Writing Great Online Logs

Writing Great Online Logs

“A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter…. A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down.”

E.B. White

MY day job requires that I do quite a bit of writing, most of it creative. Thankfully it’s something I love to do and for which I have developed a certain amount of skill. Geocaching has allowed me to carry my love of writing into new areas. From designing this website to serving as a moderator in the Groundspeak forums, and ultimately to my online logs, I’ve discovered new avenues for expressing myself, and whole new reasons to worry about typos and grammar mistakes!

It occurred to me recently that for many people posting their geocaching finds online constitutes their first endeavor in creative writing and online publishing. Depending on the individual, that reality can either present a great amount of freedom or fear?freedom of expression or fear of saying the wrong thing or making the wrong impression. Perhaps this is why many people whittle their logs down to such basic sentences that you can hardly tell whether or not they enjoyed the experience of finding the cache.


It’s been amazing to watch geocaching evolve over the years. In the early days it wasn’t uncommon to find full-sized notebooks inside a cache and see logs that took up whole sheets. Geocachers would make notes about their day, the hike, even write poems and sketch drawings in the logbook. Somewhere along the way though, the push for more cachers, more micros, and more numbers has made detailed logs a rarity. Somehow in the wake of that change online logs have shrunk too. We’ve even developed our own little shorthand that does little more than say “Kilroy was here.” Online logs like “TNLNSL,” “TFTC,” and even “DPM” do little more than simply record that you were there and managed to find your way back home to your computer. There’s so much more that your online log has to offer.

The reality is online logs do more than just rack up another smiley on your stats page. If that were all they did, then only you would see them. Your online logs are there for the benefit of the community. Specifically, they record your experience and enable you to share it with others. They exist to benefit other cachers in their search. Whether you include actual spoilers or not, your logs can provide tips that help future seekers know what to look for and what to avoid. You might mention certain hazards or problems that you had and save the next cacher a lot of hassle.

Geocaching Shorthand

Over the years some very geocaching-specific terms have come into our vocabulary. Most of these terms are simple shorthand designed to make cache logging a little quicker. Very often, though, they seem to confuse new cachers and the uninitiated. Some of these terms are:

  • TNLNSL – Took nothing, left nothing, signed log
  • TFTC – Thanks for the cache
  • FTF – First to find

For a handy reference to these and many other geocaching terms, check out The Lexicon of Geocaching, provided by Prime Suspect.

Your log also benefits the cache owner. The owner has placed that cache there in the hopes that you’ll enjoy the experience, or at least come away with something new. Your log can tell the owner how you felt about the visit and give details about whether or not he needs to make a maintenance trip, what the area surrounding the cache is currently like, and any obstacles or hazards he might not know about.

And of course, your log also provides benefits to you. As you continue in your geocaching experience, from time-to-time you’ll go back and re-read those older logs. They can provide you with a lot of great memories as you relive those caching experiences. They express the growth and change that you experience as you become more familiar with the game. Personally I find it especially satisfying during those long winter months to go back and re-read my logs from summer caches. It takes me back to those thoughts of warmer weather and longer days. Sometimes it even makes me miss the bugs and weeds!

The 4 T’s

The key to effective writing is organizing your thoughts. In longer essays and stories this is absolutely essential and is the difference between coherence and cohesiveness and absolute gobbildygook. In many ways your cache logs are very short stories, snapshots of your search, insight into a small portion of your day spent doing something you absolutely love to do. Even the worst experiences can make the best stories, as many of my own DNF’s prove out. Understanding how to organize your thoughts will take you a long way towards getting your experiences across.

With this in mind, here’s a handy outline to help you organize your thoughts in your online logs. This is not intended to encourage you to take a “cookie cutter” approach to your logs with every one of them looking the same. Rather it’s a simple exercise to keep your thoughts on track and make sure you get the details across as simply as possible. As you become more comfortable writing, your own style will shine through and flesh out your logs for you. Just stick with it and have some fun.

TRIP?Getting There Is Half the Fun

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Of course, the journey to a single cache probably contains more than a thousand steps. You’ll probably want to share a few of those with other cachers.

Geocaching is a unique experience in that while we go to the same waypoint as other cachers, we do so with weeks, months or even years between us. We may approach from completely different directions and see the cache in ways that even the owner didn’t anticipate.

The “waypoints” feature on cache pages has been a wonderful new addition. It allows cache owners to post waypoints for parking or trailheads or other features on their cache pages. Being a new feature, most caches don’t have these extra waypoints added and at times knowing where to begin can be one of the most challenging parts of the cache hunt. Your log can provide some valuable advice for future searchers as well as record your own frustrations over that road that you shouldn’t have taken or the path that led to nowhere.

It’s also possible for you to post additional coordinates in your log and include coordinates for trailheads or roads you took. You can also use this feature to post alternate coordinates (if you felt the cache coordinates were a bit off) or post coordinates to various features that caught your attention. Be aware, though, that even the most helpful advice will fall off the cache page after five logs and won’t be seen by those who are using pocket queries while out in the field.

You may also want to tell the story of what brought you to the area to cache in the first place. Remember, your log is uniquely yours. Share a bit of your day with the readers and let them know where you’re coming from.

