Guidelines for Managing Data

Collecting Organized Data Here are some simple recommendations gathered from field ecologists:

  • Get a fieldbook that is large enough to write in with your hand resting on it. This will make it much easier to write clearly when you are holding the fieldbook in mid-air.
  • Determine how you would like to organize your data and notes before taking measurements.
  • In some cases it is best to prepare a worksheet (e.g., in Excel) with the necessary column/row headings and spaces for additional information (e.g., date, weather conditions, group members). Having copies of your worksheet (perhaps on Rite in the Rain paper) on a clipboard can make data collection much easier than trying to find a hard surface to write on in the field.
  • If you create a structure for yourself (or your students) ahead of time, be sure it is not so rigid that it cannot be adjusted later. For example, if you have sets of rows numbered 1-4, leave several extra lines between sets so you can cross off a row and have a blank one available, if necessary.
  • Write carefully, with the best handwriting possible.
  • Leave enough space between lines to add corrections and additional notes.
  • If one person is verbally relating data to someone else, make sure that the recorder repeats the value to the first person for varification.


Entering & Manipulating Data Here are some tips on how to keep your data organized in a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel

  • Somewhere on your worksheet be sure to put any information that will help you track/remember where the data came from (e.g., the date collected, a description of the location, the fieldbook data were recorded in).
  • Determine the layout your data should have before entering data. In other words, determine what should be rows vs. columns.
  • Use highlighting or borders as separators rather than blank lines. It is easier to manipulate data without empty cells in the middle.
  • Perform all calculations with Excel. If some data were collected in inches, and other data in centimeters, do the conversion with an Excel formula, rather than with a calculator.
  • Label all data columns/rows and all calculations. For example, if you take an average at the bottom of a column of numbers, label it as 'Average' and put it in bold so it stands out.