- Begin each notebook entry with the date, time, place, and type of data collection event.
- Leave space on the page for expanding your notes, or plan to expand them on a separate page.
- Take notes strategically. It is usually practical to make only brief notes during data collection. Direct quotes can be especially hard to write down accurately. Rather than try to document every detail or quote, write down key words and phrases that will trigger your memory when you expand notes.
- Use shorthand. Because you will expand and type your notes soon after you write them, it does not matter if you are the only person who can understand your shorthand system. Use abbreviations and acronyms to quickly note what is happening and being said.
- Write on the interview question guide. Save time by writing notes directly in the question guide under the relevant question. If it is not possible to record direct quotations, write down key words and phrases.
- Distinguish clearly between participant comments and your own observations.You could use your own initials or “MO” to indicate “my observation.” For example:“MO – embarrassed by empty beer bottles in room.” This documents observation that participant seemed embarrassed about the empty beer bottles in the room.
- Cover a range of observations.In addition to documenting what people say, note as well as you can their body language, moods, or attitudes; the general environment; and other relevant information.
Tips adapted from Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector's Field Guide