The Microbiology Laboratory Notebook



The laboratory notebook should be assembled during the course of the lab exercises.  An ideal lab notebook will include all of the detailed information needed to set up and carry out the lab, an exact and complete report on the data or observations that are gathered, and a clear analysis of that data, when appropriate comparing one’s own data to class data.  Perhaps the most important key to each lab exercise is a logical sequence and conclusion.  The introduction should set up the problem or question to be investigated; the data should address that problem (even if they are not complete or have some problem with technique, etc.) and then the evaluation/conclusion should return to say what the data tell us about the original question/problem.  For many labs, this logical sequence will be very obvious:  A question is asked; data are gathered; a conclusion is drawn based on those data.  Lab notebooks will also be done by hand, on numbered pages, with no second edit, much in the way that a working investigative laboratory notebook would be done.


Bound notebook

Please be sure to use a notebook that has bound pages (note a 3-ring binder).  Use whatever type of notebook you feel comfortable with—a spiral-bound notebook, a composition notebook, a smaller stenographer’s notebook that flips open at top, or any other type of notebook that you like, as long as the pages are bound in place.  This is so that all of your notes, even mistakes, are included.  This is the way “real working scientists” keep their notes so that they can always go back and see everything they did and noted down as they did it.



Be sure you are as complete as possible.  Start each lab exercise in a new section of the notebook and clearly label it with a heading or title.  Please be sure to include the following content components:


Before coming to lab:

  1. Introduction:  a few paragraphs explaining what the lab is about, why we are doing it and what the general procedure will be.
  2. Materials and Methodologies:  Make a list of materials we will be using and a short description of the methods that are to be applied.  You might want to include some diagrams here if you think that will make it easier to explain the lab set-up.


During Lab:


  1. Processes and procedures (usually during the first lab session):    Make short notes on everything you do during the course of the lab.  What plates or tubes did you inoculate?  How are they labeled?  Often it is a good idea to draw figures of each plate as you inoculate them.  What slides did you make—again, a picture can help.  Although you don’t have to write out every procedure, be sure you list it, perhaps with reference to an extended description in your materials and methodologies
  2. Data and observations:  When you are making observations, try to draw what you see, both with the naked eye and through the microscope.  Then write a short description of the drawing and label it.  When there are multiple plates or drawings or slides or observations, you might make a table to keep track of them all.


After Lab:

  1. Analysis of your Data:  What do your data tell you?  Summarize the information in one or two short paragraphs.  If necessary, make a summary table or chart.  Then analyze the summary and consider what its significance is, especially with reference to the initial introduction.
  2. Conclusion and Recommendations:  What went right—what good conclusions can you take away from this lab?  What went wrong—what don’t you understand about your data?  What problems with the procedures were there?




I strongly encourage the use of drawings and graphs to help organize and portray your procedures, data and analysis.  Do not EVER re-write or remove pages from your notebook.   You may, on a given page, quickly jot down information on what you are doing, or sketches of what your cultures or slides look like.  You can then perhaps include more polished versions of those sketches or notes in a subsequent page, but do not remove the initial observations from the notebook.  Sometimes your notes taken during  lab day can help resolve a confusion or problem with the lab results.



Lab notebooks will be graded by a personal review during the week at the end of each Unit of the course.  Unlike the compendium notebooks for lecture, your lab notebooks should not be re-written or polished, but you should, before, during and after the labs, be sure that you include all of the components that are listed above in a clear and organized, easily understandable fashion.