Friday, January 11, 2013

logbook review

I've discussed what to put into a logbook before, but since that post almost a year ago, I've had to go back through old logbooks for a project where the perpetrators...field personnel were unavailable. So this post is from the point of view of someone who didn't do the fieldwork.

We forget, in the field, that a logbook is a legal record and may be reviewed or cited in planning for later work, scientific evaluation, or for legal discovery. As I've mentioned before, the field logbook is critical to getting the big picture for a particular investigation. Sure, there are boring logs and sample logs and test pit logs and calibration logs. But the other stuff that doesn't fit on those papers goes into the logbook. For example, this monitoring well is within the territory of a pack of feral dogs/young hooligans who will steal anything not nailed down/took 3 days to find and is marked by a breadcrumb trail of flagging tape that starts at location X.

I realize that I am weird about documentation and that hardly anybody cares about it to the degree that I do. But there is information that really does need to be there. Here's my list:


Ideal: Could be mistaken for typing. No parenthetical comments squashed in the margins or hovering elsewhere with arrows going back to an observation (a major failing of mine) because everything necessary was written at the time.
Minimum: Your average reader is stumped less often than once per page.


Ideal: Date and day of the week written at the top of each page.
Minimum: Date at the beginning of each entry. Even though each entry is 20 pages long, I'll find it eventually. If the fieldwork is consecutive days, I can also deduce what day it was by when the entries start each morning, assuming that there's a date in there somewhere.

Page Numbering

Ideal: Each page is numbered in the same location.
Minimum: It's fixable if it's not there. That's what interns are for. *may require a note in the beginning that the pages were numbered by this person later*


Ideal: Each entry starts with a list of personnel on-site and their affiliations, with full names and initials if you're going to go by those later. Or the writer is clearly identified and the entry refers to a sign-in sheet that actually exists and sign-in/out was enforced.
Minimum: The end of at least one entry with distinguishable handwriting has a signature that can be guessed at or at least one entry has initials to get me started. And please tell me that you wrote the last name of the driller somewhere.


Ideal: AM and PM weather conditions, significant weather changes, start/end of precipitation
Minimum: "Job shut down for 3 hours when the samples blew away", "drill rig has St. Elmo's fire" etc.

Health & Safety (H&S)

Ideal: list of H&S gear for each major task/crew or a reference to a document that has this. "XX needed a bandaid."
Minimum: "XX needed an ambulance." (or went to the hospital another way)


Ideal: Where you are (location ID) and where you're going, sample IDs or a reference to a logsheet that has them, any deviations from the plan, summary of any project-related phone calls or discussions with visitors, notes on progress and any issues as they arise. Names of everyone you consulted with and time of each interaction. Interesting observations that are not strictly job related, stated without judgement (e.g. we now have an interested but not currently angry audience of 4 dogs, one man with a shotgun, and 9 children).
Minimum: When you move to a new location, make a note of it. If you don't mention it at the beginning, I can deduce it from the previous entry (happens all the time). Deviations from the work plan and a note that you conferred with someone about it (because you did, right? You didn't just arbitrarily change everything without at least checking in...right?). Major equipment breakdowns and schedule delays. Visits by trespassers, the police, or the press.

Eventually we will all be using tablets and the pile of logsheets will be a distant memory. A tablet that has spaces for all the stuff listed above may prompt the field person to at least write down the major items and eliminate some of the error. But the reason for the logbook is to show the big picture and to add the observations that don't fit anywhere else. An electronic record will need to have a large and expandable "observations" section to get the meat of the logbook - what the heck happened out there?

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