Laboratory notebooks are the primary records many researchers use to document the hypotheses, methodology, results, and analysis of their research. Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) move these records into digital formats and add functionality such as collaboration, templates, searching, and specialized functions that support data collection and analysis.
Disciplines, institutions, and research groups have different cultures and standards for lab notebooks and this page does not provide best practices for maintaining a lab notebook. The goal of this page is to provide some basic questions to ask when looking for an ELN that will work for you and to link to some major ELN products.
Questions to consider
There are many different ELNs to choose from and each differs in cost, functionality, and user experience. It’s useful to think start by thinking about your needs before looking at different products. Here are some questions to consider when selecting an ELN. Please contact us if you would like to meet with a librarian to help with assessing and selecting an ELN.
- How much will the product cost? Is it a one-time cost or a recurring cost (subscription)? Will you be able to sustain access for as long as you need?
- What happens when you stop using the ELN? Can you export notebooks to a usable format? What functionality do you lose when you export it?
- How do you want to grant control and monitor access to your notebooks? (e.g. Do you need an audit trail that records who makes changes? Does each lab member ‘own’ their own notebook or do you ‘own’ every notebook? Do users need to access to each other’s notebooks?)
- What types of information do you need to record and how much space will you require? (e.g. text, images, Microsoft Office documents, outputs from instruments, other data files, etc.)
- What specialized functionality do you require? (e.g. chemical structure drawing, lab inventory control, protocols and templates, etc.)
- Do you work with sensitive data and if so does the product provide measures to protect that data?
Comparison of major products
The following is a list of just a few products that can be used as ELNs. The focus is on general products; links to other products are below. Each of these products is available via the web (cloud-based storage).
|Product||Recommended for||Price||Attachment/storage limits||Export|
|Evernote||Individual researchers working mostly with text or images, or files and who are not concerned about patentability or specialized functionality||Free and paid versions available||Yes, size limits depend on subscription||HTML or proprietary formats|
|LabArchives||Individual researchers or research lab groups. Classroom version also available. ELN is discipline agnostic.||Free trial version with 25 MG storage. $124/year/user with 100GB storage. Departmental enterprise pricing/benefits also available.||Uploads all file attachments. MS Office documents can be edited directly. Standard 250 MB file upload. Premium 4 GB file upload also available. Research group may pool data storage. Multiple widgets available.||HTML/PDF|
|LabGuru||Individual researchers or research groups. Especially good for bench scientists||10/user/month. Offers departmental pricing||Anything. No specific requirements. Some additional functionality. 10gb/user/lab cumulative||PDFs of notebooks and copies of attachments|
|Open Science Framework from the Center for Open Science||Individual researcher and those in cross-institutional collaborations. Ties in to GitHub, Google Drive, and other services.||Free||Connects with various file and code storage providers including Google Drive. 5GB file size limit.||ZIP files containing files|
You can also view a comprehensive comparison of various ELN products from Harvard.