9 Reasons to switch to Electronic Lab Notebooks

Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) were created to solve a number of limitations that scientists face when using traditional paper notebooks to track the progress of their research. Due to a variety of reasons, there hasn't been a signifcant adoption of eNotebooks (ELNS) in academic or government labs. On the other hand, about 1/3rd of the biopharmaceutical industry has reported that it has adopted the electronic notebook as its method for recording and maintaining data. Here we talk about why.

enotebook versus paper notebook

Though the familiarity of paper lab notebooks makes them attractive to scientists, many other reported advantages, such as portability, ease of use, and ability to include non-text images and drawing, are now capabilities of electronic lab notebooks as well. ELNs also have a offer a number of additional benefits that traditional paper notebooks do not have. So without further ado, here are 10 advantages of electronic lab notebooks over paper lab notebooks:

1. ELNs provide transparency.
The electronic nature of these notebooks provides a degree of flexibility that is not afforded by paper notebooks. Pages in the notebook can include texts and images, and there are now a number of developments that allow the inclusion of complex items, such as molecular structures. Electronic lab notebooks also allow for file attachments and links, which can help make notes comprehensive. By linking lab pages to other pages or work, for example, information from the notebook can be put into context and relevant protocols can be easily drawn upon.

2. ELNs facilitate collaboration.
Unlike paper notebooks, which do not tend to have multiple copies and are required to stay in the lab, electronic lab notebooks, or information contained within them, can be shared with other researchers, thereby facilitating collaboration. In addition, when electronic lab notebooks are shared on a lab database, information across lab notebooks can be searched by other lab members, even while owner of the notebook is using the notebook. This ease of sharing information can greatly improve the cohesiveness and consistency of research within a lab.

3. ELNs store information online.
Unlike paper notebooks, electronic lab notebooks facilitate structured online storage of information. Online storage provides security of information, as electronic lab notebooks require a password for entry.

4. ELNs improve accuracy and precision of research.
A common complaint, particularly in academic laboratories, is the difficulty individuals in a lab have interpreting information in other lab members’ paper lab notebooks. Electronic lab notebooks avoid issues associated with illegible handwriting and crossed-out entries. By providing unambiguous data, electronic lab notebooks help ensure that information from the lab will be accurately used by experimenters.

5. ELNs are searchable.
With features for searching, electronic notebooks allow users to find the information they are looking for quickly and can ensure that all information of interest is found.

6. ELNs have been developed in parallel with laboratory information management systems.
As other areas of lab research have started to rely more heavily on electronics and digitalized information, systems have been developed to facilitate the incorporation of electronic lab notebooks and the information included in them. Having data digitalized in an electronic lab notebook can facilitate data analysis and vastly decrease the time and errors associated with transferring data from paper lab notebooks to digital systems.

7. ELNs have the potential to directly collect data.
As highly specialized electronic lab notebooks are developed, tools for directly collecting data and making measurements could save time and enhance the accuracy of the data collected in the lab.

8. ELNs are cost effective.
As ELNs have increased in popularity, particularly in the pharmaceutical company, more vendors have produced this type of notebook, which has driven down prices. In addition, the amount of time saved by using an electronic lab notebook over a paper lab notebook contributes to its cost effectiveness.

9. ELNs are the traditional lab notebooks of the future.
It is inevitable that ELNs will become a mainstay in labs over time. As electronic collection of data becomes the default mode for data collection and storage, it will become harder to conduct cutting edge research without these notebooks. Tools that cater to electronic records will continue to be developed and optimized and will not be relevant for paper notebooks. As researchers enjoy the time savings, accuracy, and collaboration associated with electronic lab notebooks, those relying on paper lab notebooks will likely be left behind.