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In the past, searching for experiment data has been a challenge in the R&D space.

Science laboratories can have hundreds of employees and perform an enormous number of experiments each year. While a lab notebook is indispensable to scientific study, the paper-based notebook definitely has its limits.

Electronic data management systems are in the spotlight now, recording information that can be accessed with ease. Does your ELN allow structured data with context to be saved along with the experimental writeup?

Why a traditional paper lab notebook doesn’t cut it…

Classic paper lab notebooks have limited capabilities – they simply store manually recorded information. They can’t be backed up or searched, and once the notebook has been archived, data is siloed, experiments buried, and information lost. If you do find what you’re looking for – you’ll be lucky to be able to read it all with 100% accuracy. Given the amount of work involved in each experiment and the data generated, searching is a vital tool. As is, knowing the accuracy of your data is sound.

Attempting to find a particular experiment or data, in a paper notebook, can take up so much of a scientist’s time, it could actually be faster to perform the experiment all over again. Or worse, a researcher will be running an experiment only to discover that it’s a duplicate as the data was already available, but not visible. Time is wasted re-running the study, not to mention the funds lost on reagents.

Software delivers results

With software, such as a well-designed ELN, these difficulties almost disappear. The search tool appears to be a simple function, but a lot goes on behind the scenes. Being able to search for a long-forgotten experiment, specific sample or precise tag is extremely valuable. Industry experts have found that searching is a major functionality that researchers look for in an ELN. Finding data when you need it can make the difference between getting a drug to market or being tossed aside.

Adding relevant information to your experiment is the key to an accurate and powerful search, as well as having the right piece of software to navigate it effectively.

Information, information, information

The search software needs something to find and the more information you add to your experiment, the easier it will be to find. Search tools will be able to match results using different entities:

  • Text – tags, captions, comments, titles, and keywords
  • Image/sketch annotations – while the image itself cannot be searched for, the text on the image is searchable content
  • File content – PDF and MS Office documents – as long as it is treated as text and not an image
  • Web spreadsheets – text content of published pages
More topics:   Tips and tricks – how to get the most out of E-WorkBook in your lab

Users can search by keyword, researcher name or ID, date, recently edited, wildcards, phrases, and new experiments, among other key-value metadata to aid searching. Without filters, the search tool will display all results matching the search criteria that you have permission to view.

Naming conventions also have a large role to play in the searchability of an item. The more unique an item’s name, the more easily it can be found when a search is run. Add details to the name and have specific terms in a set format to be able to find something without difficulty. In addition, to increase the chances of finding all relevant data, it needs to be integrated sensibly so that the user can follow a logical path of information and content related to their work.

With a powerful search tool, finding and reusing the information and data saves time and effort on the scientist’s part. They can compare their results with those of past experiments to either support their findings or provide guidance.

What can E-WorkBook bring to the table?

In addition to all the searching capabilities of a standard data management system, with E-WorkBook searching through experiments becomes easier than ever. You’ll be able to find any of your work as well as that of colleagues and collaborators to which you have access; permissions are also a key component to searching, and determine what users can and can’t view in a search result.

Moreover, unlike MS Office files such as Excel, searching with E-WorkBook’s powerful spreadsheet technology, means users can search all the properties in any experiment and return all relevant data points from within all spreadsheets that match the search criteria. Once they have been configured to be searchable, you can search using different criteria across multiple spreadsheets and the results are amalgamated into a single spreadsheet where they can be viewed and compared.

And if you run detailed searches often, E-WorkBook allows you to save these searches, saving you the time and effort of re-creating them each time. These can be saved for your own convenience or shared with colleagues when collaborating on a project.