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Data Management

Creating Digital Research Notebooks

This page is designed to help you:

  • Compare the advantages of using a digital research notebook
  • Create a digital notebook for you and your collaborators to document the steps of your project and manage your project’s data

Below you'll find two tutorials for setting up a digital notebook using a free and open platform or using an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) paid for by Brown University.

Digital Notebook Advantages

List of Advantages of Using a Digital Notebook

  • Access online and via mobile
  • Search for text and keywords
  • Share with collaborators
  • Track revisions
  • Export and save digital copies

Open Science Framework (Free)

The Open Science Framework (OSF) is a free online project management platform developed by the Center for Open Science that is often used as a cloud-based research notebook. OSF is open software, so it is your own account and you will still have access if you leave Brown. Although "science' is in the name it is subject agnostic and can just as easily be used by humanities researchers.

  • Set up an OSF Project to serve as a notebook for each of your research projects and share access with any collaborators.
  • Add collaborators and grant viewing and/or editing privileges.
  • After a project is completed (or even while the project is ongoing) make your OSF Project open to the public and get a link (URL) for sharing with others to view your project online and for citation.

An OSF Project is made up of Components. Each component you create and add to your project can represent a discrete part or stage of your project. For example, you could create a component for your experimental protocol, the data you have collected, your analysis, and one for writing up the results. Each component has its own Wiki that you and your collaborators can use to record your notes, experimental steps, and observations.

You can connect any existing free cloud storage and popular collaborative platforms to a component, such as GitHub for analysis code or Google Drive or DropBox for shared folders of project files. 

Create an OSF Project Research Notebook

Create OSF Account

Go online and visit the URL: https://osf.io 

  • Click on Sign In in the upper right corner.

  • Click on Select Your Institution and scroll down and select Brown University from the drop down menu
  • Click Sign In and enter your Brown University username and password.

If you do not have a Brown University username and password, then click Sign Up and follow steps to create a free OSF account.

Create OSF Project

After signing in, you arrive on your Dashboard page. Your dashboard will show the OSF projects that you have created and/or OSF projects that you have been added to as a collaborator. To create a new OSF project follow these steps.

  • At the top of the Dashboard page select Create new project (another way is from the search bar at the top of the page select My Projects and then Create new project).
  • A pop-up window will appear where you will be able to enter the name of your new research project and then click Create.

After you create your OSF Project you will be taken to its landing page. At the top you will see the URL for your project, the title of your project, your name and any collaborators you add, and the privacy setting. The default privacy setting for your new OSF project and any components you add is private, which means it is only viewable by you and/or any collaborators that you have added. You can choose to change this and make the project or any of its components public at any time.

  • Click on Description and you can add a sentence describing your project to help you navigate projects in your dashboard page, e.g., “Digital Research Notebook for Summer Research Project.” 
  • Below in the box titled Wiki click on the box-and-arrow icon and this will take you to the Wiki’s Edit panel. Enter your research questions and more detailed abstract about the project and click Save. You can edit your project wiki at any time.
  • Affiliate your project with Brown University by clicking on Settings on the upper toolbar
  • Select Project Affiliation/Branding among menu options
  • Search and select Brown University in the search bar and click Save.

View the online tutorial Creating and Managing Projects on the OSF site or watch the video below for more information on creating an OSF Project.

Create OSF Project Components

On the landing page of your OSF Project, in the box titled Components, click on Add component and in the pop-up window give your component a name. You can repeat this as many times to add the separate parts comprising your project as they are required, such as a component for each of your experiments or for each of the stages of your project, such as an interview or survey. As you add components they will be listed on the Project’s landing page and you can reorder these, if needed. An important aspect of a component is integrating it with any tools that you and your collaborators use, such as GitHub repository or Google Drive, Box, or DropBox. To integrate these tools into your OSF Project components follow these steps.

  • On the toolbar at the top of your project's landing page click Add-ons
  • Locate your preferred cloud storage provider from those available on the Select Add-ons menu.
  • Next to the provider click on Enable and click Confirm in the pop-up window.
  • The ones you choose to integrate into your Project space will appear in the box Configure Add-ons. Click Connect Account next to each provider and then enter your username and password for each account you wish to grant OSF the permission to access.

View the online tutorials Create Components and Connecting Add-Ons on the OSF site or watch the video below for more information on creating components for your OSF Project and integrating cloud-based storage and collaborative tools .

Add Contributors

You can team contributors and grant them certain permissions via these steps.

  • On your Project landing page select Contributors from the top toolbar.

  • Click Add+ and enter the names and email addresses of your collaborators. If they already have an existing OSF account you can search for their name in the search bar and click to add them to your project. If they do not have an existing account click Add as an unregistered contributor. Unregistered users will receive an email from OSF informing them of their addition to your project and inviting them to create an OSF account.
  • Next to their name click on the Permissions drop down and select Read if you only want them to be able to view your project or Read + Write if you want them to be able to edit and add to your project.

View the online tutorial Contributors and Permissions on the OSF site or watch the video below for more information on adding collaborators to your OSF Project.

LabArchives (Brown-paid subscription)

LabArchives@Brown (LabArchives Brown University Edition) is Brown University’s institutional paid subscription to LabArchives. It is available to all members of the Brown University community, including clinical faculty affiliates. LabArchives is an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) platform that offers more advanced features than many open digital research notebook platforms, including unlimited storage and more secure storage and versioning options such as being FDA 21 CFR Part 11 compliant. Create a LabArchives Electronic Lab Notebook by following the tutorial below.

