TMCnet Feature
May 20, 2021

Is An Electronic Lab Notebook Really Better?

For decades, the results of scientific experiments have been recorded in humble lab notebooks. While technology advanced, some things stayed the same; even if you eventually had to input your data into a computer program for analysis, it started its life in the paper lab book.

Now, more and more scientists are turning to an electronic lab notebook. What are the pros and cons of this developing technology?

Benefits of an Electronic Lab Notebook

An electronic lab notebook, or ELN, allows researchers and students to record their experiments digitally. Many ELN systems also include additional features to facilitate research and integrate with smart lab components. Some may include lab manager/project manager features, too, such as inventory management and the ability to assign tasks and monitor their progress.

One of the primary benefits of a digital lab notebook is easier access to data. Researchers can share their data with others in the laboratory or even with collaborators in another lab. Perhaps best of all, some ELN systems have a mobile app which can allow researchers to access their data on the go. This is perfect for those moments of sudden inspiration, when you realize you finally have the solution to a nagging issue, and you just need to look at the data to confirm you’re on the right track. The best ELNs also include security settings to limit the sharing and access of data, to ensure sensitive or proprietary data is not shared or accessed outside of approved settings.

When data is recorded electronically in a system which is connected with the lab’s other systems, it reduces the issues related to data siloing. Everyone can access data when they need it and there’s less duplication of effort when data doesn’t need to be entered separately into multiple systems (and less possibility of an error made when entering into a different system).

Another benefit is that electronic lab books ensure data is recorded properly. This can be especially important and beneficial for students.

Drawbacks of an ELN

Although an electronic lab notebook can be a great thing, there are still some negative points to consider.

The first is the potential cost of implementation. If a lab is running on a tight budget, they may not feel comfortable allocating resources to purchase such software.

In order for an ELN to truly foster collaboration, there is a need to get buy-in from all involved parties. If some researchers do not want to switch to a digital notebook, or if there is a disagreement over which system to adopt, the electronic solution may not ultimately prove beneficial.

There is the possibility that over-reliance on the electronic system may lead to researchers becoming sloppy in their recording methods, counting on the software to correct their errors. If students only learn how to use an electronic laboratory notebook, they might be at a disadvantage if they later have to work in a lab that still uses a paper system.


These are just some of the pros and cons of choosing to implement an electronic lab notebook in a research lab. Before deciding if an ELN is right for your lab, you should do more research into the benefits and drawbacks, as well as exploring the different offerings to see which one has the features that would best serve your lab and your research.

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