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 2011 book edited by Harvard University biologist and lecturer, Michael Canfield. According to Canfield’s book, lab/field notebooks provide optimum spaces in which to:
- Document one’s own observations of (and experiences in) the world.
- Capture the beauty and wonder–but also the problems and dangers–found in the world.
- Develop and hone observation skills, including writing, drawing, and sketching.
- Become familiar with scientific practices such as analysis, application, argumentation, inference, deduction, organization, and persuasion.
- Become familiar with scientific virtues such as creativity, invention, objectivity, patience, and novelty.
- Become familiar with scientific values such as accuracy, generality, precision, reliability, repeatability, testability, and simplicity.
- Examine, reflect, question, link, probe, and/or connect one’s ideas.
- Practice the art of inventing new questions.
- Incubate new ideas.
- Overlay and/or integrate one’s previous knowledge to new observations and experiences.
- Capture both the exquisite and mundane moments of experience.
- Develop and hone an awareness of how professional scientists create scientific facts, knowledge, understanding, and truth.
- Develop the art(s) of noticing.
Dr. Merritt asks all of his middle school science students to keep a well-maintained Lab/Field Notebook backed up by a digital notebook. 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: September 2020