If you’re like a lot of people these days, you do just about everything online or at the very least on a computer. But if you’re working in a laboratory, you might still be using the old pencil and paper to keep track of your notes.
Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to anymore. Nowadays there are a wide variety of electronic lab notebooks you can use for a wide variety of research. Electronic lab notebooks (or ELNs) are not just data entry forms like spread sheets. ELNs are often described as “research management systems.” You can enter and store your data, collaborate on research projects, find data that already exists in a connected repository, and allows you to keep track of when data is collected with time stamping. ELNs were designed specifically to act like your paper lab notebook, but better.
Some ELNs are open, meaning your data can be shared, but others are protected and only those you choose to share your data with will see it. Still others give you the option to share without requiring it.
If you’d like to learn more about ELNs, the University of Utah has a great guide to ELNs as well as a list of available options. The Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation published a review a couple of years ago about ELNs as well. The BitSize Bio blog has a comparison of ELNs and Google Docs that’s quite interesting and there’s even an Electronic Lab Notebook blog.