One project: one project log


Lab scientists are all over the concept of keeping a laboratory notebook. This is your one-stop summary of a given project, from near-conception through publication. We field biologists, not trained at the lab bench (which tends to be conveniently flat and relatively protected from rainstorms, mud, and leeches) often find ourselves compiling the notes and assorted detritus associated with a given project in computer folders, desk drawers, and refrigerators.

Which is not to say that, at the very least, a logbook, or diary, isn’t extraordinarily useful when you find yourself juggling a variety of projects.

My protocol is to open a new file, named “_Log_projectname” in Word or (now) Omni Outliner–any program that allows you to timestamp a given entry.  The “_” at the beginning of the name is an old trick to make sure this file sits at the top of the folder, along with the manuscript files, figures, data files, etc.

Then, whenever you do something substantive on that project, you make a dated entry describing what you did. My rule of thumb?  If you open up the manuscript, work on a figure, add new data, or perform some analysis, that deserves an entry.

As an added bonus, at the end of that entry,  type out a few of the next steps you foresee in turning that project into published manuscript.

Once you have this habit down–opening up, and adding to, a “_Log” file for every project–you can confidently set it aside for a short time to work on something else. When you return, just read the “_Log” file from beginning to end to get yourself back up to speed.

Just don’t wait too long…



6 Responses to One project: one project log

  1. Mike Brown says:

    Given the hideously ugly heading formatting in the default Word setup, I would create an outline template (call it and then modify the formatting so that Heading 1s were bold, then Headings 2-9 would be in the same typeface.

    If you were so inclined, you could also choose to have the paragraphs numbered, but numbering in Word can get hairy.

    I hasten to add that this would look good for printouts from the template, but if you pasted them into a Word file based on a different template, you might get unexpected consequences, so try it out first!

  2. Have you tried doing a wiki-on-a-stick (flash drive)? Very handy when you’ve got a whole bunch of kinds of notes. Then you can have the ms, a journal, a bunch of spreadsheets, and your collection of menus from local carryout places all in one handy file!

  3. Marie G says:

    What’s the significance of the plus and minus?

  4. Mike says:

    MB: I never thought about it before (I switched from MSWord to Omnioutliner for my log files) but yeah, that is one ugly style sheet.

    FGS: The problem I have with flash drives is the same problem I have with good pens. I love them. They are useful, elegant tools. And, in my experience, p(going through the wash) = x*value, where x is a scalar.

    MG: In MSWord outline view, + is followed by text, and – is has no text. It allows you to collapse or expand blocks of text, which is why some +’s are followed by a gray line, not text.

  5. Ah. Run a ring through the end of it and chain it to your backpack. As long as you resist the urge to wash that, you’ll be fine.

  6. Mark Cook says:

    You should really take a close look at Microsoft OneNote. It’s changing the way I work.

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