Using OneNote as an Electronic Lab Notebook

What is an Electronic Lab Notebook?


An Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) is an application that has been designed to replace a paper laboratory notebook. There are a number of benefits to this approach of replacing paper notebooks such as simplification of data replication, backups, greater support of collaboration, data security and easier search functionality of data. 

What is OneNote?

OneNote is a digital notebook included as a part of the Microsoft Office suite of programs. The application is useful for free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration. It gathers users' notes (handwritten or typed), drawings, screen clippings and audio commentaries. OneNote is available on both Windows and Mac OS with Android and iOS applications also available for download. In addition to this, it is also available as a part of the Microsoft Office Online set of tools making it available to you wherever you have an internet connection. OneNote is provided free as part of the Office 365 suite to all staff members and students of the University of South Australia

For more information about Office 365 and how to access the available tools, please refer to the UniSA Anywhere AskIT pages for Staff and Students below.

UniSA Anywhere for Staff
UniSA Anywhere for Students

Note: Your access to the Office 365 product suite will be active for as long as you are an active staff member or an enrolled student. This access will expire 30 days after the end of your enrolment period or end of your employment contract.

How can I make use of OneNote?

At its base level, OneNote can be used as a simple replacement for a physical notebook however OneNote offers a lot of powerful features that make it suitable for use as an ELN. Please refer to the information below for some detailed breakdown of these features to assess whether OneNote is a suitable tool for your research.

Easily create templates for common data collection

OneNote allows for easy creation of page templates for any type of pre-recorded data required. This functionality can be useful for experiments with ongoing data collection such as capturing of water quality readings, blood samples, temperatures over time or any recorded data that conforms to a specific format.

Once a template has been created, it is simply inserted into the notebook from the menu bar by selecting, Insert > Page Templates and then selecting the created template from the dropdown list. This allows for easy repetition of similar data entry across all data collected.

More information on creating templates can be found at the following Microsoft support page;
Microsoft Office Support: Create or customize page templates

Collaboration and OneDrive integration

As OneNote is part of the Office 365 suite, it is able to be saved to your University provided OneDrive cloud storage location. This allows for access to your data from most internet connected computers and mobile devices via the Office Online portal.

This provides the additional benefit of sharing with co-collaborators to allow multiple users to access and modify (if you grant them the ability to do so) the same notebook. OneNote also keeps a track of changes that you or others have made to a shared notebook through use of the recent edits function. This allows you to see who made changes to a notebook and when.

More information on sharing a OneNote notebook can be found at the following Microsoft support page;
Microsoft Office Support: Share a OneNote 2016 for Windows notebook with other people

More information on recent edits can to a notebook can be found at the following Microsoft support page;
Microsoft Office Support: See a list of recent changes in a notebook in OneNote 2016 for Windows

Note: OneDrive is a cloud storage solution offered through Microsoft that is included as part of your Office365 licence.

Support for multiple data types

OneNote provides users with the ability to easily insert many different types of data directly into workbooks. Users are able to directly insert images, audio and video clips into the page they are working on. Audio clips allow for playback directly in the page and video clips open in a seperate window. Additionally, when OneNote is installed on a computer, it also installs a virtual printer titled 'Send to OneNote' that allows users to print directly into their OneNote notebooks.

These functions provide users the ability to enhance their notetaking and allow for more readable data.

Powerful search functionality

In addition to the ability to search text that has been directly entered into the OneNote application, there are also some very powerful search functionality tools built into OneNote which can be enabled should they be required.

Search text in images (OCR)

OneNote has an integrated OCR (Optical Character Recognition) functionality. OCR is a process whereby text from an image is converted to text that a computer can read. This allows for users to either insert an image and extract all text to be pasted somewhere else, or enable text in the image to be searchable. This can be very useful if pasting snapshots from other applications.

More information on using OCR in OneNote can be found at the following Microsoft support page;
Microsoft Office Support: Extract text from pictures and file printouts by using OCR in OneNote

Search for words in audio and video clips

Whilst not enabled by default, OneNote also has the ability to spoken words in audio and video recordings if the feature is enabled. The option is disabled by default as it slows down searching however is a useful function that can be enabled.

More information on searching in OneNote can be found at the following Microsoft support page;
Microsoft Office Support: Search notes in OneNote