How to Get the Most from Your Lab Procedures

By eLabNext 8 min read 03 May 2024

Everyone who has worked in a lab has come across a lab protocol or SOP at some stage, but why are these documents important? Adherence to protocol ensures efficiency, standardisation and safety in daily lab processes. 

In this blog, we will highlight: 

  1. Key differences between lab protocols and SOPs 
  2. The importance of standardisation in lab procedures 
  3. How to write an effective lab procedure
  4. Streamlining lab protocol creation and sharing with digital lab solutions

Laboratory protocols and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are fundamental frameworks that ensure the consistency, safety and accuracy of scientific experiments.

Lab protocols are detailed step-by-step instructions designed to carry out a specific experimental task or lab process. On the other hand, SOPs provide a comprehensive set of guidelines for almost any lab procedure, from ensuring lab cleanliness, to proper equipment use, safe handling of hazardous substances and lab maintenance procedures.

Together, lab protocols and SOPs form the backbone of daily laboratory operations, enabling scientists to conduct their work efficiently, securely and in compliance with regulatory standards. They serve as a blueprint for conducting research in a consistent and optimal manner.

Read on for our quick guide to lab procedures and protocols. We’ll examine different procedure types, highlight the importance of standardisation and give our top tips on how to write effective SOPs for your lab—including how to streamline protocol writing with advanced digital lab solutions.

What are the main differences between Lab Protocols and SOPs?

The terms “lab protocol” and “SOP” are sometimes used interchangeably in the context of laboratory environments, although they often have distinct meanings depending on the context and specific use:

Lab Protocols:

  • Purpose: A lab protocol typically refers to a set of instructions designed to carry out a specific experiment or a testing procedure. It details the steps necessary to perform a scientific experiment, a clinical test, or any sequence of actions in a lab setting.
  • Specificity: Protocols are usually very specific and can be more detailed about experimental conditions, such as concentrations, temperatures and equipment settings.
  • Flexibility: While they should be followed as written to ensure consistency and reproducibility of results, protocols might be slightly adjusted or optimised according to specific research needs or objectives.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs):

  • Purpose: An SOP is a broader document that provides step-by-step instructions to perform any task within a lab (or other environments) consistently and correctly. SOPs are used not only for experiments but for any procedure that should follow a specific standard to ensure lab safety and compliance.
  • Scope: They cover a wider range of activities beyond scientific experiments, including general lab maintenance, daily procedures, data documentation and other operational processes.
  • Regulatory Compliance: SOPs are often required for compliance with industry standards and regulatory guidelines. They are designed to ensure that different individuals can perform the same task in the same manner over time, enhancing efficiency and quality control.

While there may be some overlap between lab protocols and SOPs, both are crucial for maintaining high standards of practice, though their applications and the rigidity with which they must be followed can differ.

Importance of standardisation in lab procedures 

Lab protocols and procedures are central to establishing standardisation within daily lab operations, ensuring that every process is performed consistently and effectively. 

Standardisation in lab procedures is crucial for several reasons, particularly in scientific research, diagnostic testing and any setting where precise and reproducible results are necessary. Here are some key aspects of why standardisation is so important:

Consistency and Reproducibility

Standardisation ensures that experiments or tests conducted in a laboratory yield the same results, irrespective of who performs them or when they are performed. This consistency is crucial for validating experiments and confirming results across different studies or even different laboratories.

Quality Control

Standard procedures help maintain high quality and reliability in experimental results. By following a standardised protocol, labs can minimise variability that might arise from different methodologies or operator errors, ensuring the data’s accuracy and reliability.

Lab Safety

SOPs include detailed safety guidelines that are crucial for handling hazardous materials, operating complex machinery and ensuring general laboratory safety. Standardisation in these procedures helps prevent accidents and ensures the safety of lab personnel.

Efficiency and Time Management

Having a set of well-defined, standardised procedures reduces the time needed for training and briefing. New personnel can quickly learn and adapt to established methods, which increases the overall efficiency of the laboratory. It also helps to manage resources better by eliminating unnecessary variations in the use of materials and equipment.

Regulatory Compliance

Many laboratories operate under strict regulatory conditions imposed by governmental and international bodies, especially in the pharmaceutical, medical and food industries. Standardised procedures ensure that labs comply with these regulations, helping to maintain certifications and avoid legal or ethical violations.

Discover the legal implications of an undigitised lab

Cost Efficiency

By reducing errors and reiterations of experiments, standardised procedures can lead to significant cost savings. Consistent protocols minimise the waste of expensive reagents and samples, which can have a substantial impact on lab budgets.

