|Myth Buster Adam Savage on lab notebooks. <Source>|
For us research scientists, lab notebooks are an incredibly important aspect of our everyday work life. Lab notebooks are often bound paper notebooks (see figure below) that scientists use to write protocols, make calculations, record results and interpretations, and other important information. The notebook is important because it provides a central place for all of the findings a scientist has made. It is also important legally, because it keeps a chronological record of findings that can be used in situations such as determining intellectual property. For bench scientists, these notebooks are a great tool, but the bound notebooks can be a little impractical for computational scientists and bioinformaticians.
Here enters the electronic lab notebook. Just like it's analog sibling, the electronic notebook is simply a way to record scientific notes and findings in an electronic environment. This is a great resource for computationally heavy researchers like bioinformaticians because it allows for easy recording of electronic figures, snippets of code, and other notes. As you would probably expect, there are many different programs for electronic notebooks.
There are good and bad electronic lab notebook programs out there, but the one I have liked so far is Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is a great, free program built entirely for effective note taking. I have been using it as my electronic lab notebook for last couple of months now, and I have found it to be very effective. If you do a lot of computational work, I would suggest you check it out, but before you head to the app store, I want to offer a little insight into useful ways I use the program.
|An example of an analog lab notebook. <Source>|
It is easy to copy and paste figures and other documents into your OneNote notebook, and it keeps moving fast when you add a bunch of image information. This is nice, but the program really shines when you start adding code references to your notebook. While adding code to OneNote directly is a bit underwhelming (they don't offer a lot for syntax highlighting, etc), it is easy to include links to specific commit locations within your GitHub code repositories. This is actually awesome because it allows for quick and easy referencing of your version controlled code, and you can have it right next to your data so you always know how you got that nice figure.
Other than this, it's up to you to check it out, play with different organization techniques, and see what works best for you. OneNote is free in the App Store for Mac, and is easy to get for your Windows PC as well. If you think I missed something, or if you have any tips you would like to contribute, please feel free to leave a comment below. And of course, happy coding friends!
Works Cited & Further Reading
Perkel, J. (2011). Coding your way out of a problem Nature Methods, 8 (7), 541-543 DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1631
OneNote Lab Notebooks