Grinnell System Format

at Tinicum NWR
a Grinnell style journal

The Grinnell Format follows certain conventions that make it easier to write-up observations and for others to read them. Once you begin using these conventions they will quickly become automatic. Following these guidelines has improved my nature journal entries, 100%.

Duration Each journal should cover one calendar year.

Margins – 3 cm (1 3/16 inches) on left side of sheet and top

Date day-month-year (example – 01 June 2008).All four components of the system are written based on one full calendar year. One year per notebook, journal, catalog and species account. Use the day-month-year format to eliminate confusion.

Time24-hour clock (example – 1408 is 2:08 p.m.) Remember to note time changes, such as daylight savings time.

Page Numbers – All pages should be numbered.
They can be number consecutively thorough all the observer’s journals, where the first journal starts with page one and the numbers continue with each new journal. Say, the first journal has page numbers 1 through 218. Then the next year’s journal would start with page number 219.
Or each new journal can start with page one.

Write on one side of the sheet only– I think since most people are right-handed, most people write on the right side of the page only. I suppose lefties could do the opposite. Writing on one side makes sure the ink doesn’t “ghost” or “shadow” on the other side making the writing hard to read. Also, it leaves the opposite page for sketches, drawing, maps, photos, etc.
Species lists should be written at the end of a journal entry. Sometimes, in our journals we make a list of blooming plants, birds were seen, etc. These lists should be placed at the end of a journal entry after the day’s account has been written.

Numbers Use the numeral instead of the word. Example: use “1” instead of “one”.

Abbreviations Avoid them. Instead use the full word, because later you may forget what they mean. Also, anyone who reads your journal or notes after you may not know what the abbreviations mean.

Underline species names Scientific species names should be underlined with a straight line. Common names with a wavy line. This may seem a bother, but I have found it is very useful when I want to make end-of-the-year-what-did-I-see species list in the back of my nature journal.

Write in full sentences. You should be able to lift a quote or full sentence right from the journal entry and use it in a publication.

Write with a pen. Write with an acid-free, archival, water-resistant ink pen. Micron, Pilot G7, and Stafford Uniball are good brands.

My book on using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal method is available through

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