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


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 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:

  1. To provide yourself with a complete record of why experiments were initiated and how they were performed.
  2. To give yourself a centralizedphysical location in which to record your investigations.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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:

  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, 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.

Last updated: April 2017

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