This is an extract from my contribution to the LSE Impact blog discussing how to keep an effective research journal, thereby busting some of the myths surrounding research journaling:
Highlighting four common myths about ‘the’ research journal, Nicole Brown suggests finding an enjoyable and creative medium for recording a range of activities around your work is more important than striving to replicate an ideal model..
Myth 1: Research journaling is to accompany the research process
Well, yes and no. In many research methods handbooks and dissertation modules, we are indeed told to maintain a research journal to ensure we are working reflexively, to develop our positionality statement and, of course, to record anything that is important to the research process. The research journal does have that purpose. But it is not its only purpose. We may also journal to keep a record of our professional development, of our achievements, of our professional activities, of our networks and contacts, and so, to prepare us for and support us in our work as researchers beyond any single project.
Myth 2: Research journaling is academic writing
Again, this is partly true. Through writing we are indeed able to develop our authorial voice, our thought processes, our analyses, but then for some this may happen better in ways and means other than writing. You may find that recording yourself speak on a Dictaphone or creating a collage will help you with moving from the descriptive to the analytical. In this respect, research journaling is definitely academic work, but it does not need to be writing.
Myth 3: There is the entry in the research journal
No. When research reports and publications quote extracts from a research journal, the entries are fully formulated sections written in the most beautiful prose language with significant analytical insights and identifications of key concepts. That entry will have been developed by research journaling, but that is most often not the first entry on that same topic. Even in disciplines where notetaking in the field and developing theories from those notes on observations are intrinsic ways of working, there are processes. It is only natural to move from rough notes to more in-depth descriptions in several iterations until we arrive at the conceptualised, analytical prose that we will share in articles and reports.
Myth 4: There is the research journal
No, definitely not. We rarely get to see each other’s research journals, but when we do, we may find our misconceptions are skewed. I myself have attended conferences or workshops where I ended up sitting next to the person with the research journal: a perfect, pristine, beautiful, well organised, hand-paginated book with cross-references and annotations, containing key words and search terms along with an index, and all in perfect cursive handwriting. My own scribbles across several loose, unnumbered pages not only pale in comparison, but become a source of deep embarrassment, guilt and envy in those moments. What I have learned over the years is that for many academics the research journal they bring to conferences or workshops is not their only one, and that their other research journals look quite different. I cannot speak for others, but I know I have a blog, files on my computer, recordings on my iPad, pieces of papers and post-it notes alongside some sketchbooks and notebooks – fully or partially filled, some neat, others messy. My “research journal” is the combination of all those.
In sum, as there is no guidance, there are also no rules around research journaling, which we should see as an opportunity to be playful and creative and to experiment. A good research journal will be a source of fun or pleasure, rather than pressure and dread.