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Maintaining a high-quality lab and/or field notebook is of vital importance in science

Maintaining a high-quality lab and/or field notebook is of vital importance in science

Why learn to keep a scientific notebook?

There are lots of good answers to this question. One of the more thoughtful (and humorous!) webpages providing a fair number of them is Colin Purrington’s Maintaining a Laboratory Notebook. You should definitely visit his page before reading on.

In addition to Purrington’s reasons, Dr. Merritt has assembled a list of his own reasons to learn to keep a scientific notebook. Many of these occurred to him when reading Field Notes on Science & Nature, a book edited by Harvard University biologist and lecturer, Michael Canfield and published in 2011. According to Canfield’s book, lab/field notebooks provide optimum spaces in which to:

  1. Document one’s own observations of and experiences in the world.
  2. Capture the beauty and wonder–but also the problems and dangers–found in the world.
  3. Develop and hone observation skills, including writing, drawing, and sketching.
  4. Become familiar with scientific practices such as analysis, application, argumentation, inference, deduction, organization, and persuasion.
  5. Become familiar with scientific virtues such as creativity, invention, objectivity, patience, and novelty.
  6. Become familiar with scientific values such as accuracy, generality, precision, reliability, repeatabilitytestability, and simplicity.
  7. Examine, reflect, question, link, probe, and/or connect one’s ideas.
  8. Practice the art of inventing new questions.
  9. Incubate new ideas.
  10. Overlay and/or integrate one’s previous knowledge to new observations and experiences.
  11. Capture both the exquisite and mundane moments of experience.
  12. Develop and hone an awareness of how professional scientists create scientific facts, knowledge, understanding, and truth.

Dr. Merritt asks all of his middle school science students to keep a well-maintained Lab/Field Notebook [Teacher note: the lab/field notebook constitutes 10% of each student’s semester grade]. The first step in keeping a well-maintained lab/field notebook is to prepare it properly, which you will learn to do on the next page.


Last updated: July 2019

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