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Purpose and benefits of maintaining a Research Journal

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Purpose and benefits of maintaining a Research Journal

A research journal can be a very useful supplement to your research work. There are no hard and fast rules to using one but its versatility is its strength. In this article, we outline some practical ways to make full use of a research journal. But first, an important point about maintaining a research journal…

By you, for you

Note that you, and only you, will be writing and reading your research journal. This can be quite liberating! So often when we are planning, conducting or writing up research, we are thinking about how it will be received:

Who is going to read it and what are they going to think about it?

How will they assess this work?

What, in turn, will they think about me? 

Instead, a research journal is an entirely private space for you to just be yourself, to make notes on the things you find useful, to brainstorm ideas and to check in with yourself about how you feel as you undertake this research. 

Benefits of maintaining a research journal

a. Planner

For starters, your research journal can double up as a planner, where you can make note of important dates and milestones for your research project. 

b. Thought-starter

You can use your research journal to sketch out rough ideas and directions that you might like to take for your research. If you are more visually inclined, you could also use your research journal as a sketchbook for drawing out your thoughts and plans, or as a platform for practices such as mindmapping and storyboarding.

c. Annotated bibliography

At times, your research journal may look more like an annotated bibliography, including detailed notes on texts that you have read or plan to read, or lectures/talks that may be useful to your work.

d. Note of accomplishments

You could even use it as a place for making note of your small wins and to record significant breakthroughs and accomplishments. 

d. Space for reflection

Most importantly, your research journal can provide an important tool for reflecting on your work, for instance, to think about…

What is going well?

What is not going well and why?

What steps can you take next?

For example, if you are researching highly sensitive issues and working directly with other human participants, you may be confronted with many challenging, emotional moments that could be best chronicled and made sense of by recording in your research journal. 

In this sense, a research journal might also play an important role as a personal diary, offering you space to reflect on your feelings and work through the more personal and emotional components of doing research.

Practical reasons for keeping a research journal

Apart from its ‘basic, everyday’ uses, there are some pragmatic reasons why you may wish to regularly maintain a journal.

a. Maintaining the writing habit

Due to lengthy research periods, teaching or other personal commitments, researchers easily and often fall out of the habit of writing. By keeping a research journal – whether digital or a physical notebook – you can maintain a consistent habit of writing.

b. Facilitating a breakthrough

Research journals can help facilitate highly effective and powerful research breakthroughs! The act of actively reflecting on and writing about an issue you are stuck on can help you work past the block. Or, if you are not entirely sure about the findings from your data, use your journal as an informal, non-judgmental space to write out your thoughts, ask yourself new questions or consider alternative ideas. Working freely in a safe space where you know you will not be assessed can help you to consider and formulate unexpected, new perspectives and creative solutions.

c. Recording your progress

Finally, keeping a research journal is an excellent way to maintain a record of your progress that can be preserved for posterity. It can help to remind you that you are doing important work and achieving something, even in the moments that have you feeling stuck. It can also be really useful to look back on your journal through the course of your research, to track how your ideas have evolved and developed. 

So, open up a blank document or choose a new notebook, and start journalling!


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