Back to data collection tools! In general I prefer paperless methods because I don’t have to worry about entering the data to a spreadsheet later, fighting all the poor handwriting. It also gives me a little more control over data format and makes tracking locations much easier.
That being said, sometimes the old fashioned way just makes more sense. If it’s drizzling, touch screens don’t work well. Sometimes I have a large crew of people with me– more people than I have devices for. Here are some things that make paper-pencil data collection easier.
First off, a clipboard is essential. Using a rubber band and/or a binder clip at the base of the clipboard to hold your papers down helps a lot in the wind. I also prefer to use graph paper. It keeps your data more organized in columns than standard notebook paper, and gives you more flexibility for row spacing. If I managed to plan ahead and print off data sheets before going to the field, I like to highlight columns in my data that are most important.
Some people like to have plot number already filled in on the data sheets so that they know if all the data has been collected. Personally, I like to fill in plot number in the field so that I don’t have to flip papers a bunch of times if I walk through the field in a weird order. To make sure I get through all the plots, I keep a check list taped to the back of my clipboard.
If it’s drizzling, you can put a clear plastic bag over your clipboard to keep it dry. I recommend permanent pen or a standard graphite pencil if you think it might be wet out– regular pens tend to bleed.
In heavier rain or strong wind, I use a product called Rite in the Rain paper. It’s basically sturdy, slightly waxy paper that won’t get soggy, and it’s available as notebooks of all sizes or printer paper. I like the small graph paper notebooks because they can’t catch the wind and flop around as much. You can set up your data collection sheets using permanent marker, then take all your field notes in pencil. Rite in the Rain notebooks are just about indestructible and last a long time– definitely a good investment if you work in wet weather!