By now you know that a lab notebook is absolutely essential for getting anywhere with your lab work. All your data and protocols must be in a notebook so that your work is not in jeopardy of being thrown out. With your professional credibility on the line, it is imperative to use a lab notebook to document everything. When you think of a lab notebook, it’s possible that a physical paper book comes to mind. However, in this blog post, we will go over why an electronic lab notebook (ELN) is advantageous for your research. An ELN will optimize your work like you never thought possible before.
The first reason for adopting an ELN relates to putting the data into the lab notebook. With the old paper lab notebooks, you would have to constantly jot down notes on what exactly you worked on. When it then comes to having the data properly documented, it can be quite tedious to relay it all onto the paper by hand.
With the era of computing, having an ELN really changes the ease of which you can enter data into your notebook. You can place your data directly into the ELN, and it is not only secure, but you can access it from everywhere. This will speed up and aid your data management since it can all be kept in one place and accessed from anywhere.
When you enter data into your lab notebook, be it paper or digital, you should be keeping track of the relevant dates of when the data was collected. With paper, you would need to do this manually, and still, there is the possibility that you might forget. Using our ELN, the date of creation and last edit are displayed at the top of each entry. This means you do not have to keep track of it all, as it is done automatically! The same goes for a full audit trail, which compiles all edits to data into a single history.
Something that is definitely not possible on paper is tagging data entries with relevant keywords. Yet, in your ELN, you can add as many keywords as are relevant. Later on, for data retrieval, you can filter by these keywords, which we will look into below.
How many hours have you spent leafing through notebooks to find that one piece of data? You cannot find it no matter what, even though you know it is there. It might not even be in the notebook you are looking in! It also could be scattered across multiple paper lab notebooks, where you would have to piece it together like a game of I Spy. Data retrieval is made that much easier with an ELN. With the ability to search and filter your data with the click of a button, it makes finding the right data you want much easier and more productive.
Search through the contents of your entry, for words and numbers. Filter your entries by project, team members, dates and, of course, tags. The tags act as keywords, to give a summary of what is found in the entry. And just like we stated above, you can tag entries with relative keywords and then search for those keywords.
Whichever experiment you are working on in the lab, you will need to use templates and protocols. They provide a framework for experiments and help ensure as consistent a work environment as possible. Paper templates may be kept in a file on the top shelf or possibly in a massive folder with many others. Either way, it is quite an inconvenient and unreliable storage system. They could easily be damaged or lost, and copies must be kept if multiple scientists will be using them at once. In your ELN, templates can easily be created, inserted into entries and shared with others. All of this will speed up and help optimize your work.
This also includes our Data Elements feature. It allows for better structuring your experiments’ protocols. By entering a protocol’s attributes, you can keep excellent records of the processes of experiments. Also, if you wish you can use this to search through your experiments. If you wonder which experiments use a certain protocol, it is simple and easy to enter into a search bar what you wish to find.
In the lab, you will need to work with others at some point. It is completely inevitable. Or if you are not directly working together with other scientists, you are possibly sharing data with them. Physically giving someone your lab notebook could hinder your ability to work. Making copies of it takes time and money while sharing your data digitally only takes a few clicks.
Additional benefits of using an ELN, specifically labfolder, are the free in-app tools that allow easy communication and collaboration between the team. Discuss the data on the same platform in which it is stored. This leads to clearer communication than if you were trying to discuss the data or experimentation over email for example.
Digitizing your work also makes traveling easier. You can take your research anywhere you go without any extra luggage. As long as you have an electronic device and an internet connection, you can work in your electronic lab notebook from anywhere around the world. This helps you be able to share your notebook. If you are giving a presentation in another city, for example, it is simple to access your data directly from the internet. Also, if you need to travel to a different lab to do laboratory work, you can do so and keep your data by your side.
Some digital platforms will have APIs. At labfolder, we currently have integration with many apps such as Mendeley, Figshare, and Dropbox. These integrations can be found and used for free within your ELN. You can use them to increase the capacity of your research. For example, you can use the three APIs we have to upload your entire ELN and share it with anyone you wish. In addition, labfolder has a public API. So, there is also the possibility to connect your ELN with other tools so long as they too have public APIs. We believe you should not be hindered against using the current technology at your disposal.
Navigating through all the ELN options can be tricky, so be sure to check out our Comprehensive Buyers’ guide to the Electronic Lab Notebook to discern which would be best for your needs.
Try labfolder for free to see your research’s potential.