Being A Naturalist In The Digital Age-An Excerpt From The Naturalist’s Notebook

“These days, the notion of using a pencil or pen to write down natural history observations in a journal sounds almost quaint, even to my ears. So, a word of explanation is in order about the advantages and disadvantages of writing versus typing, and of paper versus electronic spreadsheets.

My own motivation for maintaining a hand-written natural history journal is simply to attune myself to the world around me, and a journal suits me well. If my primary objective were to combine my quantitative observation with other researcher’s, or to advance global knowledge by contributing to a citizen science data-base, or to communicate quickly with friends, then I would type my observations directly online.Both approaches are fine, but they have fundamentally different aims. In fact, I routinely use both approaches in my work.

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For several reasons, however, I prefer the “old-fashioned way” of writing down backyard natural history observations. All I need is my journal and a pencil, and I like the intimate feel of a book in my hand. Handwriting helps me focus in a different way than when I’m typing ; research suggests that handwriting actually changes the brain function, making it more likely that I will remember what I’ve seen. Jotting down a note on a paper is fast, but even if writing took more time than logging data on a computer, I cherish the chance to slow life down, to saunter for a moment rather than sprint. I can always enter natural history observations into a spreadsheet later on.

Nevertheless, if you prefer to maintain your observations in a spreadsheet, on a tablet, on a smartphone, or in the cloud, that is perfectly fine. There are real advantages to having your observations in a digital spreadsheet such as Excel. For example, if you have a large number of related observations, spreadsheets allow you to select, sort, and organize them by species, date, or any other variable. With spreadsheets, you can easily access your data and manipulate it, perform statistical analyses, and graph the results, and it’s effortless to create backup copies of your records.”

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Which way do you prefer to journal?

 

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