If you’re ready to transition from a paper-based lab notebook to an electronic lab notebook, here are 10 steps to help you get started with the Evernote platform.
This video highlights the advantages of using an electronic lab notebook such as Evernote.
1. Getting started.
The first step to getting started with Evernote as your ELN is deciding which Evernote interface you want to use. Evernote is available as a web application, an application for Mac, an application for Windows and there are also applications available for your mobile devices. If you want to use one of the programs that aren’t web-based, download the program first.
You will also need to decide if you want to upgrade to the Plus or Premium notebook options. With Evernote Premium, you can search text within attachments, pictures and Microsoft Office documents. You can always upgrade at a later date after you know what features are most important to you.
2. Organizing your notebook.
How you organize your notebook is ultimately up to you. Evernote features organizational tiers comprised of stacks, notebooks and pages.
Stacks are used to organize similar notebooks together “in a stack.”
Notebooks should be used for pages of similar content. If you don’t know where to start, I would recommend creating one notebook per project you are currently involved in. Then you can organize your pages by experiments within a project or chronologically. Some people like to use a page per day or per week. Try out a few ways and see which you prefer.
You can also make a separate notebook for all of your templates and protocols. You will be able to keep them in one place and copy and paste them to a new note when needed.
For a more on organizing your notebook, watch the
ProTip: Once you start accumulating a variety of notebooks that you don’t need access to very often, create a stack labeled “archived notebooks”. To make a stack, simply click on one of your notebooks and drag it on top of another. Evernote will prompt you to name your stack. These notebooks are still easily accessible, but will take up less space in your notebook library so you can find your more frequently used notebooks more quickly.
Attaching files, pictures and text to your notebook is simple. All you have to do is drag and drop. Pictures will open and appear on your page. Microsoft Office files will upload as an attachment that can be downloaded. You can also highlight the text of a word document or web page and drag and drop it onto the page if you want the text to be uploaded to the page directly.
You can use these methods to attach relevant papers, results and images from your research to your notebook. You can also take pictures of any handwritten notes to upload to your ELN this way. Remember that with Evernote Premium, all of your attachments will be searchable using Optical Character Recognition.
Below is a tutorial video on adding content to our notebook, which includes a demonstration on attaching content.
ProTip: Evernote lacks programs specific to scientific lab notebooks because it was not designed for scientists, specifically. One such feature that is lacking is the ability to draw chemical structures within the program using applications such as ChemDraw. However, with Evernote, you can go to ChemDraw directly and copy and paste the structure into your notebook.
The tagging feature of Evernote is an extremely useful tool for your lab notebook when you need to find previous entries. You can tag the topics contained in your notes, the samples you used, the type of data, and even use tags for categorizing your notes. For example, tagging all of your protocols is an alternative to making an entirely separate notebook of them (or you can do both).
Another way you can use tags to your advantage is to tag each of your experiments as either in progress or complete. You can then search all of your notebooks for in progress and obtain a list of everything you should be working on currently. This will ensure none of your projects fall through the cracks no matter how minor they are. Once you complete your write-up and are done with an experiment, change the in progress tag to complete.
To tag something, look at the top of your open page where it says the name of the notebook you are in. To the right, it will say new tag and you can click on it and type your tag in the box.
Collaboration is very important in science. With paper notebooks, it can be difficult, but the ELN makes it easy. In Evernote, you can share your notebook by clicking the share button in the upper right hand corner. You can also hit the arrow to the right of the share button and produce a drop down box with a variety of sharing options.
When you share your notebook, you can choose whether the guest is able to view, edit or edit and invite other collaborators. This option will be visible after you decide which method you want to use to share your note. You can share a whole notebook or just a note—depending on which you have open when you click share.
6. Importing emails.
With Evernote as your ELN, you can easily attach emails to your notes that contain relevant communication to your project. For example, if your PI or mentor sent you feedback on your project, you can easily forward that email to your Evernote notebook.
Here’s how: Click on the icon in the lower left-hand corner. Then click and open Evernote settings. Click on the Account Summary tab. Scroll down to “Email notes to” and add that email address to your contacts as your ELN. Now, when you receive an important email, you can easily add it to your lab notebook by forwarding it to that address. You can also use this method to add pictures, videos, or audio to your notebook.
7. Exporting your notebooks.
To back up your notes, you need to have an installed desktop version of Evernote. The web program does not currently offer this feature.
Export your notes by right clicking on a notebook and selecting export notes. Next, you can select whether you want to export your notes in Evernote’s format or HTML. Using Evernote format will allow you to upload your notebook back into Evernote if you ever want to start a new account or it is lost or deleted in some way. This is different than the HTML format, which you can upload to Evernote but you will lose the organization of your notebook and pages within it as this is only able to be recovered if saved in the Evernote format. I recommend saving a copy in both formats so you can always have the ability to upload your notebook back into Evernote and also have access to your notebook if there comes a point in time when Evernote is no longer available to read Evernote files.
You can also schedule automatic backups that back up your notes when you back up the rest of your hard drive. Just make sure that your backup includes the Evernote database on your computer if you are going to rely on this method. Making backups of your notebook is important when using an ELN because you do not want to lose weeks, months or even years of work if a software, hard drive or other type of malfunction occurs.
While Evernote will automatically record the date created and date modified for your notes, when using the program as your ELN interface, it is important to date and timestamp all of your entries. This will ensure your entries are dated accurately and thoroughly, which is important for publication and auditing purposes. You can manually type the date and time on your entry or use a shortcut to automatically populate the date and time into your text on the installed versions of Evernote (this feature is not currently available on the web-based version). Here are the shortcuts:
Evernote for Mac Date Stamp: Shift + Command + D
Evernote for Mac Timestamp: Option + Shift + Command + D
Evernote for Windows Date Stamp and Timestamp: Shift + Alt + D
9. Tasking and setting reminders.
One of the benefits of using Evernote as an ELN is that it has a checkbox feature for items that need to be completed. You can use this feature when writing out methods and protocols for your experiments. You can then check off the boxes as you go and never lose your place.
You can also use the checkbox feature to make a separate note with a to-do list of tasks you need to complete by certain deadlines and then set reminders for them by simply clicking the alarm clock button at the top of the note. You can set the reminder to notify you at a certain date and time and then you can later mark it complete.
10. Using Evernote with Livescribe.
If you’ve never heard of the Livescribe Smartpen, check it out here. This pen allows you to take notes on special paper and have them automatically uploaded to Evernote as handwritten notes. If you’re not ready to make the complete transition to Evernote as your ELN, you can start by using the Livescribe pen—you’ll have a paper and digital copy of your notes.
With these 10 steps, you’ll have your Evernote lab notebook up and running in no time. Remember to download Evernote to your mobile devices, and you will always have a copy of your notebooks with you and have the ability to edit them without taking your computer into the lab. Don’t forget to back up your notebook regularly so you never run the risk of losing all of your work!
Have you already been using Evernote as your lab notebook? Comment below and let us know how you've enjoyed it.
GoldBio Staff Writer
Rebecca is a medical student at the University of Missouri.
She previously worked as a lab technician while studying
biology at Truman State University. As an aspiring
reproductive endocrinologist with an interest in global
health, Rebecca has traveled across Central America on
medical mission trips. With a passion for the life sciences,
she enjoys writing for GoldBio.
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