The advantages of a dedicated electronic lab notebook

If you are considering adopting an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN), it may be tempting to use a popular app with which you or your group are familiar. This will provide an immediate fix to the problem of storing data and experimental procedures electronically because there will be no steep learning curve. For instance, more team members may be already familiar with the software and can quickly start logging away. One app that we commonly hear about, when discussing the use of general-purpose online notebooks with scientists, is Evernote. There are, however, many alternative solutions with slight variations in their features that may be worth comparing, if you are considering adopting a general-purpose app. We have also seen researchers using more basic general apps, such as Microsoft Word, as their digital lab notebook.

The advent of specialized electronic lab notebooks for scientists appears to have caused a spike in the number of researchers switching to a digital notebook. But, adoption of these solutions by the academic and research industries has been slow. I will write a separate post dedicated to ELN software advantages. The question I am addressing here is: Despite the availability of these specialized solutions, why do scientists choose general-purpose software? Perhaps, the answer is familiarity. As mentioned above, selecting a general-purpose app provides an immediate fix.

Choosing to switch from paper to an electronic lab notebook can be risky, and long-term effects on your lab notes and note-taking behavior need to be considered carefully. The purpose of this post is not to suggest a single solution, because in your particular case Microsoft Word or Evernote may be sufficient. Before settling on a final app, however, you may want to consider the following factors:

  • Will this app encourage me to take notes consistently for the rest of my research career?
  • Does the app promote good note-taking technique?
  • Are sharing and cloud backup secure and reliable?
  • Does the app facilitate faster scientific note-taking? (recording scientific data and ideas can be time-consuming when using a general-purpose app)
  • Can I easily record scientific symbols (e.g., genotypes) or drawings (e.g., plasmids)?
  • Can I share and export specific notes for collaboration purposes?

These are only a few of the questions that you may ask when considering the ideal software for your lab notes.


A general-purpose solution, such as Evernote or MS Word, may appear to be ideal when starting out a new electronic lab notebook. However, a dedicated software that is built for the needs of research scientists can provide tremendous long-term benefits.