Regardless of the type of information you are recording, whenever you print something on a label, a sheet of paper, or a note to be placed in a drawer, ALWAYS PRINT LEGIBLY. Print in all uppercase letters; use script only if your handwriting is very very good; write slowly. Regardless of the purpose of a note, and regardless of the intended amount of time the note will be in the collection, ALWAYS PRINT YOUR LAST NAME AND AT LEAST ONE INITIAL, AND THE DATE YOU WRITE THE NOTE, ON THE NOTE ITSELF. Very often, a casual note to oneself ends up permanently attached to a specimen. Years from now another collections worker will try to decipher the meaning of your note. With a date and author printed on the note, the value or non-value of the note can be readily assessed.
Here are some guidelines:
DO NOT use the following style 01/09/99 or 01/09/1999 when printing the date. The problem with the all digit format lies in the fact that not everyone places the month and day in the same position. Does 01/09/1999 represent the ninth day of January or the first day of September? There are many International students and researchers who use the Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory. While most people in the United States are used to printing the month followed by the day 01/09 = January 9; many other cultures read the same notation as the "First of September". If you use the standard 3 letter month abbreviation, there will be no question which is day and which is month.
DO NOT use a two digit year. By now you are no doubt aware of the computer problem with the year 2000. The same problem exists for written documents. The collections at the University of Texas are over 100 years old. In fact, as of the year 2000, these specimens will have been collected in three different centuries. When you print new labels for specimens the date of collection and date of identification will appear on the labels. With a two digit system for the year there will be no way to know if '91 means 1891 or 1991; or if '03 means 1903 or 2003. If you use a four digit year there will be no confusion.
Do not use abbreviations in the body of your note!
Whether you are writing a casual note or filling in a label or chart, make it a habit to use full spellings of all words. Subsequent workers will be able to understand a note much easier if it is written without abbreviations. You may be in a rush when you write the note, but the extra time you take now to write out the words will save time later on, if others don't have to track you down and ask you what the note means.
Use complete sentences or phrases
As with abbreviations, single words almost never provide enough information to subsequent workers to understand the precise meaning you intend at the time you write the note. Make the note as understandable as possible to others. Be concise, yet pithy.
A. Avoid the use of codes
Again, as with abbreviations, codes are very difficult to understand by persons not around when you write the note. Most codes require a key to understand the code. That key may disappear between the time you write the note and the time the note is read. If you really need to use a code, a key must be made readily and permanently available, and easy to decipher. If a code is used in a catalogue or on a database, the key to the code should be made readily available to all workers, and permanently printed in every volume of the catalogues, and on all databases, and other information resources that contain the codes. The code key needs to be updated regularly.
B. Acronyms as a special form of code
Acronyms are a special form of code. Most museums, universities, and other institutions are rampant with acronyms. These should be formed into a list and made readily available to all workers, and permanently listed in every volume of the catalogues, and on all databases, and other information resources that contain the acronyms. The acronym list needs to be updated regularly.
C. Personnel initials as a special form of code
Whenever you write a person's name, whether as collector, identifier, inventory taker, or researcher, the last name should be printed, with either the first name or at least one initial included.
Many previous record-keeping systems within this collection used the initials only, for everyone, regardless of their association with the collections.
Initials of fossil collectors, identifiers, researchers, collections workers, etc. present the same kinds of problems as acronyms or any other form of code. If there is no master list, subsequent workers will not know how to decipher the letters and will put a curse on your shade and your progeny. The names of all personnel associated in any way with the collection should be formed into a list and made readily available to all workers, and permanently listed in every volume of the catalogues, and on all databases, and other information resources that contain the initials. The personnel list needs to be updated regularly.