In summary, the standardisation of lab procedures is integral to the scientific process, ensuring that results are accurate, reliable and verifiable. This not only boosts the credibility of the scientific findings but also enhances operational efficiency within laboratories.

How to write an effective lab procedure

When writing a lab protocol or SOP, it can be useful to follow a stepwise process. Follow this guide to start writing effective lab protocols or SOPs for your lab:

1. Define the Purpose

Start by clearly stating the purpose of the protocol or SOP. Specify what the procedure will accomplish and why it is important. This sets the context and ensures all users understand the intent behind the procedure.

2. Scope and Application

Outline the scope of the protocol or SOP. Explain when and where it should be used, and by whom. This section should also list any prerequisites, such as necessary qualifications, training, or conditions required before performing the task.

3. List of Materials and Equipment

Provide a detailed list of all materials, equipment and software needed to complete the procedure. Include specific models, settings and any safety gear required.

4. Detailed Steps

Break down the procedure into clear, numbered steps. Each step should be concise and describe precisely what needs to be done. Use bullet points for clarity and ensure that the steps are in the correct order.

5. Safety and Compliance Notes

Include any safety instructions related to the procedure. Highlight critical steps, potential hazards and emergency response actions. Ensure all compliance guidelines are met and documented within the SOP.

6. Quality Control Checks

Integrate checkpoints or quality control measures to ensure the procedure’s output meets the required standards. Specify how results should be evaluated and recorded.

7. Documentation and Reporting

Detail how the results should be documented, who should receive the reports and the format for these reports. Ensure the process aligns with data integrity and record-keeping requirements.

8. Review and Approval

Before finalising, the protocol or SOP should be reviewed by senior staff or peers. This review ensures accuracy and practicality. Once reviewed, it should be approved by the required authority.

9. Revision History

Keep a revision log at the end of the document to track changes. Include dates, the nature of revisions and who approved the changes.

Adopting a structured approach such as this helps create comprehensive and reliable lab protocols and SOPs, enhancing the efficacy of daily laboratory operations.

Streamlining lab protocol creation and sharing with digital lab solutions

Whether your lab relies on paper-based lab protocols, or stores key protocol documents in an online file-sharing system, your lab could benefit from a comprehensive digital lab solution, tailored to creating, sharing and accessing key lab protocols and SOPs. 

eLabProtocols from eLabNext is an advanced digital system for creating and sharing dynamic and interactive protocols and SOPs. The platform allows lab personnel to easily access necessary protocols anywhere, anytime, reinforcing compliance and facilitating seamless collaboration through a shared protocol library and integrated communication tools.

Discover how eLabProtocols could benefit your lab

This powerful digital lab solution offers a user-friendly interface, making it easy for labs to generate step-by-step interactive protocols that guide laboratory processes. Every change made to a protocol is tracked, ensuring transparency and accuracy throughout your work processes. In addition, eLabProtocols comes equipped with a wide range of templates for common lab protocols—saving you time on protocol creation. 

Available as a standalone solution, or integrated with eLabJournal, our proprietary ELN (Electronic Lab Notebook), eLabProtocols can enhance adherence, lab safety and collaboration within your team via a shared library for protocols and SOPs. 

Elevate your daily lab operations with eLabJournal

AI protocol generation and beyond

In addition to the robust protocol creation and sharing that can be achieved with eLabProtocols, eLabNext has recently developed an AI-powered Protocol Generation Add-On – an innovative tool designed to transform and streamline your lab’s protocol and SOP creation experience. 

Powered by advanced generative AI software, the add-on overcomes the tedious task of manually creating protocols, automating the generation of comprehensive protocols from a brief description of your experiment, significantly cutting down your time and effort.

Check out the full range of protocol generation AI features

Available as an add-on to eLabJournal, the generative AI tool eases the burden of documentation. Beyond protocols and SOPs, the tool can also assist in swiftly producing detailed lab reports and experiment summaries, allowing you to dedicate more time to research and less to paperwork.

A better way to manage lab procedures?

Understanding and utilising lab protocols and SOPs is not just about maintaining standards; it’s about enhancing the efficiency, safety and efficacy of scientific research. 

Adopting digital tools can greatly enhance the creation, management and adherence to these crucial documents. Whether you’re drafting your first SOP or looking to refine existing procedures, adopting digital solutions from eLabNext can not only streamline the protocol creation process, but also ensures that all procedures are up-to-date, consistent and accessible, reducing human error and increasing productivity. 

Ready to experience the power of generative AI for protocol writing?

Why not sign up for a personal demo today?

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