Keeping a Research Journal
When I started my Ph.D. program, I kept a research journal as a requirement for one of my classes. My research journal consisted of a simple Word document that contained all of my daily entries, separated by a series of dashes. Each day, I would go to the top of this document, enter the date, and then write. In this manner, my most current entries would be at the top and the older entries would appear at the bottom.
Throughout the semester, my professor had us try different things in our journal, such as: inputting notes from our readings, thinking memos, highlighting important things (through boldface, blinking text, or side comments) that we may want to revisit, and adding daily “to do” lists. Through my journal, I learned how to paraphrase my readings, and to quickly synthesize several works into one or two paragraphs. I later found that my notes were incredibly useful to use for later papers – especially toward the end of the semester.
My research journal quickly became a personal repository for processing my thoughts, theories, and experiences in both life and grad school. Peg Boyle Single, in her blog on developing good writing habits, said that “Motivation occurs when you have done the necessary planning steps so that when you sit down to write prose, you have had time to subconsciously play around with the ideas and you only have to retrieve and type down the ideas, not to think them up.” The research journal teaches you to do this sort of prethinking every day.
Later, I moved my journal from Word to Scrivener, which enabled me to keep my entries separate within a single electronic “binder.” Each entry could be tagged, labeled, and summarized so that later, I could go back, search, and even categorize my entries by topic or subject. This was incredibly valuable to me when I went through my comprehensive exam process, because I could compare my entries side-by-side to the actual working document that I needed to write.
Now, as I tackle my dissertation proposal, I have started a new section of my journal, where I keep my daily 10 minute freewrites. In addition to developing a daily habit of writing, my journal has also taught me how to think by writing – a necessary skill for navigating through my frequent trips within the cognitive muck of research.
If you are interested in keeping a research journal (it is never too early or too late to start), check out this blog post by Anuja Cabraal. She outlines the process of starting a journal, and provides suggestions for ways to use it effectively in our work.