Notebooks and recording cards
Keeping a notebook has long been the traditional way of collecting records, although it is important to ensure that you collect and write down all the information you need for each record. The best way to do that is on a paper recording sheet designed for the purpose, although it is important to think of what you intend to do with your records, in particular who you are going to share them with.
The person or organisation you send your records to may act as their custodian and thereby take on responsibility for looking after them. However, you will always remain the owner of your own records and have the final say in how they can be used. Some custodians will have specific requirements and ways that they like records to be submitted, for example whether scientific or common names are used to name species. For beginners it is often best to get advice from your Local Records Centre (LRC), national recording scheme or Project Officer and to use their recording sheets or forms.
Many LRCs distribute blank recording forms so that all records can easily be written down on one sheet of paper. These will always ask for the 'who, what, where, and when', and normally have an additional column for comments and perhaps more space for numbers seen, or habitat type. Some LRCs issue recording forms or cards as part of local wildlife surveys targeted at particular species, often with additional guidance on identification. The best way to get started in recording is to make notes on standard sheet when out in the field and to type these into an electronic spreadsheet when you get back home. This is then emailed to others, ideally a Local Records Centres.
Recording cards, forms, and sheets come in different shapes and sizes. Some large recording organisations that also act as custodians, such as the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), issue their own recording cards for use in the field, or for transferring the records onto. These forms contain lists of species that can be ticked off, which saves writing the name down each time. However, many of these list all species for the whole UK, which can be confusing on a local level, and they cannot be used to record other wildlife groups.
Particularly when using a UK or 'blank' recording form or sheet, it is often useful to have a checklist of species that may be found in an area, as this helps to cut down the time spent consulting guidebooks and keys. Checklists are available for a variety of species groups and areas, with local county floras being particularly well represented.
Some simple checklists are available online. For example you can download lists of all birds recorded in your area at http://www.postcodebirds.bto.org/. Similarly, lists of flowering plants for your area can be downloaded from http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/life/plants-fungi/postcode-plants/.
MapMate, which is a species recording database maintains checklists containing over 40,000 UK recorded species (http://www.mapmate.co.uk).
The British Dragonfly Society maintains a checklist of UK species with an introduction and ID guide to each one (http://www.dragonflysoc.org.uk/frameset.htm?species&species).
However, if you see a species that does not conform to those listed on your checklist do not try to make it conform; it could be a new and exciting sighting rarely seen in your area. If possible, take detailed notes of its characteristics and try to get a photo of it.
Spreadsheets and websites
Transferring records from paper into electronic form is time-consuming and can introduce errors, so it is preferable for the recorder to enter records into a spreadsheet. Once in a spreadsheet it is then possible to transfer records into a database and to share them with others. This is made easier if the organisation holding the database supplies a spreadsheet that is designed to be compatible. Some Local Record Centres and national and local recording schemes supply such spreadsheets for recorders who wish to input their own records.
Some recorders prefer to use special recording software. There are many different types available, however the most popular are Recorder (www.recordersoftware.org/), MapMate (http://www.mapmate.co.uk/) and DMAP (http://www.dmap.co.uk/).