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Pretty Note-taking

June 19, 2012, 3:05 pm

Photo by Flickr user donabelandewen

I think it’s fair to say that I am a bit obsessed with the art of note-taking. I have spent more time (and money) than anyone should browsing notebooks and pens online and in stores. I buy Moleskine notebooks in bulk. And when I saw this book on an exhibitor’s table at a conference recently, I knew I had to buy it. Field Notes on Science and Nature includes essays by fourteen field scientists on how they take notes in the field, with scans of actual pages from their notebooks. Many of them include beautiful sketches of plants and animals. I love looking at other people’s notebooks – I like to see how they organize their thinking and what sorts of things they notice. But it also makes me feel envious and inadequate.

In meetings, at seminars and talks, and while reading, I take extensive notes by hand. My notes are often transcript-like and have served as a valuable record of many meetings. I maintain a numbered library of Moleskines in my office and refer to them often.

My field notes, on the other hand, are not beautiful. They are usually scrawled quickly, with the minimum amount of information needed to be transcribed. I can’t draw. Sometimes I draw rudimentary maps, but that’s about it. When I see exciting behavior in the field, I don’t write it down in my notebook – I relish the telling of the story at dinner at the field station, or I write about it in an email to my husband. My field notes will probably never be archived or kept for posterity. This makes me kind of sad… but not enough to do something about it. I keep many spreadsheets of my field data, which takes up a great deal of time. I don’t see myself investing any more energy into hand-written field notes, unfortunately.

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