11 responses to “Keeping Track of Work – Lab Notebooks”

  1. Stanley Ma

    In every new job that I start, I tried to instill in myself the good habit of notebook keeping. But after a month or two, I find myself only using the notebook sporadically. It’s just too much overhead for me and inevitably, I discontinue its use. I have patents and never needed the notebook to back-up my work. A set of PowerPoint slides that I had used to present the data internally was all that was required by the lawyer.

    I see others in my company do a version of the notebook, which is to make PowerPoint slides as the results become available. This way, the presentation is pretty much ready to go when you’ve finished the design and everything can be found in the slides (extra data can always be embedded in a spreadsheet inside PowerPoint). I should start doing that…

  2. bork

    I have tried and tried to use lab notebooks. I end up getting too preoccupied with making it look like a professional, well-thought-out, pre-planned document. Then it takes too long to write and I still can’t plan it perfectly, I get frustrated, and quit using it for a while.

    It’s a terrible habit and I’m really trying to break it. They aren’t supposed to look like well-planned documents, they’re just a running log of everything you do.

    I am fortunate enough to have a really good memory. For example, I can rebuild a test bench I built up 2 years ago. I remember all the machine settings, I even remember what biases I tested the devices under (1, 5, 10, 20, 50 uA), what thermal stresses (bake 2 hrs at 200 C). I’ve been relying on that ability whenever I need to refer back to something. But it’s becoming a losing battle…

  3. riven

    For every experiment I type a diigital memo before the experiment starts and add to it as it progresses. I use a laptop so mobility is not an issue. Much of my raw data is generated digitally (especially larger machines) so typically I document all my data digtally and throw away paper copies. The same with drawings. If i decide to make a piping change I will first draw out the modification on solidworks or visio etc and then make the change.
    I do this becuase my company backs up its network regularly and I can retrieve 10 different save states and saves the 2 most recent twice to different clusters.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps

    I have kept lab notebooks for some projects (including one I’m thinking of getting back to after a 30-year gap).

    Most of my work is computational, though, so I keep my notes on the computer, in README files for the directory where I’m doing the work. That way the notes, the programs, and the data all stay together. Change logs for software are kept in the code itself, not in a separate cvs, svm, or git repository.

  5. jrspruitt

    I just do hobbyist work but I wrote a Python script that creates a project directory, which is in a category folder with other like projects. The script creates a variety of directories in the project directory like, notes, images, temp, documents, etc. where I can organize any material I gather or notes I take on the topic, and since a lot of what I do requires software it has directories for actual work being done. It helps keep everything organized and makes things fairly easy to deal with at a later point in time. I usually copy any file associated with it into one of these directories, as hard drive space is plentiful and cheap, so its always easy to find. When done I can archive it up, and take it out, all in one piece.

  6. Jacob

    I love writing in my lab notebook. I just write it as a note to myself. I do all of my quick mechanical design sketches on paper in a notebook before I do anything in SolidWorks – it’s just so much faster. And I like writing down dates and times so that I can see how long I spend on certain tasks, and because it makes me feel more productive.

    I don’t worry about writing in a certain style or being too professional – I just write everything as though I was the only one reading it, because 100% of the time that’s the case.

    I also like to jot down other things – for example “4:30 pm – my computer crashed”, “12:00 pm – meeting with supervisor”, or “going to the electronics store today to obtain components”.

  7. Paul Clarke

    Due to the large number of projects I’m working on at any one time, having one log book would be a waste of time as it would not flow. So I (we) use a software package called BugZillia that allows you raise task and is a good way of recording notes. However for any large project that will take some time, I run a logbook just for that project alone.

    I have in other jobs, like you, run a normal engineers log book that covers each and every day.

    I’d like an electronic way of doing all this – maybe one day someone will come up with a good iLogBook that has all the features you have stated above, and then is also search-able.!

    Good Blog BTW! :o)

    1. SW

      My lab runs a blog which acts as a lab notebook and it’s a real godsend. Everything is date- and author-stamped, and it’s indexed and searchable. It’s stored on our internal webserver (which also hosts an internal wiki) and is accessed via username & password. Our home-built data acquisition software has a “post to blog” button.

      I’ve hardly picked up a pen since joining this lab :-) I would really recommend the blog-as-labbook solution. All you need is a webserver and appropriate software (wordpress, drupal etc).

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