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Recordkeeping 101: Phone Logs

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

How many people here carry a notepad around with them at all times? What about a pen or a pencil? My guess is that many people do not keep these things handy on them, however, these are a self-advocates most important tools. Just like evidence is your best friend, the pen is mightier than the sword. If you don't have a dedicated notebook by now for phone calls and private conversations, I highly recommend you invest in one. You should be able to get a pack of pens and a notebook for less than $5 in most places.


Alternatively, you can consider using your laptop as a notepad of sorts. Although being able to type notes into a computer can be more convenient for a lot of people, the biggest issue with this approach is that laptops, despite their purpose are not actually all that portable. Certainly, it is much more convenient than trying to lug a desktop around everywhere, but it's far from ideal. In either case, I would still highly recommend you invest in a cheap notebook and some pens. You're a graduate student - you should know how to take notes by now.


A notepad and pen. If you don't have one, get one! Carry it with you at all times!

Now that I've gotten off of my soapbox, we can discuss the topic at hand. How do we actually maintain a good phone log? Remember back in grade school, when you were taught The Five W's? In case you forgot, they are the who, the what, the when, the where, and the why. Let's summarize these concepts very briefly:


  1. The who: The very first question you should always ask when you connect with another human being is "who am I speaking with, today?" Don't take avoidance or "no" for an answer. One of the things customer service representatives throw right back at you when you go back to telephone conversations is "who did you speak with?" Always write the person's name down.

  2. The what: quickly jot down the key takeaways from the conversation while you are talking to the person. Don't worry, they can't see you on the other end. Maybe if they have very good ears, they can hear the sound of your pen scratching against paper. If you're taking notes with a computer or a laptop, it might be possible for them to hear the clickety-clack of your keys while you're typing.

  3. The when: Another popular question that customer service representatives like to ask, especially if you have to follow-up on a previous conversation is "when did you contact us?" They might even ask you, "how many times have you tried to contact us?" By making a new entry for each time you called a particular person, you can easily answer both questions. Always make sure to jot down the dates and the times you had these conversations - you'll thank yourself later.

  4. The where: In most cases, you won't have to write this down. However, for your benefit, you may still want to take down information such as where is the person you're speaking to located? The Department of Labor? Your school? OSHA? Which office are you speaking to? The regional office? The local office? Headquarters? This is all good information to have.

  5. Lastly, it's important to know the why: why are we having this conversation right now? You might be able to remember the context of a phone call a week or two from now, however, the details will become hazy a few months later, after you're trying to communicate with your supervisor, human resources, or an outside agency. Always summarize why you made the phone call in the first place.

Once you have jotted all this information down, I would highly recommend transcribing it to a digital format. At most, you might have written a couple hundred words, although I'd wager it's probably even less than that. Generally, people type way faster than they can write, so it should be relatively easy to type your log into a clean, separate file. Stuff happens. Your notepad could get damaged, lost or stolen. You might not be able to read your handwriting anymore. Or, it is possible that you will remember to record additional details down that you forgot to make note of in the heat of the conversation you were having. In any case, absolutely transcribe your notes into a digital plain text form. My personal favorite for phone logs is good ol' notepad, which ensures there is zero formatting, and just plain text.


Finally, how do you archive this information? While understandably, everyone may use a different operating system, filing system, etc., generally, you will want to do something similar when it comes to keeping phone logs. Make new folders for each agency or individual that you talk to. Save your phone log files using predictable file names that are quick and easy to retrieve, (for example [agency]_[date]_[initials].txt. To make your life easier, if you make follow-up calls with the same agency or individual, you can just keep using the same file. Just periodically update the date in the filename so you know when the last time it was updated. Within the file, you can make new entries with different dates and Five W's. After you get the hang of it, and you have a good format that works for you, it should be easy to maintain this essential, good habit.


This pretty much sums up today's topic. Tomorrow, we will be talking about private and public meetings. Keep that notepad handy! You will need it for these types of situations too. Hopefully, this article was useful for someone. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. Good luck, and happy logging!

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