Students can create as many LabArchives notebooks as they wish. Once logged in students can view the notebooks they own as well as ones shared with them.

For Independent Research Projects

If you are a student and are working on an independent project, then by default you will have the Owner Role of your notebooks that you create. You can choose to add collaborators and grant them certain viewing and editing privileges. As owner you can share an entry, page, folder or even your entire notebook with a collaborator. You can have your notebooks transferred to a private LabArchives account when you leave Brown so that you can retain access.

Working with a Faculty Member/Primary Investigator (PI)

If you are working under a faculty member on their project or in their lab that uses LabArchives, then they may set up a notebook for you and invite you to the notebook as a User. You can make a copy of your LabArchives notebook before leaving Brown.

When you log-in to LabArchives@Brown you will see a landing page dashboard titled Notebooks. Along the left side bar you can sort and view all the notebooks that you have created as well as those you do not own but you have been provided with view access or added as a contributor to a notebook owned by someone else such as a faculty member serving as a Principal Investigator (PI).

Create a LabArchives Lab Notebook

Create an Account

If you do not have a Brown University username and password, then visit labarchives.com and create a free account by clicking Sign Up and following the steps to create a username and password. The free version of LabArchives does not have the same storage features as the LabArchives Brown University Edition, including restrictions on the size of a file that can be uploaded and total storage size.

Create a Notebook

When you log-in to LabArchives@Brown you will see a landing page dashboard on the top of left-side toolbar called Notebooks. Click on Notebooks and the + icon to create a new notebook. 

In the next pop-up window Create a New Notebook you can enter a name for the new notebook, e.g., “Summer Research Project 20XX.” Next will be asked to choose a Folder Layout. 

  • If you select None, then you can create and name the folders as you need to fit your project (recommended)
  • After selecting the folder layout click Create Notebook. Your notebook will now appear in the left-side toolbar under Notebooks.

View the tutorial Getting Started on LabArchives site or watch the video below for more information.

Add New Folders and Subfolders

After creating a new notebook you can start creating any folders and subfolders within folders where you want to store the pages of entries and/or project files. 

  • To create a new folder go to the left-side bar and click into the notebook in which you wish to add the folder and click + New and then Add new folder.
  • To create a new subfolder within an existing folder click on the existing folder to open the folder and click + New and then Add new folder .

Add New Pages

In order to make an entry in your notebook, i.e., start writing notes and observations in your notebook or add a file or an attachment, you first have to create a Page. To keep your notebook organized it is recommended to organize pages with folders. For example, you could create a folder and name it the name of the project and then create subfolders named with the date, YYYYMMDD to hold the pages created on that date.

  • To create a new page in your notebook click on the folder or subfolder you want the page to appear and click + New and Add new page. A pop-up window will appear asking you to provide a name for the page.

Create New Entries

To make an entry on a page find the page you would like to add the entry.

  • In the toolbar at the top of the page click + New  and a drop down menu will appear with several options. Entries can be made in several different ways
  • If you want to be able to type directly on the page you can select Rich Text  on the upper toolbar. A Rich Text Entry Editor will appear and you can begin typing and create any hyperlinks or attachments as needed.
  • If you prefer using Microsoft Office tools such as Word or Excel you can click on the built in Office Document in the upper toolbar. You can also use your own Microsoft Office tools and save to LabArchives by downloading the LabArchives Microsoft Office Plugin by clicking on the ellipsis ⋮ icon in the upper right hand corner of the notebook and clicking on Downloads.
  • If you want to attach a file click on Attachment located on the upper toolbar (e.g., attach a file such as an image to an entry and to use the annotation tools to write notes on the image).
  • Add Google Docs or other tools (freezer boxes, calculators, periodic table) by clicking on the Widget in the upper toolbar and select from the drop down menu. 

Remember to save an entry to the page by clicking Save to Page.

View the online tutorial Creating and Managing Entries on LabArchives site or watch the video below for more information.

Sharing with Collaborators

An Owner can sharing an entry, page, folder in a notebook or an entire notebook with collaborators even outside of the Brown community, making LabArchives useful for cross-institutional collaborations.

Share a Folder and Pages

  • To share a folder or page left click (mac)/right click (pc) on the folder or page in the left-side navigation bar and select Share. In the pop-up enter the names and email addresses of the persons with whom you would like to share access or you can choose to generate a sharing link. 

Share an Entry

  • Scroll to the entry you wish to share on the page. Hover your cursor over the top and a toolbar will appear with the Share icon. In the pop-up enter the names and email addresses of the persons with whom you would like to share access or you can generate a sharing link. 

Share a notebook

  • Click on the ellipsis ⋮ icon in the upper-right hand corner of the notebook. Click on Notebook Settings. Under User Management you can invite a collaborator to your notebook by entering their names and email addresses. Next to their names click on Role to select their permissions (e.g., Read + Write). They will receive an invitation to create an account or or you can choose to generate a sharing link.

View the online tutorial Sharing LabArchives Notebooks on the LabArchives site or view the video below for more information.

Learning Objectives

This guide was designed to help you:

  • Compare the advantages of using a digital research notebook
  • Create a digital notebook for you and your collaborators to document the steps of your project and manage your project’s data
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