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I had a question about best practices for keeping a lab journal (specifically, should one only record experiments, or should one also include research for experiments, or time spent looking around on say McMaster Carr for parts). Is this on topic or off topic? It would seem to fall under experimental physics style questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Should one only record experiments, or should one also include research for experiments, or time spent looking around on say McMaster Carr for parts". A more detailed lab journal is always better for official purposes.However if it were for personal purpose I would just be happy with mentioning the source of the information. To sum up, if you are preparing it for your school/college work then it would be a better idea to consult your instructor rather than asking it on the website, as this is a very subjective issue. $\endgroup$ – 2017 Feb 24 '17 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @anonymous, thank you =) It's for personal purposes, so I wanted to know just what the general "best practice" was. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Feb 24 '17 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ If it's not on-topic here, there's certainly a chance that it will be on-topic at Academia. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 24 '17 at 13:29
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I'm going to answer more or less the same way as DavidZ, but phrased more encouragingly: I think that it's totally possible to construct a question about experimental record-keeping habits that would be on-topic here. (Of course it's also possible to construct such a question that would be off-topic.) I certainly have opinions about record-keeping that I try to pass on to my lab students as part of their physics education.

If you have the question rattling around in your head, go on and write it down. You may decide afterward that it's a good fit here, you may decide it's a better fit elsewhere, you may come up with an answer you like on your own, or your concern about the question might evaporate --- in any case, you'll have learned something interesting.

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I can see this being argued either way, but I'm inclined to say that would be off topic. It's certainly a topic that is relevant to experimental physics, but I don't think it's actually about physics, much like e.g. best practices for structuring a Mathematica notebook is relevant to computational physics but is not really about physics.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd add it seems to be heavily opinion-based - how I keep a notebook could be very different from how somebody else does. Particularly these days when so much is actually on computers, be it data or models. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Feb 24 '17 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's a good point, though it's still possible for there to be widely recognized best practices, which I guess would just be very popular opinions, perhaps backed up with some kind of semi-logical reasoning. I figured that's what the question would be about, which is why I didn't consider the argument you just brought up. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 24 '17 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ And the two fundamental laws of notebooks - (1) no matter how much you record, there will be some detail that is important 3 months later while writing the paper that you will have to go back and reconstruct, and (2) your comprehension of your own notebook decays exponentially with time as what was obvious at the time rapidly becomes arcane and archaic. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Feb 24 '17 at 1:00

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