University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering

ME 4331: Lab Notebook


This document describes what information should appear in lab notebooks and how they will be graded.


The purpose of a lab notebook is to create a permanent and detailed record of work performed in the laboratory. It should contain enough detail that engineers of similar background can understand what work was performed and can repeat the experiments if desired. In research and industrial settings, notebooks may serve as evidence in intellectual property disputes and other litigation.


The recommended bound laboratory notebook is nominally 7.75"x 10.25" or 8.5"x 11" with pages ruled with a square grid and numbered (You can add the numbers). Three ring binders are not allowed. The square grid aids in drawing neat sketches and quick graphs. Write the date as you use each page of the notebook. We will, from time to time, review your notebooks and comment on their appearance and grade them.


  1. Your notebook should document what was done,the data obtained and the important trends or conclusions that were observed. It should be neat and clearly organized. Enough information should be included such that you could refer back to the notebook in 5 years and still be able to understand what it was you had done and what you thought about it. We may ask you to answer specific questions to emphasize certain points, but that is not meant to limit the scope of the discussion. Any observations or references to other important materials should also be included. A notebook meeting the above description will receive a "B" grade.

  2. In industry, notebooks such as these and others (e.g. the design notebooks used in ME 4054) serve as references for fellow workers who may carry on your work in your absence, as well as for legal documents. A good notebook in this case requires a more careful level of documentation,because your co-workers will need to be able to follow your work without you there to explain. If your notebook meets that standard, it gets an "A" grade.

  3. The section of the lab notebook that introduces the experiments (parts 1-3, below) should be prepared before the experiment begins. This helps in coordinating the operation of the equipment and the acquisition of data and is a key to keeping your notebooks neat and well organized.

  4. Lab notebooks NOT meeting the minimum standards described above will receive a "C" grade or lower.

Components of a Lab Notebook:

Parts 1-3 must be prepared before the lab begins. They represent the minimum requirement to demonstrate your lab preparation.

  1. Objectives of the experiment: What is to be accomplished ? Why is it important to accomplish this ? (Imagine yourself in an industrial setting as you consider these questions)
  2. Apparatus: Sketch or drawing of the apparatus for the planned experiment
  3. Procedure: Detailed, but succinct description of how you want to obtain the data

    Parts 4-6 will be prepared during the lab to record your data and observations.

  4. A data table for any experimental data taken during lab. Also note here the the filenames and location of any electronic data.
  5. Comment on any important data trends or general observations from the experiment.
  6. Any other notes, including hand calculations, and formulas that might be applicable to the this experiment.

Important Notes:

Do not erase anything - cross it out if it's wrong, then do it over. Do not remove sheets from your lab notebooks. Many people do sample calculations on scratch paper and transfer them into their notebook so the latter looks neater. This is discouraged! Crossed-out material does not detract from the lab book presentation. You may wish to return to that material so cross it out in a way that does not render in unreadable.