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Electronic lab notebook (ELN) toolkit

This toolkit is intended to assist in the use of an electronic lab notebook at IU School of Medicine.

ELN in the lab

While one of the benefits of an ELN is the ability to capture research information and data electronically, these systems are not set up to be file management or data storage systems. An ELN is an additional tool to integrate into the research workflow that does not necessarily replace existing systems, but can function as a "hub" for information and data related to a project. The graphic below demonstrates how LabArchives fits as a documentation tool that spans an example pipeline of information/data flow for a project.

Notebook structure

The recommended structure of electronic lab notebooks is project-based rather than individual-based. This reinforces the best practice of Principal Investigators being the "owners" of all notebooks in the lab as well as enables the lab to close out projects more easily when completed.

The graphic below shows the potential structure for an individual lab member using an electronic lab notebook. In this example, the lab member has access to several notebooks, which consist of folders and pages.


Roles & responsibilities

It is recommended that labs maintain a master list of lab members and their roles and responsibilities in the lab and on projects. This assists with overall lab personnel management, but is also useful when establishing the attribution of work when it comes time to disseminate lab research (e.g., publications, posters, presentations). A breakdown of roles and responsibilities can be found in the data management plan template linked below.

Specific to the ELN, LabArchives has four defined user roles that can be assigned to lab members by notebook based on their role/s on a project. The Principal Investigator should be the "owner" for all electronic lab notebooks created in a lab. More information about these roles and their privileges can be found at the link below.

Naming conventions

File/folder naming conventions function as a critical component of electronic information and data management. These conventions are consistent, meaningful patterns used to standardize documentation practices and assist with searching across information. There is no one file name pattern that exists - the pattern is dependent on what type of information is a) useful to include and b) meaningful to those doing the work. Some examples of file naming patterns include:

  • ProjectName_Protocol_Initials_Date (YYYYMMDD)
    • ProjA_Assay_HC_20191130
  • ProjectName-ExperimentNumber-Initials-Date (YYYYMMDD)
    • ProjA-Exp1-EF-20190101

In LabArchives, these conventions apply to the folder and page levels. Standardizing the manner in which lab members name folders and pages will help greatly with searching a project notebook at a later date.


Building templates to be used across notebooks, is one way of standardizing how all lab members enter information/data into a notebook. If these standards are set upon adoption of the ELN, it can help lab members understand what content to include in a notebook in addition to assisting with consistent documentation.