Okay, so you’re ready to start your training?
First, you must use your head.
Not quite like that.
Really, fieldnotes are about organization. And, like the name implies, part of that organization takes place in your head. You must, once in the wilderness, begin cataloging everything you notice in your head. These notations are your headnotes. What you see, what you notice, what you think about, what you remember–these are the first step of the note taking process.
So, you’ve got to be uber aware. Of everything. Like this cat.
The notes you take in your head before you start writing will help you later. The more you’re aware, the more you will be able to expand on your jottings and notes later. Making these “mental notes” will help you find larger connections within your hand written notes. As you reread them, you will automatically begin linking what you thought about with what you wrote, giving you much more information to work with and expand upon in an inquiry. These connections are crucial for any critical inquiry, and they begin, you guessed it, with your noggin.
But hold on there, one second. Before you go out onto the Oregon trail pre-thinking your way across that river, remember, headnotes have their dangers, too. Headnotes, as a form of memory, are more dynamic than written notes, which are completely static, or unchanging. Headnotes will likely shift with your own perceptions, knowledge, and feelings. What you thought originally may change over time as you learn new things and adopt new opinions. So how do you overcome this constant state of flux?
The key is to be aware of your headnotes and to constantly come back to them. Good headnotes will take up a great deal of mental space throughout your entire inquiry. Yeah, that’s right. You might have to drop some of that space you saved for that time you reached the secret level in Mario Bros. The more you come back to these headnotes, the more you will continue to expand and develop them, along with your inquiry. That’s how knowledge works, bro. Once you get it, you can’t unget it. So, the more headnotes you take, the more you’ll continue to think about your project away from note taking sites–while you’re not even doing research. You might be hunkering down over a bowl of oatmeal, when BAM, a stray headnote catches you off-guard and then BOOM, you have a new thought about your inquiry. That’s called learning something. Upgrade: Achieved.
Don’t reach for that hotpocket just yet. Now that you’ve learned something, you’ve got to weld that knowledge straight into your dome. The best way to do that? You ever heard of practice? It makes perfect.
Here’s some simple exercises you can do to improve you newly rekindled relationship with headnotes:
The next time you’re grabbing a triple mocha frappachino with soy and an extra pump of hazlenut, try making some mental observations of the people around you in that soul-sucking-overcrowded-you-only-have-five-minutes-before-class coffee shop. Make quick mental notes of what you see, physical things, what they suggest, what people say, what gestures they make–anything you see. Then, later, try to recall some of what you saw. Think of yourself as a mind-ninja and this is your training. See how much you can recall and see what things you may have noticed you didn’t even realize.
Oh, so that was too easy for you? Okay, hot shot, try these jorts on for size. After a mental exercise like the one above, see how much you can remember a week later. Use mental downtime to your advantage–like when you sing in the shower and annoy your roommates.
Instead of belting out Mariah Carrey, do some mental gymnastics–recall what you saw and what you might be able to infer from those recollections. Begin training yourself to use times like this–showering, riding the train, walking to class–to critically evaluate the mental notes you’ve made. Making this a habit is the number one way to improve your critical consciousness, both for inquiry based projects and for being an all around smart human being. I bet you didn’t think that was possible, did you?
Brain, meet intelligence. Intelligence, brain.
To the notetaking!