Data entry in laboratories was previously performed using physical notebooks. Not only was this tedious, but it also resulted in errors and inefficiency in operations. With the advent of Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) software, traditional notebooks became obsolete. While this led to improved efficiency and collaboration, a wide variety of ELNs started appearing on the market, making it difficult for labs to find the right solution. If you are in a similar situation, here’s a comprehensive guide to the different types of electronic lab notebooks available.

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What is an Electronic Lab Notebook?

Electronic Lab Notebooks are the digitalized counterparts of traditional paper lab notebooks. They make laboratory work easier by allowing researchers to record and organize procedures and findings, collaborate with others, and safeguard the data.

ELN software isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The effectiveness of an Electronic Lab Notebook will depend on whether or not it aligns with the lab’s unique requirements. Therefore, different types of ELNs are available, each designed to accommodate a wide range of functions.

Features of ELN software

ELN software makes it easier for researchers and lab analysts to store information and record findings through various functions, safety features and collaboration tools.

Here’s a quick overview of the top features of an ELN:

  • Experiment tracking and version control

This helps researchers keep track of experiments. By maintaining a history of revisions, researchers can reduce the risk of data loss and errors.

  • Data analysis and visualization tools

Most ELNs have in-built tools for data analysis and visualization. It eliminates the need to export data and improves decision-making.  

  • Electronic data capture

It eliminates manual data entry, as data is collected directly from instruments and sensors, thereby improving efficiency and data accuracy.

  • Security and compliance features

Features such as role-based access controls and encryption help organizations ensure data integrity and confidentiality while complying with regulatory requirements.

  • Search and retrieval function

This helps researchers quickly find and retrieve past experiments, data and notes from large datasets.

  • Collaboration tools

Collaboration tools allow for real-time sharing and editing of data, notes and results.

Types of Electronic Lab Notebooks

While Electronic Lab Notebooks can be customized to meet your laboratory’s unique needs, most ELN software solutions are designed to be industry-specific. This means their features and functionalities align with different industries and their use cases. In this section, we shall discuss the most prominent features or focus areas of ELNs and the circumstances in which they are commonly required. 

Point product ELNs

Point product ELNs are standalone solutions made for individual researchers or small teams. Their scope of use is basic, as they focus only on specific research needs and workflows. They typically offer tools for storing data, organization and collaboration.

Enterprise-class ELNs

Enterprise-class ELNs are more comprehensive than point product ELNs. They are big platforms that can store, share and collaborate on large-scale research projects. Enterprise-class ELNs can be integrated with other systems in your laboratory. This type of solution can also be scaled up or down depending on your needs, and robust security measures are in place.

Industry-specific ELNs

Industry-specific ELNs, as the name suggests, are solutions tailored to meet the specific needs of various industries.

Industry-specific ELNs often come with specialized features and templates that make it easier for scientists to organize their data, collaborate with colleagues, and comply with industry regulations. For instance, a pharmaceutical ELN might have specific templates for recording drug formulations or tracking clinical trial data. In contrast, a chemistry ELN might have tools for managing chemical inventory or calculating reaction yields.

Biotechnology or biologics ELNs

These digital notebooks are explicitly designed for labs operating in the biotechnology field. They come with templates that make it easier for researchers to document experiments in different areas of biotechnology, such as molecular biology, protein engineering and bioinformatics. These templates provide a structured format for recording important information about experiments, such as the materials, procedures, and results.

Biologics ELNs also include specific workflows for antibody discovery, cell line development and bioprocess optimization tasks.

Chemistry or small molecule ELNs

The main selling points of chemistry or small molecule ELNs are chemical structure drawing tools for creating molecular structures, reaction scheme templates for planning and documenting chemical reactions, and spectral analysis capabilities for interpreting experimental data from techniques such as NMR or IR spectroscopy.

This type of ELN streamlines tasks such as compound registration, synthesis planning and compound characterization, making it easier for researchers to record, share and analyze data. With these functionalities, chemistry ELNs are used in sub-fields such as medicinal, synthetic, and analytical chemistry workflows.

