One of the problems I have been engaged with for many years now is the idea of how to keep a consistent record of my research that I can come back to years later and pick up where I left off.
Having thought a lot about this, I have some important criteria for such a record. Lab notes must be
- Future-proof (not dependent on proprietary software);
- Based fundamentally on ASCII text;
- Flexible enough to cope with a variety of experiment structures (one-off experiments, repetitive experiments, numerical experiments etc);
- Easy to input and maintain;
- Able to time-stamp the state of an experiment at the time it was performed;
- Able to incorporate the source code used to analyse the data;
- Able to facilitate collaboration with my group members and external colleagues;
- Easy to transform into outputs like papers and presentations;
I have tried many different notetaking systems to achieve this, including commercial systems like LabArchives, Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft SharePoint, My own TikiWiki webpage, Zim desktop wiki, Tiddlywiki and others I have forgotten, but none of them could give me what I need according to the above 8 points. I believe I now have a system that works the way I need it to for lab notes, though I know it is not for everyone: emacs org-mode. I hope to write up a little more about org-mode in the future, and why I think it’s a great way to produce consistently high-quality, self-documenting research outputs.