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Keeping a Research Journal

journalToday, I’ll deal with keeping a research journal as I seemed to get a lot of people searching those terms and coming to my actual research journal. You can have a look at my research blog to see an example of one and on the sidebar of this blog, there is a link to it.

Why keep a research journal?

If you’re doing research you should have a place of recording what you’re doing and thoughts that you’re having. This is to make sure you don’t lose any valuable thinking you may have had … and trust me those go pretty quickly when you are moving from one thought to the other.

For example, I found my journal to be quite important when I had to write up a case why I was lagging behind in my work for my progress report. All I knew was that my “remote observation” method was not working well, but once I went through all my posts on remote observation (particular my rantings about them) I could come up with a clear-cut argument with time-lines to remind me of what I tested, what didn’t work and what I tried to fix the problem.

How often should I write in my research journal?

I think this personally depends on the person. Some people love to write and they probably could write every day in their journal or at least 3-5 times a week. Some people prefer to write whenever they feel like it. This is good if you like to write, however if you hate to write you may have a journal with 2 entries for the whole year! So, my personal rule is that I try to write it in my journal every week, so I set a reminder for myself to do this. Of course, the more often you write the better – but don’t set an impossible target which you know that you can’t reach.

I also think whenever you’re not certain what to do or if you’re just blank, I think that is a good time to write in your journal, because sometimes writing what you’re blank about is therapeutic in itself and sometimes get you moving forward. I like to call it “blogging therapy” 🙂 .

What should I write in my research journal?

I think for different people this may vary. Some people like to use their journal as a repository for collecting papers they’ve read and sharing thoughts about it. Some people like to write in it quite professionally – like as if it is a report. Others prefer just to ramble on about their thoughts, problems they’re having and just general rants (this is what I personally do). I like to think when I’m writing in my research journal, I’m writing to a friend or some public audience out there. You don’t have to do it the way that I do – I don’t think there is any right or wrong way of keeping a journal – I think once you keep it in a way that satisfies you.

These are the things I usually write about in my research journal:

Where should I write my research journal?

Again, I think where you write your research journal is dependent on the type of person you are. I am an electronic person, so my research journal has to be electronic.

However, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t keep it in a trusty notebook (make sure your notebook is thick enough to cover your years of research!). A notebook I reckon is good if you want to travel around and write things and have it with you always. However, in that case, I prefer to make notes in my notepad and once I returned to my computer to then type it up.

But when it comes to being electronic I prefer to make my journal as a blog rather than as an electronic document such as MS Word. However, I guess if you’re writing in Word you’re sure it is secure if you want to keep a private research journal, and you can format it in the ways you prefer and you can  search within your document. Further, if you don’t have an internet connection, you can still write into your research journal. I think this might be suitable for people entering into the wilds of Africa (one of my housemates, Anne gave me this reason for her electronic document journal).

However, a blog adds so much more. You can have categories and tags and track-backs and search as well, and I think the most important feature other people can come along and read your entries and share their opinions with you or even meet people (e.g. Probation Proposal). I have written a paper along with two of my other colleagues on the use of research blogs as a conference paper: Postgraduate Blogs: Beyond the Ordinary Research Journal (go to page 191). This pretty much tells you why a research blog is better than an ordinary research journal (print or electronic).

And as I have said before check out Blogger/ Livejournal/ Wordpress for a comparison of blogging software for research journals. You can also see a list of other research blogs available through the net at http://www.phdweblogs.net/.

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