Handbooks recommend a variety of quite complicated procedures for learning and remembering vocabulary, but most learners only engage in very simple procedures. The aim of this project was to establish a basis for identifying optimal vocabulary recording procedures by finding out what learners currently do. We administered a questionnaire, interviewed learners who said that they kept vocabulary records of some kind and examined their records. Two-thirds had given up making vocabulary lists on entering the L2 environment and/or starting to read extensively, but several made interesting lists of various kinds, which differed according to the linguistic attitudes of their makers and the purpose for which they were made. Narrowly focused lists intended for help with production tended to include many multi-word items and few translations, while lists intended broadly for language improvement tended to be bilingual and single-word focused. The optimal listing procedures are those which represent a compromise between linguistically and psychologically effective practices and the amount of investment learners are actually prepared to put in. It is important to distinguish records made in class, which should be as linguistically effective as possible, from those made independently by learners, which should be tailored to their purpose and the time available.