How to Record Data In Your Nature Journal

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Observe the world around you. Creating a nature journal is much less about writing and drawing than it is about observing. No matter where you live, you can observe nature in some form. Get out and watch. Sit silently or take a leisurely stroll, and contemplate your environment or your chosen subject. Don’t worry about writing or drawing right away; just pay attention.

Do your writing on location. A nature journal is most valuable if you use it in the field to record your observations as you are observing them. If you rely on yourmemory to write in your journal later, chances are your journal will be less accurate and you might not be as encouraged to concentrate on your environment in the field.

  • Add your nature journal to any lists of things to take for hikes, camping trips,vacations, etc. That way, you’re less likely to forget to take it with you to new locations.
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Begin each entry with the location, date, and time. Like any journal, you’ll want to be able to look back at your nature journal and know exactly when and where you were when you wrote each entry. If your journal is for scientific purposes, you’ll need to be very specific, and you may need to include other basic information, such as weather specifics.
Record your observations with drawings or paintings. A lot of people consider themselves bad artists, and you may be one of them. No matter what your current artistic ability, you should at least try to do some sketches of plants, animals, or scenes that you observe. For one thing, drawing (or attempting to draw) an accurate rendition of something helps you to focus on that thing more deeply than you would otherwise. Draw a plant, for example, and you’re naturally forced to pay attention to the shapes of the leaves, the differences between each leaf, the many different colors, and other details that you might otherwise miss. Thus, it’s not particularly important to draw well – drawing simply helps you observe better. Of course, if you’re recording your observations for scientific research or to help you identify a plant when you get home, the quality of the drawing doescount. Fortunately, your drawings will get better with time and practice, so don’t give up.

  • Take pictures. If you just can’t bring yourself to draw, photograph your subject. Even if you’re a great artist, you may want to add photographs to your journal from time to time. Photographs can be useful, creative, and sometimes absolutely necessary, but be sure to at least try doing some drawing, too. If you’re going to take pictures, be sure to leave some space in your journal to paste them in later.

Write about what you observe. What and how you write should be customized to the purpose of your journal, but for a general-purpose nature journal, you can write just about anything.

  • Be descriptive. Try to ignore what you know about things you see, and write about them as though you’re seeing them for the first time. Be as descriptive as possible so that another person could pick up your journal 100 years from now and be able to picture the bird you wrote about and learn about it even if that bird no longer exists. While this may seem silly, keep in mind that antique nature journals have provided us with much of what we know about some of the many animals that became extinct in the past two centuries. You may wish to go into great detail about one particular plant, or you may wish to write only about the characteristics of the entire environment. Try to get the basics down, such as the weather and environment you’re in, and then write about whatever interests you.
  • Write how you feel. If you feel awestruck by a mountain or calmed by the sight of a bee on a flower, go ahead and put that in your journal. A nature journal gives you an opportunity to respond to the natural world, and writing your response can help you understand who you are – and maybe even your place in the universe.
  • Don’t censor yourself; don’t edit as you go along. Just let your thoughts flow freely onto the paper.
  • Choose your own style. You may develop a consistent style for each entry into your journal, or you may just write and sketch in whatever manner feels right at the moment. How you write and how you structure your journal are choices that you alone can make (unless you’re working on a school or work assignment). Some people like to write their entries as though they’re writing a letter to a friend or to themselves. Others like to include poems or little stories. Just write.

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