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Electronic Research Notebooks: What are ERNs?

Record keeping is an essential part of effective data management, electronic research notebooks (ERNs) offer a digital approach to data collection.

What is an electronic research notebook?

Female scientist pipetting at bench using a paper laboratory notebook.

Electronic research notebooks (ERNs) meet the demands of modern science by creating a digital, organized, and secure recordkeeping environment for scientists to efficiently function in an increasingly disciplinary and collaborative community. 

For hundreds of years, the paper notebook has played a key role in how scientific research has been conducted and served as the official record for measurements and observations.

As publishing, sharing and searching for information has shifted to an electronic workflow, the paper notebook has been left behind, filled with illegible writing and pasted experimental data from automated instruments.

Why use an electronic research notebook?

Seal of the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy

Electronic Research Notebooks offer the opportunity for scientists to make the output of scientific research more accessible and improve reproducibility and productivity in their work. 

Additionally, a 2013 memo from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and federal funding agencies are now holding scientists conducting research in academia accountable for providing infrastructure to support research data management. 


Other practical reasons for using an ERN platform include:

  • Improved data curation for future reuse
  • Track provenance of experiments
  • Search individual notebooks and/or colleague notebooks
  • Reduce work duplication
  • Improve legibility
  • Reduce pasting of automated results

Relevant Literature

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