And now, about field notes. . . . Let’s face it: After a hard day trekking all over [town] [the village] [the jungle] [the desert] interviewing people, hanging out, and recording behavior, it’s hard to sit down and write up field notes. Sometimes, it’s downright intimidating. We know this much about field notes for sure: The faster you write up your observations, the more detail you can get down. More is better. Much more is much better (except, of course, when data are systematically biased, in which case more is decidedly worse) (box 13.1).

BOX 13.1


If you're doing fieldwork in an area without electricity, the choices are: Take notes by hand or use solar chargers for your computer. Laptops, and even notebook computers, require a lot of power, which makes solar charging tough. Batteries for PDAs can be charged from portable solar cells. With wireless keyboards and lots of apps, PDAs are becoming more useful as replacements for laptops in fieldwork.

You can't be too paranoid about backing up your notes. E-mail copies of them to a couple of trusted friends or colleagues (encrypt the notes if you need to), or send them CDs if you don't have any access to the Internet. Ask them to print a copy of your notes for you, so you've got a hard copy somewhere in case your computer is stolen and all your backup disks are destroyed in a fire at the same time. Think this can't happen? Think again. Trees are a renewable resource. Make paper backups. And upload your notes to an Internet server for good measure.

There are three kinds of field notes: methodological notes, descriptive notes, and analytic notes.

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