Grinnell System Overview

Tree-Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). Photo by Donna L. Long.
Tree-Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). John Heinz NWR at Tinicum, Photo by Donna L. Long.

The Grinnell System 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 journaling more thorough.

What I found was this method.

The Grinnell Method Explained

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

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.

Donna's nature journal 25 April 2009 using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal Method.
Donna’s nature journal 25 April 2009 using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal Method.

The method consists of four parts:
•a 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.

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 had started a project to put all of its collected field journals online. This is a wonderful opportunity for naturalists all over the world, to read information and see the field notes of professional scientists.

Buy a Guide to the Grinnell Method

My book on using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal method is available through Read more about it Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal (PDF and Paperback)


More on the Grinnell System

Grinnell Method for Nature Journals

Grinnell System Field Journal

Grinnell Field Notebook

Catalog for the Grinnell System

Species Account of Grinnell System



  1. Oh, Donna, it might be in my Mom's attic, but I'm not hopeful (my family thought I was such an odd child). I hadn't thought of that old journal (it might have been just a bunch of lined sheets of paper) in all these many years until reading your posts. I'll be visiting the old homestead in February and will let you know what I find out. :o)

  2. Thanks for the comments. I like creating pretty illustrated books. It's the librarian/bibliophile in me.Yes, Jeff the pocket-sized notebook goes with you everywhere. The journal and catalog stays home. The catalog and species account can be index cards instead of books.Jeff, is it too much to hope you kept your early journal? If so please share, I would love to see them.

  3. Oops! Found the title of the book under your “Journaling” tab, so ignore my question in the last comment. :o)I'm growing more and more interested in this topic, thanks to your well-written and abundantly informative posts. When I was 8, I kept a journal on the pine tree my Dad planted in front of our house. Daily entries on every observable aspect of this one tree from April to October (November?), 1969. Maybe, I should start journaling again… Thank You, Donna!

  4. Appealing to the Librarian in both of us, yes? I'm intrigued by the field notebook, the field journal, the catalog, and the relationships between all three (cross references). I take it the notebook goes with you, while the journal and the catalog stay at home? What is the name of the book, Donna?Thanks for posting! :o)

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