Guidelines for keeping laboratory...

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Guidelines for keeping laboratory notebooks

The correct maintenance of laboratory notebooks and storage of primary data is a key element of „Good Scientific Practice“ (see DFG-Memorandum “Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice”, 2013) and must be observed for every research project (in experimental studies, clinical studies and theoretical studies) without exception. This enhances the transparency and reproducibility of research results for successive scientists and can serve as documentation of intellectual property and timing in patent- or copyright disputes. Laboratory notebooks in the corporate design of the University of Tübingen are available from the UKT central storage facilities in Weilheim (order no. 60200814).

The Laboratory Notebook of the Medical Faculty Tuebingen

Guidelines for keeping laboratory notebooks (by the Medical Faculty Tuebingen – April 2014)

The correct maintenance of laboratory notebooks and storage of primary data is a key element of „Good Scientific Practice“ (see DFG-Memorandum “Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice”, 2013) and must be observed for every research project (in experimental studies, clinical studies and theoretical studies) without exception. This enhances the transparency and reproducibility of research results for successive scientists and can serve as documentation of intellectual property and timing in patent- or copyright disputes.

Laboratory notebooks in the corporate design of the University of Tübingen are available from the UKT central storage facilities in Weilheim (order no. 60200814).

How to keep a laboratory notebook:

  • Notebooks must be hardbound and the pages numbered consecutively.
  • The laboratory notebook has to be kept chronologically.
  • Only permanent writing equipment may be used – pencils are not allowed. In addition, evaluations or original data can be pasted into the notebook. Print-outs on thermal paper should first be copied onto writing paper before pasting because otherwise the print tends to fade very rapidly.
  • No pages may be removed from the notebook. If calculating errors occur or if corrections are necessary, please draw a single line through the entry so that it is still legible and note the date and time that the correction took place. Alternatively, enter the new information (chronologically) and refer back to the initial entry for clarification.
  • To avoid documentation mistakes, documentation must be carried out promptly in the course of the experiment and immediately upon its conclusion.
  • Each laboratory notebook is maintained by one and the same person in their own (legible) handwriting. This person is responsible for the proper keeping of notebook records. If more than one person is involved in the experiment, cross-references to the respective laboratory notebooks of all participants are necessary.

The following is a list of essential information that must be documented in the laboratory notebook:

  • Name, address and affiliation
  • Table of contents
  • Date, project title
  • Designation of the experiment (e.g., short descriptive title with experimental code number), expectations (hypothesis), references to repetitions
  • Description of equipment used (manufacturer, model, serial number, etc.)
  • Materials used (samples, reagents, controls): nature and origin; if relevant, batch number, storage
  • If the experiments involve samples from patients or if patient data is included in the laboratory notebook, this information must be recorded in pseudonymised form (patient number, sample number) without any direct reference to personal data. The project coordinator/principal investigator is responsible for keeping an identification list to trace the data/samples back to the respective patient.
  • Detailed descriptions of the experimental procedure, measurement protocols (laboratory protocols with records of exact quantities, processing times, etc., sketches or photographs of experimental set-ups)
  • Original raw data of the samples and controls (e.g., gel images, progression curves or precise details to indicate the location of the raw data, see below)
  • Calculated data (including calculation/statistical methods and, if relevant, software descriptions)
  • Discussion, interpretation and conclusion of results

To ensure that the investigations are transparent and comprehensible for others, it is vitally important to provide detailed documentation that is both thorough and precise.

According to the extent of material or the data format (such as video recordings, DNA sequences, etc.), other data storage media in addition to laboratory notebooks may be used for storing original data (e.g., files or digital storage systems). In this case, the laboratory notebook must contain precise details of the location of the original data as well as summaries and conclusions formulated from the stored results.

All documentation in the laboratory notebook should be regularly dated and signed by the experimentator and confirmed by a second person (an independent witness or person of confidence but NOT co-inventor) as “seen and understood”. This is especially important in the case of a potential patent application.

Where should the laboratory notebook be kept?

Protocol books, as well as any additional data storage media, are not publicly accessible. They belong to the institution in which the work was carried out. The institution is also responsible for archiving the protocol books and data for a period of at least 10 years (see Recommendation 7 of the DFG-Memorandum “Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice”).

As long as the researchers are working in their respective departments, the laboratory notebooks can be kept at the workplace of the person in question. When they leave, all material is handed over to their supervisor. The person who keeps records in the laboratory notebook may make a copy of the notebook for his or her own personal use.