Article: Lab Note Books

    Lab notebook

    One of the useful things to get into the habit of doing regularly when using the microscope is to keep a research notebook recording what you have been doing and seeing. A notebook record of your microscope research is the professional approach.

    Besides having some scientific value, a notebook makes a great personal reference, and a good way to share your discoveries with others. I like to paste in copies of images I have captured. These make a reference for future identifications as well as a ‘scrapbook’ of all the species and assemblages I have studied. The images are, in some cases, organisms requiring future work to identify. It may take a little persistence on your part to take the time to make the entries on the days that you are using the microscope.

    For some suggestions for what to include in the entries consider:

    • Date the page clearly in the upper left-hand corner. Be consistent and unambiguous about the way you write the date;
    • Title each entry telling specifically what is on the page;
    • Note any cross references to other entries in the book (both the To and FROM entries)
    • Include a clear description of the location where you were working, or where you collected the material (GPS coordinates should be included if you can determine those with a phone or GPS unit);
    • If you received the sample from someone else, state the source and circumstances;
    • Illustrate the material found in the sample, a rough sketch or illustration is fine, a photograph is better. If you can, indicate the power used in the microscope or include a scale for reference;
    • Mention protocols and procedures followed, as well the equipment you employed;
    • Write down any observations, thoughts, impressions or conclusions. Mention thoughts on future work, improvements, changes, difficulties encountered;
    • Some naturalists make a note of weather (Temperature, wind, water, etc.) in case this becomes important later on;
    • Cite reference sources used, acknowledge input from others in the findings.

    If possible, use a bound notebook, and number the pages. An index at the front can be of great assistance in finding particularly useful entries. In a separate bound notebook I record protocols, procedures, formulae and other useful information that I might need to look up quickly while I am working. I also record information about the equipment I use – source, serial numbers, date and cost acquired etc. (Its easy to forget).