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Field notebook for the office

February 18, 2008

Over the past few years I’ve gotten into the habit of writing down thoughts and ideas about research projects I’m working on (or want to work on) in a notebook.

When I started graduate school, I jotted things down in mulitple places … in notebooks for the individual classes I was taking, on post-it notes, or on random scraps of paper. When I transitioned from taking classes to working on my own research, I found that it was useful to have a ‘thesis notebook’. For my master’s thesis, it was a cheap, spiral notebook.

For my Ph.D., I took it up a notch and got a nice bound, hard-cover notebook … kind of looked like a sketch book, except that it was ruled. I went through two of these over the course of 4 1/2 years. I got into the habit of always having the book with me … you never know when you’ll think of something that you should check out, a reference you forgot to read, a bright idea (or, at least, what you think is a bright idea at the time), or, perhaps more mundane, a to-do list of various tasks. I take a lot of public transportation (trains and buses) and pulling out a laptop isn’t always efficient or easy. In some cases, I just want to make sure I get a thought down on paper before it flutters away.

I think of a book like this as a field notebook for the office. When in the field, you record all kinds of information … first and foremost is the actual data. But, many of us will also jot down thoughts, questions, ideas, and big-picture issues related to the particular project in our field notebooks.

As time goes by and I fill these notebooks, I appreciate the value of a quality notebook. I want to save the already-filled ones for future reference. Like a field notebook, I almost always put the date on there … and sometimes I’ll jot down that I’m traveling or at a conference … provide some context so later I can piece things together. The notebooks I have filled are now sitting on a bookshelf in my current office right next to the field notebooks.

moleskin.jpgSince I’ve started a new job and my current notebook was nearly filled, I decided to get a new one. I’ve taken it up yet another notch and picked up a Moleskin notebook. If you’ve ever browsed a stationary store, you’ve certainly seen these. Yes, they are a tad expensive … but, hey, you get what you pay for. The older I get, the more I appreciate quality goods (plus, I’m sick of feeding a consumer economy based on purchasing cheap, crappy stuff frequently).

These are beautiful notebooks. I love the elastic band that keeps it closed and it has one of those strings to use as a marker. And the paper just “feels” nice. On the inside of the back cover there’s an expandable pocket too. They are a great size … about 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches … big enough to fit a lot on one page, but small enough to easily fit into a small bag.

So now … I need to start it off with a really good idea … hmm … yeah … it might be blank for a little while.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2008 1:19 pm

    I used a Moleskine at AGU this year, it was perfect. It worked for talks, for people’s phone numbers, for my daily planner schedule, accounting so I could submit receipts, everything. In my office I tend to use a legal pad, but that had definite drawbacks. Perhaps Moleskine all the way!

  2. February 18, 2008 5:14 pm

    Is it write in the rain shower?

  3. February 18, 2008 7:20 pm

    I like the idea of a field notebook for the office. Because I tend to go in and out of the office (to the field and back again in the same day), I’ve taken to using a regular – yes, write in the rain – yellow field book.

    The Moleskine idea sounds very classy.

  4. February 18, 2008 9:24 pm

    The tyranny of the blank page / canvas. I find it’s helpful to just ruin the pristine emptiness with a quick note.

  5. February 19, 2008 7:43 am

    I did indeed ruin the pristineness of the new notebook … with a pre-travel to-do list … yawn

  6. February 21, 2008 7:20 am

    I love the moleskin notebooks and have been using them in the field for the past two years. I also use a notebook for the office, but am still on a cheap spiral note pad. I have done this since I started writing up my PhD, but I haven’t saved the old ones. Maybe I should have done that.

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