my nature journal 25 April 2009

Grinnell Method for Nature Journals

my nature journal 25 April 2009

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 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.

The Grinnell Method consists of four parts:

  • field notebook – to directly record observations as they are happening.
  • 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 Amazon.com 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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