Laboratory notebooks are the primary records many researchers use to document the hypotheses, methodology, results, and analysis of their research. Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) move these records into digital formats and add functionality such as collaboration, templates, searching, and specialized functions that support data collection and analysis.
Disciplines, institutions, and research groups have different cultures and standards for lab notebooks and this page does not provide best practices for maintaining a lab notebook. The goal of this page is to provide some basic questions to ask when looking for an ELN that will work for you and to link to some major ELN products.
Questions to consider
There are many different ELNs to choose from and each differs in cost, functionality, and user experience. It’s useful to think start by thinking about your needs before looking at different products. Here are some questions to consider when selecting an ELN. Please contact us if you would like to meet with a librarian to help with assessing and selecting an ELN.
- How much will the product cost? Is it a one-time cost or a recurring cost (subscription)? Will you be able to sustain access for as long as you need?
- What happens when you stop using the ELN? Can you export notebooks to a usable format? What functionality do you lose when you export it?
- How do you want to grant control and monitor access to your notebooks? (e.g. Do you need an audit trail that records who makes changes? Does each lab member ‘own’ their own notebook or do you ‘own’ every notebook? Do users need access to each other’s notebooks?)
- What types of information do you need to record and how much space will you require? (e.g. text, images, Microsoft Office documents, outputs from instruments, other data files, etc.)
- What specialized functionality do you require? (e.g. chemical structure drawing, lab inventory control, protocols and templates, etc.)
- Do you work with sensitive data and if so does the product provide measures to protect that data?
Comparison of major products
The following is a list of just a few products that can be used as ELNs. The focus is on general products; a link to a list of other products is below. Each of these products is available via the web (cloud-based storage).
You can also view a comprehensive comparison of various ELN products from Harvard.