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Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

A guide able electronic laboratory notebooks for the sciences

Subject Specialist

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Jenny Hart
Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science and Physics Librarian
Ryerson Physical Laboratory Room 156

Eckhart Library
Eckhart Hall Room 217
1118 E. 58th Street
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Electronic Laboratory Notebook is a software that can be used in place of a traditional paper lab notebook. They can be utilized to store notes, protocols, and any type of data. They can be particularly useful to search previously recorded data, share data with collaborators, or timestamp different versions. Some ELNs can also provide computational capabilities, and advanced functions to analyze data.

There are many ELNs currently available that come with a wide range of functions. Different fields of research may require different capabilities to store and analyze data. There are many ELNs to choose from. We briefly talk about the factors that one may want to consider while choosing an ELN. 

Features of ELN

Benefits of using an ELN:

  • Instantly searchable documents by a tag or a keyword, saving time
  • Enables real-time data sharing with collaborators
  • Better oversight of laboratory work by lab PI 
  • Preservation of experimental procedures and protocols for future use 
  • Enables download and storage of large data sets
  • Eliminates legibility issues related to a paper notebook
  • Facilitates reproducibility of research

What can we store in an ELN?

  • Experimental protocols, data, results. 
  • Data from instruments, analysis, graphs
  • Email Communication, and discussions with peers, PI
  • Inventory management
  • Apparatus Documentation

Selecting an ELN

There can be many factors leading to selecting an ELN for your research. 
Some of the general ones can be:

  • Essential research capabilities, as per the research field requireement. 
  • Storage
  • Cost
  • Security
  • integration abilities with instruments used in the experiment
  • Text processing and spreadsheet utility

More resources describing these factors in detail:

Nature's article on How to pick an Electronic Lab Notebook
More information on storage comparison: cloud or server
Harvard's comparison guide among different notebooks

Useful links