How to choose the best ELN

Written by: Renee Chambers
How to choose the best ELN

As it is commonly known, ELN is a digital book inform of a computer program used by engineers, technicians, and scientists to document research and lab procedures[1]. They are mostly used for jotting down procedures, observations, and conclusions in a digital way instead of rudimentary paper writing.

Researchers have found ways to incorporate computer printouts and instrumentation onto their notebooks’ pages in the current ever dynamic world of science, which has brought about very significant benefits.

How to choose the best ELN

Electronic Lab Notebooks

Define your needs

There are many types of ELNs in the market, and finding out what you need can be crucial. Before making your choice, you first need to know the prospects of your needs to make the best decision. Knowing the specific functionality and features, you need, you can narrow down your choices to more specific needs.

Make sure your finances are in order

Depending on your lab or team’s size, you will need to consider which ELN will best suit your wallet. There are free trial ELNs in the market, mostly for educational needs and usually have some restrictions, such as access to only one user. There are also costly ones used for large teams and many institutional labs, which come with several advantages, such as ample cloud storage.

Get education on possible options

Before heading out to purchase your ELN, first research the customer support, cost, and data storage of various vendors. ELNs have been around for many years, and getting enough data for comparison purposes should not be hard.

You need to get adequate information on the different features such as workflow adaptability, security and storage. You can then look at your list and narrow it down to a chosen few you think would meet your needs.

Benefits of Electronic Lab Notebooks

They offer the best work organisation

This program comes with many tools to keep your lab work organised and functional compared to books and charts. When you need data from an earlier date, you can trace it from the ELN cloud storage by searching for it rather than going through hundreds of hard copy notes.

They offer wide flexibility

There are many programs available to choose from in the ELN database. They allow you to add images, videos, links, text, equations, and charts onto any page of your Notebook. This also lets you directly link scientific devices to your ELN, such as a direct link to an infrared spectrometer to get live results printed directly to your Notebook.

Better storage and accessibility

By offering big cloud storage, Notebook users can synchronise their devices and access them from virtually anywhere in the world without having to carry books around. You can always access your data easily by connecting your devices to a network. However, you can opt to locally save your work on a removable storage device or your computer’s hard drive.

High data security

While your lab notes can be accidentally lost or stolen from you, using ELNs will save your data in the cloud and encrypt it with your password, making data theft highly unlikely compared to hardcopy notes.

Easy sharing

In a group discussion and collaboration, paper notes are almost impossible to share because it would demand everyone to have their own notes. With ELNs, many sharing platforms allow other people to edit the same document. Document distribution is always possible with Dropbox or by converting it to PDF that can be emailed or printed.

Limitations of using ELNs

Difficult conversion process

It would be tough to switch to digital note keeping after using hard-copy notes all your career life. Many users will find it time-consuming to adapt to this new trend and ultimately harm their productivity. Drawing graphs and analysing data can be excruciating without proper training on how to use the program. This might force institutions to spend extra money on the training of their staff.

Prone to accidental damages

Bringing as bulky as a laptop to the lab may be hazardous as it becomes more susceptible to accidental damages in case of a spill. Additionally, taking home the device could cause the transfer of harmful agents from the lab to the technician’s home, which could be hard to detect and contain.

They are expensive

Purchasing these programs can be a costly feat because they come with a monthly or annual renewal fee, and if you are broke, you might fail to get access to your precious data in time. Although some ELNs are free, they have limited features which are only helpful to high school students. In the case of big institutions, they may spend thousands of dollars on securing a good ELN for its personnel.[2]

Final thoughts

As a researcher or scientist, a well-organized notebook makes it possible for you to recreate experiments and share the knowledge with fellow workmates. This is the best reason as to why you should get yourself an ELN to help you store your notes for long and without the need for bulky hand notes.