How to keep a research diary or log

1.  What did I learn?

I learned what should be in a research log or diary.  Yesterday I received my copy of Doing a Literature Review by Chris Hart.  I skimmed through to see what its basic contents were.  One item that attracted my attention was the table on page 146 that Hart recommends using to track articles read.  I think I will incorporate something similar in my research.  However, I think I need additional information than what Hart describes.  When reading empirical studies, I need to note sample size, population, and other items that affect generalizability of the study results.  But, he does provide a misc. column that allows for additions.  Hart talks about keeping a database if the literature review is large.  So, I am thinking this could be easily kept in Excel.  It would be nice to integrate this with Mendeley Desktop.

Hart also describes the content of what you should keep in a log during a literature review.  (p.216)

A research diary should contain:

  • Records on the literature search.  Every hardcopy and electronic database searched, the times they were searched, and what vocabulary was used for the search.  (I have not been doing as good of a job of this as I should.)
  • Notes on what items have been obtained and which have been ordered, say ,through interlibrary loan. Need to keep track of the literature; provide reminders for follow up.
  • Refer back to research proposal and plan of work and plan for literature search.
  • Serendipitous finds in the library or references in texts, together with possible new contacts, can be noted.
  • Weekly to monthly plans of what needs to be done.  What needs to be read and other tasks.
  • Instructions on how to use technology.  (Here is where Hart’s book is outdated.  He mentions CD-ROMs and useful websites.  His is obviously not a technophile.)

2.  How did I learn it?

I read Hart’s book.  I will adapt this for my own use.

3.  How might I have learned it differently?

I have been trying to do it differently, kind of a “fly by the seat of your pants” method.  But now that I have gotten further into the project, I realize that I needed more organization.

4.  How can I help others learn this?

This type of methodology should be taught in the EDUC 663 Research Methods class.  Some of this information is taught, but not enough of it.  I think the problem is that so many students in that class do not feel confident with the quantitative statistical stuff, that the focus of the class stays there.  Maybe another course needs to be added to the program…  But at some point, every graduate student needs to learn how to do this.

Hart, C. (2005). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. London: Sage.

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