and brightest.
- The journal format will have the same feel as the laboratory report but will by its nature be a bit more haphazard because it is like a diary of your work but with more professionalism (don't let this scare you though, it does not need to be stodgy just more organized and through).
- Try to maintain order as best you can, but don't re-write or re-do pages of a lab journal. They are meant to stay intact as they were done. Your lab report WILL have order.
On every page you should have:
- Dates, times, and page numbers. This is essential.
Each lab day should have:
- Basic condition for the day like temperature and humidity (or estimates). Do as best you can on this one.
The title page gives all the information that is relevant for a reviewer in order to figure out who was involved with the experiment. It should contain the title of the experiment, the names of the participants, and ways to contact the participants if questions arise on the experiment and the results. It should also include dates, times, and locations of the experiment.
The overview contains observation that leads to a hypothesis, the hypothesis, and an experiment to test it along with the predicted outcome of the experiment. This section will include a summary of the reading notes used in determining the hypothesis. Experiments will in general be controlled experiments, and, to be generally accepted, will be replicated multiple times by independent experiments. This means that your notes and musings on this subject must be complete and thorough so that others may understand how you arrived at your hypothesis.
All experiments will involve some sort of hypothesis regardless of how mundane it might seem. If you can't figure out a hypothesis then you don't have a true experiment. Whether a design will succeed or fail is NOT an experiment. Hypothesis can fail. Failure is not a mistake, it is a result that can lead eventually to success. Trying to avoid failure is a mistake.
(Note: Some courses have laboratories that are not true laboratories but training on how to use a procedure or equipment. Learning how to titrate is not an experiment, it is learning a procedure. Still you might want to follow a laboratory journal format in this case more in the note taking sense then an experiment sense.).
The abstract should be a concise description of the experiment, the results, and the conclusion. The main purpose of the abstract is for the reader to determine if she wishes to read further. The abstract differs depending if it is in a final report or a continual lab journal but should generally be consistent with the idea of informing a reader what is to follow.
A description of the idea behind the experiment should be presented in this section. This will include a number of items enticing the reader to understand your experiment. This will describe the reasons behind your experiment. Work by others on the subject matter will usually be summarized here as they apply to your experiment.
This includes all the equipment, tools, and materials used in this experiment. Include model numbers and serial numbers for the equipment. Sketches of the equipment should suffice, however in some instances pictures of the equipment can be of use. This section along with procedure is the most important part of the laboratory journal.
The procedure should be outlined in this section with detailed drawings of the equipment mentioned above and how they were used. The drawings do not have to be perspective drawings. Detailed sketches with important items pointed out should be sufficient for the reader to recreate the experiment. The procedure does not include data. Data is reserved for the result section.
All the results should be included in this section. All data should be done in a permanent marker and all mistakes should be crossed out with one single line. Hiding mistakes is NOT appropriate and might call into question the veracity of the data. We all make mistakes; so don't overreact by erasing mistakes or hiding them in some fashion. If the mistake is due to equipment malfunction or some other explainable action make note of it in the lab book. Tables of data with the appropriate units, graphs with appropriate labels, images of the result with appropriate caption, sketches of some action, diagrams, and simple calculations should all be shown in this section or reference should be made to the appendix. All measure quantities have an error associated with them. These should be noted here. Give a brief summary of the various sources of error.
Appropriate use of significant figures should also be used when reporting results.
This section should include a discussion of the results. Any unusual or note-worthy features should be described here. Any problems with the present experiment or methods to improve the experiment should be cited here. This is NOT a conclusion section.
This section includes the conclusions derived from the result. The results must support the conclusion and the reasons for the support should be cited here. The conclusion should be brief. Any lengthy discussion should be reserved for the discussion section of the lab report. In the lab book you might have an initial conclusion that you reject after analysis. That is fine don't try to hide this fact.
List all books, web sites, and articles used in the completion of the laboratory. Sometimes this is at the beginning of the lab journal and maybe in the middle as well.