Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) have revolutionized data recording in lab settings by replacing traditional paper notebooks with digital platforms. However, realizing the full potential of an ELN requires more than just adopting the technology. Adhering to best practice for lab notebooks will ensure that the system is properly implemented and effectively utilized, allowing labs to optimize their data management processes, enhance collaboration, and derive greater value from their scientific endeavors. Find out more about ELN software with our guide to electronic lab notebooks.

The most critical aspect lies in selecting the right tool that aligns with the specific needs and workflows of the lab. This entails considering factors like user-friendliness, collaboration features, integration capabilities and data security, all of which are essential to the successful implementation of an ELN system.

In this guide, we’re going to explore electronic lab notebook best practices covering the following steps:

Electronic lab notebook best practice 1: Set up security and solid user permissions hierarchy

Ensuring the security of ELN data is extremely important, and implementing a robust security system is vital to protect sensitive research information and maintain data accuracy. Choosing a cloud-based ELN solution allows the data to be stored within a secure environment that laboratories may not be able to create themselves, adding a layer of protection to maintain data integrity.

Best practices include securing data with:

  • HIPAA compliance
  • SOC-2 compliance
  • using the latest encryption standards for data at rest and in flight
  • 2-factor authentication (2FA) for user access, such as SMS or using an authentication app
  • ISO27001 information security management
  • GDPR
  • 21 CFR Part 11 for electronic records and eSignatures.

Along with secure data storage, setting up user permissions allows administrators to assign different access levels to individuals based on their roles and responsibilities. This provides controlled access to data, prevents unauthorized modifications or data breaches, and enables safe, reliable collaboration. By adhering to this best practice, labs can safeguard their valuable data, promote accountability, and maintain the integrity of their scientific research.

Electronic Lab Notebook Best Practice 2: Create robust templates

Templates provide a standardized structure for recording experiments, procedures and observations within an ELN, ensuring consistency and streamlining data analysis. A well-designed template should be able to:

  • capture essential information
  • present essential information at the right time, on the right screen
  • enforce the process and right steps to ensure repeatability
  • delegate tasks to individuals
  • automate as many tasks as possible
  • escalate tasks where appropriate
  • be drag-and-drop, no-code configurable to the specifics of your experiment or assay
  • facilitate collaboration between team members
  • while being flexible enough to accommodate a range of studies

Using templates helps scientists and technicians to save time, minimize manual processes, streamline data entry, and ensure a consistent level of data capture for each experiment. They also make it easier to compare results, allowing researchers to quickly and accurately extract valuable insights from large numbers of studies across multiple experiments.

Electronic Lab Notebook Best Practice 3: Use standardized metadata fields and naming conventions

By establishing consistent ELN metadata fields, such as instrument identifiers, experiment names, sample naming, materials naming, storage locations, dates, project identifiers and keywords, researchers can easily search and filter their data based on specific criteria. This enables efficient data retrieval, data promotes collaboration, and facilitates data sharing within the lab, across experiments and assays, and beyond.

Additionally, adopting standardized naming conventions for files, folders and experiments ensures clarity and uniformity across the ELN system. It eliminates confusion, reduces duplication, and enhances data discoverability. A standardized approach to metadata fields and naming conventions fosters better data management practices, improves data analysis and traceability, and ultimately enhances the reproducibility and reliability of scientific research.

Electronic Lab Notebook Best Practice 4: Switch to a cloud-based ELN with real-time collaboration

Adopting a cloud-based electronic lab notebook solution, such as Sapio ELN, offers significant advantages for real-time collaboration and remote work. By storing data in the cloud, researchers can access and collaborate on experiments from anywhere, facilitating seamless collaboration across different locations and time zones. For example, you can see who is currently working on an experiment, you can automatically lock others out of aspects of an experiment while you are working on it, or notify other collaborators to perform tasks.

Real-time synchronization ensures that all team members have immediate access to the latest updates and modifications, eliminating version control issues. Cloud-based ELNs also provide secure data backups, reducing the risk of data loss. Sapio ELN offers multi-threaded collaboration tools, including customizable workflows, project management capabilities, and integrated data analysis functionality. This allows research teams to work together effectively, streamline workflows, and accelerate scientific discoveries regardless of physical distance or organizational boundaries.

Other best practice considerations when using an ELN

When utilizing an electronic lab notebook, it’s essential to consider various best practices beyond the basics to enhance data management, streamline processes, and ensure regulatory compliance.

The right security and permissions setup establishes robust protocols to protect sensitive data. An important part of this is configuring the user interface (UI) to provide appropriate data access to different roles. This enables efficient collaboration while protecting data integrity, while system localization allows labs with multiple sites to work in their preferred language and comply with regional regulatory requirements.

Workflow templates designed for specific solution areas, such as NGS sequencing and Bioanalysis, streamline processes and ensure best practice for compliance. Lab technicians can also use the ELN’s built-in rules engine to automate tasks. Designing and deploying automated processes allows result generation, calculations and instrument data to be processed quickly and accurately without manual intervention, increasing efficiency and reducing errors.

Compliance steps built into ELN workflows ensure adherence to regulatory requirements and internal quality standards, enhancing transparency and accountability. Quality control steps, such as predefined checkpoints and data reviews, improve data reliability and maintain high standards of research quality. Finally, data normalization, including standardized naming conventions and consistent metadata, enhances collaboration and enables effective data retrieval and analysis.

Make the most of your ELN workflows with Sapio Sciences

By following these best practices, labs can optimize their ELN usage, improve data management, enhance collaboration, ensure compliance, and uphold the integrity of scientific research. These considerations promote efficient workflows, standardized processes, and reliable data, ultimately facilitating scientific discoveries and advancing research outcomes.

Sapio ELN software is a comprehensive electronic lab notebook solution combining scientific tools, and a triple play ELN, LIMS software and lab data consolidation solution all on one platform. Sapio offers customizable workflows, integrated data analysis tools, project management capabilities and seamless collaboration, it empowers researchers to collaborate better and accelerate scientific discoveries.

To find out more about Sapio ELN, or any of our solutions, get in touch or request a demo today (and check out our glossary of 92 common ELN terms here).