The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Field Notes

My field notes used to be rather limited, and organized in a way that only really made sense to me. They consisted of sheets of notepad paper that described the field conditions and noted what was found, and recording conversations with others directly relevant to the project; print-outs of documents describing the crew; and project maps that were marked up to indicate field conditions and problems encountered. The reason for this was simple: I was going to write the reports, I was the one who needed to make sense of the notes, and I could do so from what I had.

A while back, this began to change. The first reason was that there came to be occasions - rare, but nonetheless real - when someone else would need to write a report based on my field work. Sometimes it was because I was assigned to another field project when the report came due (or the client finally agreed to pay for the report to be done), but on two very specific occasions it was because I had left a company. While most of the companies had forms that could be used to record the basic information for a report, the field notes could supplement or color the information on the forms. This led to me re-considering my note keeping and attempting to keep notes in a manner that would better benefit another who might have to write up my work.

The second reason, and a further revision of my notes, comes from experiences that I had when I left my previous employer. Our primary client was in the midst of building a huge project, one of the largest construction projects they had ever undertaken, and our client contacts were under considerable pressure. In addition, a need on the part of our client as well as ourselves to produce a large number of workers, administrators, and managers quickly resulted in quite a few people being hired with dubious qualifications and questionable abilities, and our client's corporate structure and the nature of the project were such that these new people were quickly set to attempting to make themselves look good by making everyone else look bad. So, it became a matter of self preservation to take very detailed, careful notes of everything that occurred, everything that anyone said, and everything that you anticipated might occur for the very simple reason that you might be put into a situation where your ability to provide a more accurate and/or comprehensive account of a situation might be the thing that saved your butt when someone with more politically-oriented ambitions decided to take aim at you.

One final reason is that I have started using the field notes as more of a personal diary of sorts. I don't record things that are going on in my personal life, nor anything not work-related. However, I do keep notes on tendencies that my crew has, or that I myself have, which may indicate promise or problems. I keep track of strange happenings in the field that I wish to remember, either because they may be useful things to learn from or because they will make for good stories (more often than not, they are both). And, of course, as I now keep this blog, I sometimes write down things that occur in the field that may make for interesting essays or blog entries.

Regardless fo the causes, some of my older co-workers would likely be surprised at the volume of what I now produce. Whereas a 4-day field project would previously have resulted in up to 15 pages of text notes as well as marked-up maps, fieldwork forms, and print-outs of crew information, it now results in 40-50 pages of notes, all but the most basic field information scrawled during my break time, including everything from detailed text notes to hand-drawn maps and illustrations (crude because my drawing skills are crude) detailing aspects of life in the field.

For the first time, I'm actually proud of my notes.

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