I'm trying to catalog some basic ideas that would promote better open notebooks, with better defined as:
- dependable (i.e. small software failures won't forever zap all of your results)
Here's what I've come up with so far. Please comments if you think of other tips.
- use some sort of version control system (wiki, cvs, subversion)
- this is particularly important if you have an electronic only lab notebook as it creates a time stamp for everything you enter into the notebook, which would be important for patents and other legal stuff
- it also allows you to go back and look at previous versions
- backup your notebook
- with cvs or subversion back up your repository
- with wiki's this becomes wiki specific, so check the documentation for your wiki
- organize hierarchically
- break the notebook into sections
- break the sections into subsections
- remember to include a time stamp in the text of your notebook at the beginning of each new experiment you do and at the beginning of each section you start
- introduce every section giving the bigger picture (not too long, just a paragraph or so on the big idea); a nice figure would be useful too since many scientists prefer skimming figures to skimming text
- if a section is complete or dead (i.e. you've abandoned the project), state so very prominently at the start of the section. If the work was published, provide a reference. If the work was abandoned, perhaps explain why.
- also if a section hasn't been touched for a long while, you might add something like "This chapter is not being actively worked on"
- link to raw data when and where you mention it in your notebook
- remember the notebook is public, so be careful not to say stuff that might offend sensitive ears or sensitive scientists
- include high quality images in your documents; things like agarose gels will need to be zoomed in a lot to be inspected in detail; if you convert your full resolution tiff to low-quality jpeg, it'll just look like pixelated blah. Then again, you can't always use full-size images, particularly from a high megapixels camera, because the notebook will quickly become giant; so here is my suggestion:
- if the image is small (<1mb)>
- if it is huge but detail doesn't matter, include a decent resolution image that can be zoomed in 2-4x and still look nice
- if it is huge and detail matters, include a decent resolution image, but also include a link to the full size image like you would for other raw data
- construct the document in such a way that it is easily indexed by search engines (otherwise no one will find your results; people probably wont read your lab notebook for fun)
- the above statement difficult to comply with if you use pdfs because Google currently only indexes the first few hundred kbytes of a pdf; my lab manual is 30MB
please let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions about these rules.