July 7, 2021
ELN software (electronic lab notebook) is an essential tool for documenting experiments, reviewing compiled results, detailing meaningful conclusions, and collaborating with team members. As scientists work with increasing volumes of data, concerns over data reproducibility, data integrity, intellectual property and security/compliance have led to the wide adoption of electronic lab notebooks in nearly every scientific discipline. Once viewed as little more than a paper-on-glass/word-processing application, the features of ELN software have grown to meet the complexities of modern-day research. Below we outline some essential features to look for when evaluating an electronic lab notebook for your organization.
1- Ease of use
The ELN you choose should be easy to use and implement. This is especially critical in driving adoption within the organization. That means the user interface should be intuitive for common functions. Ideally, your ELN software should not require extensive training to learn nor require sophisticated integrations with other systems to be useful.
2- Electronic Lab Notebook Templates
The ability to create and use templates of common notebook forms saves time by reducing duplicative work. The ability to quickly modify templated entry types is an essential feature for saving time and improving overall work satisfaction. By creating templates for specific scenarios such as purifications, cell passaging, or repeated analytical work, your team can save time and standardize the formatting of notebook entries.
3- Data Links/Connection
Compiling data for meaningful write-up and conclusions should not require a huge investment of time and effort. By far the easiest way to surface data is for your ELN software to have direct access to your underlying data management system that captures the data. This puts your relevant data at your fingertips while authoring and only external data will require effort to incorporate. Directly referencing data not only saves time, it also promotes data integrity and ensures that valuable data remains at the forefront of the decision-making process during the R&D lifecycle.
4- Attachments and Images
External files and images are important components of complex workflows. It should be easy to incorporate them into notebook entries in various formats such as pressure traces, spreadsheets, images, CoA’s or other QC documents, and SOP’s. The ability to bind these files with your signed notebook contents and view the attachments with a notebook entry can also be a huge time saver.
5- Collaborative Features
In the highly collaborative research environments of today, it is essential to have ELN software that makes it easy to work with other contributing scientists. The ELN should support collaborative authoring and a streamlined sign-off/review process for notebooks. It should be easy to find the notebooks that need your attention, comment or review. You should also receive reminder notifications for these actions when you aren’t in the application. These collaborative features facilitate important discussion and encourage timely and accurate documentation of work.
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