Grinnell Method for Nature Journals


nature journal entry for 18 April 2017
My nature journal entry for 18 April 2017.

The Grinnell Method has helped me become a better naturalist.

I’ve been keeping a naturalist’s journal for a long time. But a year or so ago, I felt my journal writing had stagnated and needed a boost. I went searching for a way to make my nature journal more thorough. What I found was this method.

The method is designed to aid a scientific investigation. It is the method most often used by professional biologists and field naturalists.

My book on the method is available through
Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

The method was developed by Joseph Grinnell (1877-1939), a field naturalist, teacher and the first director of the University of California’s Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. He taught this method to his students and used a variation of the system himself.

The Grinnell Method consists of four parts:

  • field notebook – to directly record observations as they are happening.
  • a field journal – of fully written entries on observations and the information
  • species account – of detailed observations on chosen species
  • catalog – a record of where & when specimens were collected.

It takes practice to use the system but it is well worth it. The format guidelines are pretty simple. I use a 3×5 card stuck in the back pocket of my moleskin field journal to remind me what to write.

My nature journal information has improved probably a hundredfold. My observations are more thorough since I follow the suggested observation list of what to include. The species account has tied together various entries from the span of a year.

The Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology has started a project to put all of its collected field notes, maps and photos online. This is a wonderful opportunity for naturalists all over the world, to read information and see the field notes of professional scientists.

Key title: The Naturalist’s Field Journal: A Manual of Instruction Based on a System Established by Joseph Grinnell
This is the only book that I have come across that discusses the method in-depth. I treasure my copy. I was able to get a copy from the original publisher, Buteo Books. The prices are very high for a paperback book. If you visit the page you can click on the request for the publisher/copyright holder to make the title available as an ebook.

Also see: Phenology, Collecting Phenology Data, Observation Checklist, Good Outdoor Manners, Responsible Collecting and Citizen Science

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