There are a few goals for a lab notebook, and a lot depends on the context of what you're working on. For the purposes of this, I'm not interested in lab notebooks that are intended to be able to support patent applications. Those bring with them a lot of additional processes and requirements that make sense in their context, but are far too heavy for anyone else.
Discuss the multi-phase process that I've developed over the years.
Differentiating Between Different Types of Notes
Not all notes are the same, and not all need to be taken and dealt with the same. Discuss.
Note Taking Tools
If it works for you, use it. Note taking is an intensely personal activity and is interwoven with the way your brain processes, stores, and retrieves information. It's likely to keep adapting over time, and you should follow that as it enhances your process. You also should periodically reconsider what you're doing to see if it's solving the problem for you.
Pen and Paper
In spite of being a computer "professional", I keep most of my notes on paper. My current preference is for the following things:
- Maruman B5 graph notebook. A minimalist graph paper notebook with super smooth paper and kraft paper covers.
- Zebra Sarasa Clip Gel Pen (0.5mm). I have about a dozen different colors, and keep them handy. It's insanely useful to be able to shift colors to highlight things.
- Zebra Mojini highlighters. Great highlighter in vivid colors that bonds with water-based inks (like gel) and keeps them from smearing.
- Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencil. This is a beautiful little mechanical pencil with a neat mechanical movement that causes the lead to constantly rotate. This means that it's always sharp.
- Staedtler Mars eraser. The tiny nubbin eraser on the back of pencils is inadequate. This one works great, is inexpensive, and lasts forever.
Note, these all come from a company called Jet Pens. You have been warned that they are a dangerous company that will drain your wallet with lovely products.
- Microsoft OneNote
- Emacs org-mode
- E-Ink note taking device. Supernote. Remarkable.
- Something else.
For most people, I think a hybrid approach works best. I tend to use paper for real-time capture of things, and then type it up and keep it in OneNote, and if it's of general use, I'm trying to put it on this site. I find it's much easier to scribble and draw, add colors, and then later redraw things in a way that's more useful long-term. I find this also helps memory.
- Write it down. Seriously. When in doubt, write it down. You never know. I keep track of Youtube videos I read, blogs I read. Even if it's just a tiny hint for future you, you'll thank yourself when you're wondering "where did I see that .... thing?"
- Everything goes into the notebook. Even things you don't like. Even things that disprove ideas you've had or "experiment" failures. If something contradicts what you had intended, this is doubly important to record for future use.
- Correct mistakes, but do not remove them. Write in pen. Cross out mistakes with a single line, and add corrections in a clear way. If appropriate, date your corrections. Sometimes seeing the correction will help explain where a process diverged.
Comments or Questions?
If you have any comments, questions, or topics you'd like to see covered, please feel free to either reach out to me on Mastodon (link below) or open an issue on Github.