Skip to Main Content

Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN)

An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) is a software tool that replicates a traditional paper lab notebook.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Intramural Training and Education: Keeping a Laboratory Notebook (May 11, 2015) 
This is a narrated web tutorial on the key aspects of keeping a laboratory notebook. It is intended as a resource for young scientists, but also serves as a refresher for more seasoned researchers, as well as a tool for helping mentors teach these important skills to their mentees. 

ELN in a Box

What is an ELN?

An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) is a software tool that replicates a traditional paper lab notebook. ELNs can provide a digital format with functions such as timestamps, templates, searching, and collaboration. There are many ELNs currently available that come with a wide range of functions. The price and functions of an ELN will vary by provider. Choosing a software will depend on the needs of your lab.

Advantages Disadvantages
supports collaboration long-established methods of analog lab notebooks create a barrier
facilitates documentation paper notebooks may seem easier to use (short term)
facilitates reproducibility some labs restrict what devices are allowed into the lab
may integrate with other digital tools  

Readings assessing the value of ELNs

Readings on choosing an ELN

A Grid for Comparison

From Harvard Data Management:  The Electronic Lab Notebook Matrix has been created to aid HMS researchers in the process of identifying a usable ELN solution to meet their specific research needs. Through this resource, researchers can compare and contrast the numerous solutions available today, and also explore individual options in-depth. Click on the matrix below to expand the table and see detailed descriptions of each resource. 

Questions to consider

There are many different ELNs to choose from and each differs in cost, functionality, and user experience. It’s useful to start by thinking about your needs before looking at different products. Here are some questions to consider when 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?
  • 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 access to each other’s notebooks?)
  • Do you need to collaborate or share a notebook with others? - How will that work? Do your collaborators need their own account? Who owns the content? Are you a PI with students working for you? Who owns the data on their account? What happens when they leave? How granular are controls over read and write access?
  • What types of information do you need to record and how much space will you require? (e.g. text, images, Microsoft Office documents, raw instrument outputs, 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?

What is an ELN?

An electronic lab notebook, also known as electronic research notebook, or ELN, is a computer program designed to replace paper laboratory notebooks.

A lab notebook stores a primary record of research used to document hypotheses, experiments, observations, and analysis and interpretation of experimental activity. Lab notebooks also have a secondary Intellectual Property protection purpose and are often used in patent prosecution.

Transition to electronic systems may help researchers preserve the integrity of their primary data with minimal effort and ensures the processes used to publish outcomes are transparent and reproducible.

Does LabArchives require installation of software or is it a web-based application?
LabArchives is a web-based application. 

Is LabArchives both Mac and PC compatible? 
Yes, you can access on any device. There is also a Mobile App for iOS and Android: 

Is the data format proprietary?
You can export data to PDF or HTML. More information about offline notebooks is available at: 

How is LabArchives integrated with MS Office (Word, Excel)?
There are options to work within your MS Office documents AND utilize LabArchives version control and revision history feature:
  • Office Document Editor Option: Allows you to create and edit MS-Office compatible documents from within your Notebook. These document types include:
    • Documents 
    • Spreadsheet
    • Presentation
    • Upload pre-existing Office files from your computer and continue to edit them within LabArchives using the Online Editor: MS Office Online (Office 365). You can also create new Office Documents within LabArchives itself. 
  • MS Office Plugins: Allow you to open Microsoft Office Documents directly and once done editing a file, save the file back to the notebook without even being logged into LabArchives via the web browser.