[Expect this page to be fully updated by September 2018]
Why might you wish to keep a scientific notebook?
Colin Purrington’s Maintaining a Laboratory Notebook contains some excellent answers to this question. Among them, I would highlight the following:
- To provide yourself with a complete record of why experiments were initiated and how they were performed.
- To give yourself a centralized, physical location in which to record your investigations.
- To encourage sound thinking. As Purrington himself writes, “Keeping a notebook gives you a forum to talk to yourself — to ask questions, to record important thoughts about the experimental design, and to speculate how your results might eventually be interpreted.”
- To provide information to a person who is interested in continuing your research project.
However, for those interested, I would also offer the following additional purposes, which occurred to me when reading Field Notes on Science & Nature, a 2011 book edited by Harvard University biologist and lecturer, Michael Canfield. According to Field Notes, notebooks provide 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.
Last updated: June 2018