Solution-specific ELNs

Solution-specific ELNs offer preconfigured templates and workflows that help streamline data management in specific research areas such as NGS sequencing, cell and gene therapy, and bioanalytical stability. These templates and workflows help researchers manage large volumes of data efficiently and track cell lines, gene editing and other experiments while ensuring regulatory compliance.

Chemistry ELNs

Chemistry ELNs are packed with tools designed to make chemistry research easier. One useful feature is stoichiometry calculations, which help determine the right volumes of chemicals needed for reactions. This type of ELN also offers reaction mechanism drawing and inventory management tools.

Together, these functionalities make research activities such as synthetic route optimization, compound screening and structure-activity relationship (SAR) analysis seamless, faster and more efficient.

Histopathology ELNs

Histopathology ELNs are used to document and analyze tissue samples, pathology slides and diagnostic reports. They come with features such as digital slide management that help store images of pathology/histology slides neatly and securely.

Annotation tools further allow pathologists to mark important areas or write details directly on images, making analysis easier and more precise. Integration with pathology imaging systems in fields such as oncology enables collaboration among pathologists and researchers, allowing for easy data sharing and, ultimately, more accurate diagnoses.

Onsite ELNs

Onsite or on-premise ELNs are hosted on local servers within a laboratory. In other words, they are not kept on the internet but within the organization’s building or infrastructure. Since data is stored on internal servers, onsite ELNs give you complete control and ownership over your data. You can decide who gets to see or change the data, ensuring it stays private.

Cloud ELNs

With cloud ELNs, all research-related information is stored on the internet instead of being stored on physical servers or a computer. Cloud-based ELN software allows for seamless collaboration since the data stored on remote servers can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. It can be scaled up or down based on your needs, which makes it a cost-effective choice. Lastly, the servers are updated automatically by the cloud service provider, so you don’t have to deal with downtime.

Science-aware ELNs

These ELNs are designed specifically for scientific work. They come with data analysis, visualization and collaboration features that help scientists record and manage their research data and experiments. 

These tools streamline workflows by allowing lab workers to perform analyses and visualize results without switching between different software or platforms. The result is improved efficiency in managing vast amounts of scientific data with reduced errors or data loss risks.

Standard-compliant ELNs

Standard-compliant ELNs can help ensure that your lab and its research projects meet the industry standards and regulations, such as the GxP, ISPE GAMP 5, CLIA and SOC 2 Type 2. 

Adherence to these standards means that labs have improved data security and reduced risk of unauthorized access. Compliance ensures that records are accurate and reliable, which is essential for regulatory submissions and audits.

Unified ELN with LIMS

LIMS, short for Laboratory Information Management System, is a platform that brings together all laboratory data and workflows under a single roof, making management and analysis easier. Find out more about the difference between LIMS & ELN.

Combining ELN software and LIMS means that the two essential features for efficient lab operations, seamless data recording and management, are integrated. The centralized repository ensures that all data and sample information remains in a single place, making it accessible. It also streamlines data exchange, eliminating the need for manual data entry, thereby reducing the risk of errors and enhancing data traceability and reporting capabilities.

How to choose the right ELN software

Given the vast array of Electronic Lab Notebooks available, choosing one right for your organization can be challenging. To make things easier, consider the following questions:

1. What features are important for maintaining efficiency in your lab operations?

2. Do you need a solution that can be scaled based on your needs?

3. Do you plan to integrate the ELN with other systems in your laboratory?

4. What is your budget for an ELN?

5. Does the ELN system have robust security measures and compliance functionalities?

Your answers to these questions will help you narrow down the vast amount of ELNs available in the market.


ELNs are widely known for their benefits, including increased efficiency, collaboration and compliance. However, depending on the type of ELN software, their specific features and functionalities can vary. 

When choosing Electronic Lab Notebook software, carefully analyze your laboratory’s requirements and involve your entire team to gain in-depth insights into which ELN would be an ideal fit.

Sapio’s ELN software can be customized to meet your laboratory’s unique needs. Contact us today to have a system custom-made for you, or request a demo.