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First and foremost, be legible! We do make MO collectors rewrite their field book if necessary. Since numerous people work from or need to consult field books, the more legible and precise the data, the easier it is to transcribe or extract.

The advantage of a smaller field book lies in the fact that one does not carry as much information into the field, so that if it is lost, the total data lost would not be as great. Experience has shown that it is easier to write into and type labels from a larger field book. Better quality paper is more readily available in larger field books. It is important to have a size that can be photocopied easily.

The quality of paper in field books is highly variable, and may be dependent on what is available locally. Ideally, they should contain pages of acid-free, long-lasting paper written in permanent ink. Field books should be prepared with permanent, archival storage in mind, since they may contain notes and marginalia which do not appear on labels.

Pencil lead is permanent and can be erased and changed. It is, however, more difficult to read and at times impossible to photocopy. Fountain pens and rapidographs have better ink but they tend to leak when one changes altitude rapidly. Ball points with black or dark ink can be photocopied and do not leak, but they are not permanent. Over time some ball point inks will fade or etch into the paper (especially in poor quality field books), while some inks run if the field book becomes wet.

During field work, carrying field books in clear plastic bags will provide extra protection in case of sudden showers or immersions. Remove field books from luggage when in cars or hotels in case the luggage might be stolen. Most thieves would not bother with a loose book. Care must be taken, however, to remember where you put the field books for safekeeping, and not forget them when traveling.

Field books should be arranged for optimal scanning by label typists. They should be legibly written, and without abbreviations (except metric) and compass directions, e.g. N, S, NW, etc. Be especially careful to correctly spell all proper names. All localities should have latitude, longitude, and elevation. If exact figures are unknown, use the best approximation.

Field data should contain the following information at a minimum:

Locality data should be as specific as possible and applies to a range of collection numbers made sequentially. Someone reading the locality data should ideally be able to find their way to that general site using your description alone.

  • Country: State, province or county.
  • Distance and direction (km or mi, N-S-E-W not "from", or "near") from nearest city or major landmark that would appear on a map (smaller geographical localities are not on most maps).
  • Habitat or vegetation type. Dominant, typical, or associated species if possible.
  • Note if plants were preserved in alcohol, or received any other chemical treatment before drying.
  • Latitude/Longitude and/or Township/Range; altitude (m or ft); GPS reading if available.
  • Date.
  • Collector(s).


  • FAMILY (capitalized).
  • Genus species Author (Leave space if unidentified, and for future changes); det. by:
  • Tree, shrub, liana, vine, etc. Flower and/or fruit color, scent, height, and unusual features, such as shaggy bark, buttressed trunk, colored sap, any attribute which cannot be obtained from the prepared specimen.
  • More specific notes on locality and habitat (near stream, on rock, in water, etc. [information that is specific to this number]).

    MARGINAL NOTES FOR EACH COLLECTION: (noted when describing and pressing plants).

  • Coll No. (periodically check to make sure these remain sequential)
  • Number of sets and sheets contained in each set. For example: (1 set of 3, 1 set of 2, 2 sets of 3)**
  • L-3: This indicates the number of live specimens made.
  • C-2: This indicates the number of color pictures made.
  • P-3: This indicates the number of black and white pictures taken.
  • A : Indicates if material was preserved in alcohol [pickled].
  • Chem: Indicates if the material is a voucher for chemical analysis.

    * This is the total number of labels needed for each collection number, including all labels needed for multiple sheets; separate large parts, pickled material, or wood samples, etc.

    Determine the number of labels that are needed and place the number in the margin under the collection number. If it is entered as you are writing the field notes, then the labels can be produced without a re-examination of the collections. The label count should reflect the actual number of mounted specimens (large collections requiring two or more sheets should be labeled "l of 2," and "2 of 2," etc.). If you dry parts separately to insure better drying but they will be mounted with the leaves, don't include them in the label count. In other words, imagine the end result, not just the number of newspapers you are drying.

    ** For multiple sheet specimens also indicate in the margin the number of sheets for each set.

    In locality descriptions, do not use "above town" to tell direction unless you also give a compass direction. "Above town" only indicates direction to people who know the locality.

    Always write out the complete locality each time it is used. It is not correct to write "Same data as No. _____" or "as above". When collecting over extended distances along trails or when making transects, the general area should be stated in the locality data with more precise locations for individual collections given under their respective collection numbers, e.g., Locality: 13.7 km NW of San Pedro on the road to Incahuara, trail to 12 de Octubre. Specific Information: Ca. 2 km N of trail head. Clarity is very important because of the number of people, not necessarily trained as botanists, who will handle the field book and collections (i.e., typists, plant processor, volunteers, etc.)

    Abbreviations should not be encouraged. Typists should be typing, not looking up abbreviations and spellings. Specimens are sent on exchange to many parts of the world and your standard abbreviations e.g.: BCI (Barro Colorado Island) may not be readily understood.

    Always leave one or two blank lines between collection numbers in the field book so that the original identification, and later name changes and notes can be added.

    It is useful to include information about live specimens, color or black and white photographs, pickled parts, seeds, phytochemical material, or any special collections in the specific information so that it is included in label.

    The collecting institutions and their acronym(s) should be on the label. That will make it easier to return determinations later.

    Begin numbering your collections with 1 and continue sequentially throughout your botanically active life. Do not start over when collecting with other people or in another country or when beginning a new year. Especially, do not use a complicated formula or letters (except for A. B. C. suffixes for divided collections). See Gentry, 1984 (Taxon 33: 355-358).

    When mass collecting, write the field book clearly and without delay. Do not depend on "remembering" field data hours or days later. It is always inefficient to rewrite field notes.

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