Observing

In a small loose-leaf notebook, Mary describes the ideas she finds in reading the essay "The American Scholar" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

9/25 In the first few paragraphs of this address, Emerson seems discouraged at the way society is run, that there are no "whole men" left. ... He seems to feel that scholars should learn from books, but he says beware that you don't become a "bookworm." Use the books to inspire your own thoughts, not to copy the thoughts of others.

Mary is a first-year student enrolled in a literature class, using her journal to observe more carefully what she reads by writing about it. Notice that she copies direct quotations from what she reads, key phrases that she will remember better because she has written them out. These observations become particularly useful to her the next day when these essays are discussed in class; they are also useful later when she studies for her final examinations.

In a spiral notebook, Alice, a biology major, describes what she sees happening in the petri dishes containing fern spores:

9/5 Well, first day of checking the spores. From random observation it seems that the Christmas Fern is much less dense than the Braun's Holly Fern.

Alice makes the following notations amidst other data describing what she sees in each of the twenty petri dishes she is monitoring as part of her senior thesis project:

1a nothing

2a an alive creature swimming around a pile of junk

3a looks like one spore has a rhizoid

4a one spore has a large protrusion (rhizoid beginning?)

In a science class, students commonly keep something like a lab or field notebook in which they both collect and speculate about data. This, too, is a kind of journal—a daily record of observations, speculations, questions, and doubts. Whether you are observing the words in books or the spores in petri dishes, the journal helps you look, remember, and understand.

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