When it comes to research, many tools are imperative for proper proceedings. One of these is the electronic laboratory notebook. We decided to share the electronic lab notebook best practices guide because this is a fundamental tool researchers need to keep track of data. More accurately, it’s a complete record of procedures, reagents used, observations made, and any relevant thought processes that would allow another scientist to reproduce the research.
While a few decades ago, the main type of laboratory notebook available was made of paper, technology has allowed for an easier, safer, and better alternative for the same or even better results: the electronic lab notebook (ELN).
Simply having an ELN isn’t enough to properly track down data. We recommend to follow some best practices and to make sure you use your electronic notebook to their full potential.
This step is the longest, but crucial in choosing the right tool. Make a list of the features you need your ELN to have. Then, research the ELNs based on that list. It’s up to you and your team to decide what is important and what is simply a bonus, but make sure the ELN you choose includes FDA part 11 compliance, which is the first step towards GxP and ISO compliance.
Electronic Lab Notebook Best Practice 1: Don’t overlook security
The ideal ELN should have encryption and alert systems, threat detection, and encrypted backups. It might sound like a lot, but remember your research will be completely typed down in this system. It’s never too much when it comes to security.
ELN Best practice 2: Research Notes
The way notes are recorded in the notebook is crucial. The records need to be detailed and clear to allow someone else to recreate the work. They must include every single detail, from raw data and final results of experiments to protocols and designs of experiments, calculations, details of equipment used, and a key to any abbreviations used. And be factual!
Lastly: Electronic Data
Data maintained electronically needs to document a researcher’s work in detail. That includes the date of creation, the content when created, and the details related to any subsequent amendments.
To make sure your recorded data answers all these requirements, ask yourself:
- Do you want your archives to be in electronic or paper form?
- Can you tell in the electronic notebook what was changed, when, and by whom? Is it possible to access and read older versions?
- Have the records been altered/compromised? Are they safe from disasters and protected against loss?
- Who created a record and made changes? Can records be signed and witnessed?
- Are the file locations permanent? Could a linked file be changed? Will the link be reliable or could it be broken?
- Where is the data stored? Personal laptops or lab computers? If using a service, where is the data stored?
- Would the use of the specific software affect ownership of the data?
- Academic labs may be obligated to comply with data management requirements from institutions, funding agencies, sponsors, etc.
While electronic laboratory notebooks are not a panacea, they have benefits that significantly improve the process of writing, recording, and, most importantly, the retrieval of your data. Through characteristics like security, accessibility, or searchability, ELNs simplify the researcher’s work.
We hope this electronic lab notebook best practices note was helpful and guided you. At Pillar Science, we prioritize security above all else, because we know your data is confidential and important. Our ELN was created with this emphasis on security in mind. You can learn more about us and our ELN here.
If you have any questions, you can contact us right away!