Data Collection

The following pages, like many others on my website, were created as much for me - to provide for easy retrieval of information I regularly refer to - as it was for interested visitors.

Field Notes vs. Data Sheets

This page deals with collecting data using data sheets.  These are not the same as field notes, often written in a diary style similar to that popularized by Joseph Grinnell.  Field notes are often enjoyable to read and recount observations that might not be considered central to the research (and, thus, left off of data sheets).

I spend a lot of time collecting, analyzing, and reporting on data.  Field notes are important, but if you are collecting a lot of data that you hope to be able to do more with than simple qualitative analysis, then it is imperative to employ well thought-out data sheets.

A Timeline of My Past Data Collection Procedures

Early in my career, I collected data using blank notebooks.  When I could afford it, I purchased Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks where I would recount each day in a diary style, with maps (hand drawn or taped into the notebook), names of landowners and those that joined me in the field, general weather conditions, and the like.  At the end of the year, I'd go through the notebook, highlighting all of my captures, collections, and animals marked.  These were then entered into a spreadsheet for analysis and reporting.

Then, I lost a notebook.  I searched and searched.  I convinced a car wash owner to meet me at his business to unlock a dumpster so that I could manually remove (then put back) everything inside - in the July heat!  I never recovered that notebook, and for the remainder of that year I captured animals I had previously marked but had no information about them.  To say that it was like loosing a loved one might be overstating it, but it was traumatic and more than a little embarrassing.

My next move came in the form of a digital recorder.  I bought one of these on closeout packaged together with voice recognition software.  I'd simply speak into the recorder (in the field, on the drive home) and when I later downloaded the files, the software would type up my notes for me.  This worked great, until it didn't.  When the recorder was dropped into a creek, it stopped working, and its death also meant the death of a couple of weeks of data.  

I would go back to a notebook for a while before jumping back into a digital recorder one more time.  (This time with the intention of downloading the files daily.)  But this one broke, too, and even the loss of just a couple of days of data wasn't worth it.  (My "daily" downloading was a goal, but not always a reality.)

Next up was the use of a three-ring binder with removable, custom-printed data sheets.  (Some examples: general herp data sheetturtle data sheetHellbender data sheetsnake transect data sheet.)  This allowed me to remove completed data sheets, scan them, and then leave them in a safe place in the office when I went back out in the field.  Having fields on a data sheet meant that I was much less likely to forget to collect some bit of data.  I could also make check boxes to quickly record things like age (adult, juvenile, neonate), behavior (under cover, crossing road, basking, etc.), and PIT number.  Volunteers could fill out the form for me while I processed an animal.  I liked this system so much that I used it from 2006-2012, and might still be using it today if it weren't for the problem of too much data.  Entering all of this into spreadsheets just took too much time, which meant I began hiring part-time help just to catch-up on data entry.  Even then, I felt like I was always falling behind.

Next, came my foray into digital data collection (ODK)... 

Subpages (1): Open Data Kit