Logging, why and how
If you only make a few contacts you may be happy not recording those or just keeping a note on paper, or in a notebook. However, if you make quite a few contacts and like to keep track of who you have spoken to before, what power or antenna you used etc, then you will appreciate the many computer-based logging options available. Many are free to use, some request a donation and others are a paid download. But, there are a myriad of options from Windows, Linux, Apple OS, Android and iPhone. Some are simple and only retain the most commonly kept information, like operator callsign, name, date and time, frequency and mode etc. Some are geared specifically to contesting and others to operating in parks or on summits (see POTA and SOTA).
If you plan to submit your logs for contesting you will almost certainly want to use a computer based log. Aside from automatically adding the date/time one important function is to check to see if you have already made contact with a station during the contest (on the same band and mode depending on the contest rules). This is called checking for 'duplicates' or 'dupes'. Dupe checking is laborious to do manually during or after the contest ends and, as the other stations in the contest will almost certainly be running a computer based log to check for dupes, you may find yourself feeling a little sheepish if you get called out for being a 'dupe' and the QSO ends abruptly (as the other station wants to move on to gain more points from stations that he has not contacted yet). You will also want to export your contest log and email it, or upload, it to the contest organiser to confirm your entry and score.
So, ask a few hams what logging software they use, download and try a couple and see how you get on with it. In the vast majority of cases you can export your log from one logging software and then import it into a new logging software, so you don't need to re-type your QSOs if you change software. There are also a number of options to upload your log to websites or online logging sites that are discussed below. These can either be a standalone log or can synchronise to your local computer based logging software.
Suggested logging software:
LOTW (Logbook Of The World)
LOTW is a free service run by the ARRL that allows you to confirm the details of a contact with your QSO partner. To get a LOTW account, you need to be a bonafide ham and send copies of the required documents to the ARRL. You then upload your QSOs to LOTW and if your QSO partner also uploads his QSOs, LOTW will match them up and the next time you synchronise your log with LOTW you will get a confirmation of your QSO details.
LOTW is a great way for you to attain the many awards for making contacts such as the ARRL DXCC, WAS, WAC, VUCC etc. Uploading your contacts to LOTW also assists your QSO partner by confirming their contact with you, and so they can earn awards.
QRZ.com is a website for hams with a wealth of information and useful options such as a directory of (almost) all hams in the world, an online swapmeet (way to buy or sell ham radio gear), interesting articles, a discussion board and a personal webpage for you to tell other hams about your interests in ham radio and an online log for you. The basic webpage and log are free to use, along with a number of free lookups into the database of hams. Higher levels of membership offer more services and require payment of a subscription.
Before the internet became widely used, hams would mail printed QSL cards to confirm a contact that they had made (usually only for HF or 6m band contacts, or maybe for a special VHF/UHF contact such as a long distance contact). Many hams continue to send printed QSL cards and enjoy collecting them from far away places. It is a personal choice to have QSL cards printed and to mail them to your contacts. More commonly today, internet based services are used to confirm contacts and these are discussed below.
eQSL is a web based service that allows you to create a template electronic QSL card to be sent to your contacts. Often your computer based logging software will synchronise with eQSL, meaning that any contacts that you have added to your log will be uploaded to the eQSL website and will create electronic QSL cards that are customised with the details of the contact such as time, date, frequency and mode plus a short custom comment. The basic eQSL service is free, but you can only choose from a limited number of QSL card backgrounds. With a subscription you can customise the background with your own design.