two lab workers look at electronic lab notebook on tablet at lab workbench

What Is an Electronic Lab Notebook?

An electronic lab notebook (ELN) is a software used by scientists and researchers to document their experimental work. 

In general, electronic lab notebooks serve as a modern replacement for traditional paper lab notebooks, providing a structured and secure way to record, store, and share research data. They are often connected to other software tools for laboratory management, such as sample management systems, laboratory information management systems, and more. 


Understanding the Basics of an Electronic Lab Notebook

Researchers can expect a few basic functionalities in any electronic lab notebook software

  1. Digital Documentation: ELNs allow researchers to enter their experimental data, observations, and results in a digital format. This can include text, images, graphs, raw data files, and other types of data, providing a comprehensive record of the full experiment lifecycle.
  2. Notebook Templating and Data Structures: Unlike paper notebooks, ELNs enable structured data entry with predefined templates and forms. This helps ensure consistency in how data is recorded and makes it easier to follow experimental protocols.
  3. Search Capabilities: ELNs offer powerful search capabilities, allowing users to quickly find specific experiments, results, or notes. Sorting and filtering by certain data are also options with an ELN. These provide a significant improvement over manually searching through paper notebooks or manually updating digital documents that aren’t connected. 
  4. Cloud-based Access: In most ELNs, researchers can access their ELNs from any location with an internet connection. This is particularly useful for remote collaboration or when working across multiple research sites. While cloud-based ELNs are becoming the standard, some institutions may have on-premise requirements for their data records, so prospective researchers should pay attention to their organization’s rules. 
  5. Enhanced Data Integrity: ELNs maintain the integrity of data by providing secure, tamper-evident records called audit logs. This means that once data is entered, it cannot be altered without leaving a digital trace. This helps reduce accidental data loss and helps to support certain compliance protocols like 21 CFR 11.


Advantages of ELNs

Electronic lab notebooks have many advantages, but the specifics of their features vary from software to software. When looking at this lab software, you’ll need to decide which features make the best electronic lab notebook for your research. In general, you can expect to see these general improvements when you adopt an ELN:

  • Project Management: ELNs help manage complex research projects by organizing data and keeping track of progress. They support adherence to protocols and Standard Operating Procedures, and ELNs provide a centralized place where notes and experiments can be captured. 
  • Collaboration: ELNs facilitate collaboration by allowing multiple users to access and contribute to the same notebook. This is especially beneficial for large research teams or collaborative projects spanning different institutions.
  • Experiment Documentation: ELNs serve as a central point where different types of results, data, and analyses can be compiled, along with the steps used to generate them. This comprehensive documentation ensures that all aspects of the experiment are recorded in one place, making it easier to review and replicate the work.


LabKey’s Electronic Lab Notebook

Our user-friendly ELN software is designed to help scientists efficiently document their experiments and share their ongoing research. Having a data-connected electronic lab notebook allows labs to seamlessly and securely integrate with sample management, assay data and other registered data while enabling collaboration and efficiency in the organization. Take a tour to see how this powerful tool could help your lab. 

Learn more about Electronic Lab Notebooks:

5 Benefits of Using an Electronic Lab Notebook

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ELN vs LIMS: Which Software Do You Need?

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How To Choose the Best Electronic Lab Notebook for Your Lab

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