Open notebook science is the practice of publishing your research on the web. Some researchers choose to share all their research as they perform experiments. Some post experimental information at a later time. Some reserve some information for themselves, but make other information publicly available. There are also all sorts of different types of open notebooks. There are a lot of tools on the web and there are all kinds of creative ways to use them to enhance your research. No matter what, the choice of how you maintain your notebook is up to you. After all it is your notebook. For some additional information, I’ve compiled a list of a variety of notebooks for you to take a peek at.
There are a lot of benefits to keeping an open notebook, but all of them are secondary to this: Your open notebook is usable by you. Without that, there is no reason to keep one in the first place. The open notebook uses the power of the internet to help you find information that you’ve curated. It will prevent you from repeating mistakes, enable you to repeat experiments quickly and easily, and remember exactly what happened when you last ran a protocol. The key to keeping an open notebook is that you maintain it however you see fit, so long as future-you can extract whatever you need.
I go back and look at and use information from old experiments frequently. I had to learn the hard way that short-hand notes and shortcuts were not useful to future-me. Keeping a notebook helped me establish habits that made me a better scientist. It also made it easy, and it made all aspects of my research easy. Commonly used protocols were just a few key presses away. I could compare results across experiments quickly. I could even update lab members and my PI right from my notebook without needing a powerpoint every time.
But you know what the biggest and best benefit of maintaining an open notebook was?
It made writing my dissertation completely stress-free and saved me a ton of time.
Because I had extremely detailed protocols, notes, and results, I could essentially cut-and-paste notebook entires into my dissertation and just modify the text/figures to make them publication worthy. This could be repeated for any publication, and could even be used to enhance a publication. Frequently, methods are detailed enough for editorial purposes. The open notebook can provide the necessary details and you get to cite your own work! Additionally, you can provide others in your field access to your raw data should the need arise, which is significantly better than having access to a graph that displays precisely one result.
And here is where all the secondary benefits come in handy. Your notebook could become a resource for collaborators and peers interested in your research. As you generate content, that information becomes indexed for search engines. Others will be able to access that information and then receive the same benefits from your notebook as you did. Because of this, scientific progress is improved and made more efficient. Others won’t need to toil to replicate an experiment from a vague protocol, nor will they waste time making mistakes or uncovering negative results.
And all this happened, because you made your research transparent!