TRAPS?Danger: Bridge Out

If proper attention is paid to them, the terrain and difficulty ratings and cache attributes should alert most geocachers to exactly what kind of physical and mental challenges the cache will present them with. However, many things can happen after the cache has been placed that change the ratings or present cachers with new challenges and dangers. Also, if the path you chose in isn’t the same as the one the owner used, you might encounter dangers they never anticipated.

Carefully spell out any dangers you encounter. They might be dangerous animals or poisonous plants, closed roads or angry landowners. Your log could mean the difference between the next cacher having a good experience or something they will regret.

At times it may be necessary to post either a “Needs Maintenance” or “Should Be Archived” (SBA) log. “Needs Maintenance” should be fairly self-explanatory: the cache’s condition has changed and it now requires some attention from the owner. This could be due to a full logbook, a soaked logbook, destroyed container, change in environment, or even a muggled cache. The “Needs Maintenance” log places an icon on the cache page that remains until the owner has posted a “Performed Maintenance” log.

Posting a “Should Be Archived” log not only sends a notification to the owner (and anyone on the cache watch list) but also sends a notification to the local cache reviewer to alert them that there’s a problem. These should be used sparingly and in situations where the cache either cannot or should not be replaced or where the owner has abandoned the cache due to his or her own lack of attention.

Log Types

There are five log types available when logging a traditional cache. While their uses are sometimes topic for hot debate, here they are with standard definitions for each:

Found It. Used when the cache has been found and the log signed. Logging a cache in this manner increases your find count by one.

Didn’t Find It (DNF). Used when a search has been made but the cache could not be located.

Write Note. This note type is often used on return visits to the cache, perhaps to pick up a travel bug or simply check on it. At times this note is used instead of a DNF if the cache hunt is interrupted and you don’t want to give others the impression that the cache is missing.

Needs Maintenance (NM). Use this log type if the cache is in need of attention from the owner (ie. It has become damaged, wet, or in need of a new logbook). Use of this log type places a “Needs Maintenance” attribute on the cache page which remains until the owner posts an “Owner Maintenance” log.

Should Be Archived (SBA). Use this log if the cache cannot or should not be replaced due to outside forces (new construction, land management, or dangers). When a SBA log is posted the local cache reviewer receives notification of it and may take action to archive the cache. Use this log type sparingly and only in situations where you are certain of the problem at the cache site.

Human nature being what it is, we’re often concerned about offending a cache owner by logging either a “Needs Maintenance” or an “SBA” log, and the reality is at times they are offended. Approach both of these logs carefully. Write them out of your concern for the game rather than your frustration with either the cache or the owner.

TRADES?What You Took/What You Left

Trading items was at the heart of geocaching in the beginning. Many cachers no longer trade or simply trade signature items. Others however continue this practice and take and leave items as either mementos of the trip or evidence of their own presence (and state of mind). I have a shelf in my office filled with items I’ve found in caches. Just looking at them reminds me of some of those great experiences.

Whether you make a habit of trading or just occasionally swap out an interesting item, be sure you record what you took and what you left in your online log. Other cachers very often go back and re-read cache pages to see who took the items they left and who left the items they took.

Obviously when it comes to travel bugs and coins it’s very important to log them in and out of the cache, but it’s also helpful to report any bugs that are in the cache inventory but missing from the physical cache. This can often be helpful in tracking down exactly when a travel bug went missing and what might have happened to it.

THANKS?Just Like Your Mama Taught You

In the hurried attempt to log as many caches as possible, sometimes we forget that each individual cache was placed by someone who wanted to bring us to that spot. It might be that the spot was just a convenient location for a quick park-n-grab, or it might be that it was chosen because of some importance to the hider. Either way, this person has just contributed to your conquest of another smiley and deserves a little recognition.

It’s easy to fall back on the familiar “Thanks for the cache” or even “TFTC” but there will be times when you will want to write more. Take some time to compliment the cache owner on the hide, the location chosen, the view, or even just the time they took to place the cache.

If you play the game long enough you’ll probably receive your share of “thank you” logs from cachers who felt the need to express their appreciation for your cache hide. Those are the gifts you will end up treasuring more than any smiley or trade items you’ve found. Don’t forget that you have the opportunity to give the same gift to another cacher through the log you leave on their cache.

But I’m Just Not
That Gud of a Spellr!

Typos are a major source of frustration for me. I hate to see them in my own logs almost as much as I hate to see that “Log Edited by CYBret” notice at the bottom of the logs. I used to run my lengthier logs through Microsoft Word first just to check the spelling, but I’ve since found more convenient tools.


This is a free spell checker add-on for Internet Explorer that is very easy to install. It integrates very nicely into Internet Explorer, adding a spell check button to your toolbar as well as right-click functionality.

Spellbound for Firefox

For those of you who have made the switch to Firefox, there are extensions available that add spell checking to your browser. The one I use is (as of this writing) still in beta and a bit difficult to install. However it’s well worth the hassle and includes inline spell checking (misspelled words are underlined in red). As with IESpell, you’ll find yourself relying on this one for more than just online logs, it’s also handy for forum posts, blogging and other times when you’re writing online.

Both options come with dictionaries that are editable, so you can add geocaching specific terms to keep them from constantly coming up as typos. Also, be sure to check for current versions as these types of applications often undergo changes as browsers are upgraded.

Got Some Good Examples?

I would love to fill this article with great examples of well-written cache logs. If you’ve written some good ones or have read some that others have written please use the form below to submit them. I will try to include them in future revisions of this article.