Observe | Record

[Expect this page to be fully updated by September 2017]

Below are just a few general tips to consider when recording observations…

1) Distrust your mental faculties. The last line of Katniss Everdeen’s quote above should be one of the first scientific principles presented to all young science students: Don’t trust your memory. Scientists have invented and developed ingenious ways of entrusting their memory to objects besides their brain. Take the scientific notebook, for example. This is a place where scientists record everything related to an investigation or experiment, even interesting thoughts that come to them while they are sleeping. There’s a good reason why many scientists can be found carrying small notebooks and pens or pencils with them all times of day: you never know when you’re going to have to record something interesting, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred scientific controversies are settled by appeals to written records rather than to mental ones.

2) Keep a casual, personal science journal or diary. This is one of the best things that a young scientist can do. Don’t worry if you’re keeping the science journal or diary correctly, just keep one. The practice of writing daily will not only help you develop and hone your observational skills, but it will also help you find and develop a particular writing style. Re-reading your own writing has a way of changing the way you write especially when, upon reflection, you don’t like how you sound. Write about what you see each day. Write about science-related stories you either see on television or read on the Internet. Take 10 minutes and try to describe, in detail, objects such as plants, birds, seeds, and insects or events such as sunrise, sunset, storm fronts and/or the night sky. At least one a week, try to discuss any patterns that you see among your daily observations. The important thing is to be consistent. Like eating food, drinking water, and brushing your teeth, try to make writing in your science journal become part of your daily routine.

3) Learn how to keep a scientific lab/field notebook. Once you’ve developed a consistent habit of writing about objects and events, you’re probably going to start asking yourself ‘what if…?’ and ‘what when…?’ questions: What would happen if I did this…? What happens when I do that…? At this point, you’re probably ready to start planning and performing your own investigations. When you’re ready to do that, you probably need to learn how to keep a scientific notebook. To begin learning how to do that, click here.

4) Make use of technology to back up your written records.

5) Find ways of sharing your written records with others.

Last updated: April 2017