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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 2.14

Notes and Notebooks

Develop a routine for taking notes and maintaining notebooks. There are many ways to record information, each with its advantages and limitations. The important step for every writer is to come up with a system that works and that fits into his or her habits of work. Some people take brief notes in a notebook, with entries under the situation and date. Others take preliminary notes and then elaborate in computer files that may be arranged and subject-coded. Here are some important principles for note taking:

Laboratory Notebooks

Keep in mind that even informal kinds of record keeping have legal status. Any formal project work that is funded should be accompanied by a record-keeping process. This record keeping will be the basis of any effort you must make to show that you performed work according to accepted standards of your field and in the manner you originally set out to follow.

Laboratory notebooks are a special, legal form of note taking. A laboratory notebook should be bound and numbered, and you should write on only one side of each sheet. The notebook should have a front-cover label, and it should describe the project--dates, personnel, addresses, and project particulars--in more detail on the first page. A few pages may be left blank for a table of contents to be entered when the notebook is complete. Each page should be dated and initialed. Items typically recorded in notebooks include meeting notes, experimental notes, drawings, timelines, references, formulae, tables of data, equipment readings, materials used (grades, vendors, concentrations). In short, include any item in sufficient detail that it will be useful at some later date when you are writing a narrative of what you did. One of the most common problems in laboratory notebooks is that of missing some detail, such as an equipment setting or a calibration level, that is necessary later to establish the quality, accuracy, and precision of your data. Hence, it makes sense to subject your notebook to routine review by your colleagues or research director to determine whether your note taking standard is a good one.

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