Notes and Notebooks
Develop a routine for taking notes and maintaining notebooks. There are many ways to record information, each with itsadvantages and limitations. The important step for every writeris to come up with a system that works and that fits into his orher habits of work. Some people take brief notes in a notebook,with entries under the situation and date. Others takepreliminary notes and then elaborate in computer files that maybe arranged and subject-coded. Here are some importantprinciples for note taking:
- Devise a consistent approach to note taking. If you like to use 5-by-7-inch cards, then stick to that system for any given project so that you shape your materials in a consistent way. If you find it more useful to keep a bound notebook, then develop your note-taking system in that medium. If you like the options of a computer note file, then give some time and effort to setting up a computer note-taking file system. The important matter here is to have a method so that you do not get confused later about what system you are trying to follow.
- Record with enough detail to trace your notes to their sources. Be sure that you record information in sufficient detail and that you identify the source of your notes. When you travel to the field, you need to leave with notes that are detailed enough to be recognizable. That means identifying whom you spoke with, what items you were examining (locations, names, references), and the full publication data of documents you used. If you miss those details, you may find yourself with valuable information that you cannot use because you left out some critical element or you cannot trace the information to its source.
- Use notes to summarize key points. Notes are effective only when they economize. The three important objects of note taking are (1) accurately recording important ideas and facts, (2) reducing sources to manageable scope (i.e., data reduction), and (3) incorporating ideas and detail into your own conceptual scheme. A good set of notes extracts from the source that which is important to your work. An hour-long meeting should produce maybe a page of notes or a half-dozen note cards. An important paper might also produce a page or a half-dozen cards. The most inefficient note taking occurs when you try to record every detail.
- Systematically read over your notes. Study your notes regularly so that you have a good concept of the progress and shortcomings of your research or project. Notes can help you immensely in maintaining your focus and thus conserving efforts. They also help you identify gaps or shortcomings, and they help you channel your efforts in productive directions. This familiarity with your notes will be the main source and support of your writing effort.
Keep in mind that even informal kinds of record keeping havelegal status. Any formal project work that is funded should beaccompanied by a record-keeping process. This record keepingwill be the basis of any effort you must make to show that youperformed work according to accepted standards of your field andin the manner you originally set out to follow.
Laboratory notebooks are a special, legal form ofnote taking. A laboratory notebook should be bound and numbered, and you should writeon only one side of each sheet. The notebook should have a front-cover label, and it shoulddescribe the project--dates, personnel, addresses, and project particulars--in more detail on thefirst page. A few pages may be left blank for a Table of Contents to be entered when the notebook is complete. Each page should be dated andinitialed. Items typically recorded in notebooks include meeting notes, experimental notes,drawings, timelines, references,formulae, tables of data,equipment readings, materials used (grades, vendors,concentrations). In short, include any item in sufficient detail that it will be useful at some laterdate when you are writing a narrative of what you did. One of the most common problems inlaboratory notebooks is that of missing some detail, such as an equipment setting or a calibrationlevel, that is necessary later to establish the quality, accuracy, and precision of your data. Hence,it makes sense to subject your notebook to routine review by your colleagues or research directorto determine whether your note taking standard is a good one.
## Notes and Notebooks ##
[ Home | Table of Contents| Writing Timeline | Index |Help | Credits]
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..