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Maintaining a high-quality lab/field notebook is of vital importance in science

In Dr. Merritt’s science classes, he aims to make students’ field notebooks as much like professional scientists’ notebooks as possible.

This usually means that students’ store-bought, A4-sized notebooks must be customized or ‘converted’ after acquisition/purchase. To successfully enact this conversion, Dr. Merritt asks students to follow the step-by-step tutorial found below.

Although much of the lab/field notebook preparation will unfold during the first week of science lessons, some steps–such as adding page numbers–are meant for students to complete on their own outside of class.

  • Dr. Merritt will also ask you to create and maintain a digital lab/field notebook, the primary function of which is back-up the work found in your actual lab/field notebook.

Step ONE: Purchase NOTEBOOK

An example of an A4-sized exercise book (click to enlarge)

At any number of local stores or shops, students must purchase an A4-sized notebook with horizontally-lined paper for writing. Do not purchase a notebook containing graphing paper. Try to find a notebook containing at least 30 pieces of paper. The binding should be glued, sown, or stapled. Do not purchase a notebook with a spiral wire (or plastic) binding. Why not? Because spiral-bound notebooks cannot be easily protected by external plastic covers. Furthermore, as you will never be asked to remove any pages of your lab/field notebook, there is no need for the paper to be perforated (i.e., easy to tear out). Although many professional scientists recommend using hard-cover notebooks, soft-cover notebooks are actually strongly recommended for middle school students for the following reasons:

1) Soft-cover notebooks are more widely available in non-specialty stores and shops.
2) Soft-cover notebooks are more affordable than hard-cover varieties.
3)  Soft-cover notebooks are more easily recycled.
4) The written records that students produce in their middle school lab/field notebook will likely not prove to be highly useful to students–scientifically speaking–5, 10, or 20 years from now. Thus, they don’t need to be as durable as professional notebooks.


Protective plastic covers are available in a variety of colors (click to enlarge)

At any number of local stores or shops, students must purchase an A4-sized protective plastic cover for their lab/field notebook. This cover will help protect the written work you do inside of the notebook from events such as rain (during a field exercise) and spills (during a lab exercise). These covers don’t ‘waterproof’ your notebook, but they do help it become more resistant to any number of liquid threats.

Dr. Merritt has seen plastic covers made in a variety of colors, but also a clear/transparent version. You can use whatever color–or non-color–you prefer. Many companies make plastic covers with a small, built-in plastic compartment to hold an identification (or name) card. If you can find one of these models that particular feature is desirable, but not required. Protective plastic covers are typically very affordable and, as long as they fit the notebook properly, most brands will easily withstand the sort of abuse most middle school students issue their notebooks during a school year.


If your protective plastic cover has a small, built-in plastic compartment to hold an identification (or name) card, then you can put your name, first and last, on the paper insert with a permanent ink pen. Dr. Merritt will also ask that you put your Student Number, which he will issue you in class, on the top-right corner with a dark permanent (Sharpie) marker.

Most A4-sized exercise books come with a pre-arranged (blank) title page with spaces in which to record a variety of personal information. If your notebook does not have a pre-printed title page, then you can simply use either the (blank) inside cover OR the first (blank) page of the notebook. Even if your notebook already has a pre-labelled title page, Dr. Merritt would like you to use the pre-labelled spaces to record the following information:

First & Last Name (e.g., “Sophie Grey”)
Grade (e.g., “Grade 7” or “7th grade”)
Period (e.g., “A period” or “F period”)
Teacher (“Dr. Merritt”)
School (“The American School in Switzerland (TASIS)”)
City/Town/Village (“Montagnola-Lugano”)
School Email (e.g., “”)

Finally, Dr. Merritt would like you to write a short note either on the (blank) inside cover OR on at/near the bottom of the title page. The audience for this brief message is someone who happens to find your notebook after you (accidentally) leave it somewhere–e.g., on campus, in a classroom, on a bus, etc. The message should politely ask your notebook’s ‘finder’ to return it to you by using the contact information already provided. Some students write this short note in both English (the school’s ‘official’ language) and Italian (the language of Ticino). Also, some students choose to offer their finder a small reward–e.g., a gelato–for successfully returning the book to its rightful owner. Here is an example note:

To whom it may concern.
This lab/field notebook is very important to me. If you happen to find it, I would be grateful if you could take the time to contact me by email so that I can make arrangements to retrieve it. Your (most gracious!) efforts to return it to me would be deeply appreciated. Thank you/Grazie.
Your sincerely, Sophie Grey   

Step SIX: Prepare RULES & GUIDELINES pages

The work you do in your lab notebook will be governed and guided by “Dr. Merritt’s Rules & Guidelines.” Dr. Merritt will give you a paper copy [insert link when ready] of these rules and guidelines sometime during the first week of the school year. After receiving this 2-page paper copy in class, you will be asked to glue–not tape or staple–the first page of the rules and guidelines onto the last available page at the end of the notebook. After inserting this page, Dr. Merritt will ask you to (carefully) read it and add your signature to the bottom of the page as a way of acknowledging that you have read–and understand–each of the rules. If you don’t understand one or more of the rules after reading them, you will have a chance to ask your teacher questions before then signing the document.

  • Dr. M’s Digital Notebook Guidelines can be viewed HERE.

Step FOUR: Prepare TABLE OF CONTENTS pages

Dr. Merritt expects that all of the work you do in your lab notebook will be logged into a Table or Contents (TOC) section that you create. To create this section, you’ll need a 30 cm ruler and a black (or dark blue) permanent ballpoint/ink pen. Do not use a pencil, colored pencil, felt-tipped marker, highlighter pen, or permanent (Sharpie) marker. Rather than explain in writing how to create the two Table of Contents pages, Dr. Merritt has included an image to the right of this text to show you how to create one of them (the second TOC page is identical to the first). Clicking on the image will enlarge it in another tab/window.

Where should I create the two Table of Contents pages?

As mentioned above, you will need to make two identical TOC pages. The first one should be created on the first available (blank) right-sided page at the front of the notebook. The second one should be created on the first available (blank) right-sided page after the first TOC page. Take note that the TOC pages will not be placed on back-to-back pages. If you have any questions about these directions, be sure that you ask your teacher before creating these two pages.

  • Your Digital Notebook will use the Insert > Table of contents feature already built into Google Docs.

Step FIVE: Number your REMAINING pages

So far we have created what might be called the ‘front matter’ and ‘back matter’ of the lab/field notebook. That leaves the remaining blank pages to the numbered. The Table of Contents pages do NOT receive page numbers. Start the page numbering on the first available (blank) right-sided page after the second TOC page. This means that a right sided page will be page 1. All page numbers should be placed in the lower outside corner of each page. This means that if you follow these directions correctly, all of your right-sided page numbers will have odd numbers, while the left-sided pages will have even numbers.

  • Your Digital Notebook will use the Insert > Page numbers feature already built into Google Docs.

Step SIX: Creating a BACK-UP (DIGITAL) notebook

Professional scientists often create back-up copies of their lab/field notebooks in case the worst imaginable scenario deprives them of their actual lab/field notebook. In Dr. Merritt’s science classes, we will use Google Documents to create a back-up copy of our actual notebook. In addition to a simple cover page, Dr. Merritt will show students how to use the built-in Table to Contents feature of Google Documents to organize the pages of their digital notebook.

Last updated: September 2020

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