What is a Research Notebook?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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A research notebook is a notebook kept by a scientist to keep track of his or her research. There are several different kinds of research notebooks, and a variety of formats can be used, from a traditional lined notebook to a computer program. Many scientists find that research notebooks are immensely helpful for organizing thoughts and conducting professional, replicable research, and science students are often encouraged to keep such notebooks to improve their academic performance.

Some scientists keep a personal research notebook, where they jot down a variety of thoughts and information. These notebooks can help scientists organize their thoughts and look at material in a new way. A simple thought may mature into a paper or an idea for an experiment if jotted down, and a research notebook can also be used to keep track of questions, inquiries, and ideas as they arise. The idea is that anything and everything can be written in the notebook, and examined later to determine whether or not it is valuable.

Scientists who work in a laboratory environment also keep lab notebooks. Lab notebooks detail ongoing experiments and their outcomes, along with lab protocol and general observations. Such notebooks typically remain the property of the lab and the agency or individual funding the study, and they can be used in the interpretation of events, the preparation of formal writeups, and in attempts to replicate lab experiments.


For legal reasons, a scientist may also keep a research notebook to document intellectual property issues and demonstrate adherence to specific legal and ethical protocols. For example, if a researcher obtains permission to use animals in an experiment, he or she will clearly note the terms put forward by the ethics committee which oversees applications to use animals in research, and he or she will document the way in which the animals were handled. Should the experiment later be challenged on ethical or legal grounds, the scientist can use the research notebook to show that he or she acted with due diligence in the lab.

Many scientific supply companies sell research notebooks, in a variety of formats from spiral bound to sewn and glued. The paper is often resistant to water and chemicals so that the notebook will withstand hard use. Certain labs and research organizations provide their own standardized notebooks to employees, for the purpose of making recordkeeping easier. Software for this purpose has also been devised, and is readily available from companies which supply scientific software suites.


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