2.1 Research Diaries

The difference between a reasonable dissertation with some interesting but underdeveloped ideas and an excellent dissertation with fully developed and explored themes is often research organisation and planning.

At the start of your research phase you will have a lot of interesting avenues and themes to explore but a limited time-frame to achieve your research aims and objectives. It is critical to realise that good organisation and academic habits will save considerable time, improve your structure and argument, and hopefully, motivate you to maintain your research and work schedule.

Using one or more of the systems detailed in this section and the Working Plans and Research Managers sections, or developing your own, will help immensely in your work from the very beginning.

Before you begin your research properly (although you should have already done some preliminary reading to finalise your planning or your dissertation Proposal) you do need to give some thought as to how you are going to track and organise material that you find. You can do this through a paper and pen method or a digital method, but the important thing is have a system that you will stick to.

There are several reasons for this. Simply keeping track of the numerous PDF's and physical journals/books that you come across, not to mention the websites, newspapers and other sources, will quickly become overwhelming with the increased scope and breadth of dissertation research compared to essay or report writing. It is likely that you will process 100 or more sources and keeping track of the useful ones is paramount to avoid either wasting time finding material again or by losing material altogether.

Additionally, reflecting on literature and research findings as you are researching will help you organise and interpret information as well as working towards a clear view of your developing response to the research aims and objectives.

This, the Working Plan and Citation and Research Manager sections all contain links to further reading at the end to help you develop your own system. Whether you use a combination of electronic and pen-and-paper methods or stick to your own preferred way of working, the important point is to spend some time thinking about how you will tackle tracking your research, developing your analysis and managing your references.

Research Diaries

Research diaries are used extensively amongst field researchers and for observational research. However, they can be adapted for the purposes of dissertation research also.

The central aim is to capture both a record of the material read during research and also your own thoughts and developing ideas as you process information. It is not intended to record a linear argument or interpretation of data, you are only writing for yourself.

Organised chronologically this can act as a useful store of material that you may need to revisit later in your work or during the writing phase. It can also help a great deal in ordering and tracking your own developing thoughts and ideas for your analysis and discussion chapters alongside your overall argument and direction.

This can be done using a simple paper and pen method if you prefer working with physical copies, a dedicated notebook is useful for this.

If you prefer working digitally then a simple text document can serve as a notepad but more advanced programs can also help. Evernote is a wonderful research tool due to it's advanced website clipping, folder organisation, note labelling and search functions. The free version of Evernote should be adequate for most purposes although the premium version will add document storage and OCR search within PDF and Office files.

Creating an Evernote account (link) is straightforward, the clipping functionality works best on either Chrome or Firefox browsers and allows you to "clip" a webpage with a single click. This is particularly useful for collecting together data from online newspapers articles, webpages and other internet resources as it will preserve the original data accessed and website address in the note and, if using the simplified article view, the entire article content.

Along with reflective Research Diary text notes, Evernote's folder and stack organisation can provide a very easy-to-sort structure for your research material as below.

Another form of digital research diary can be arranged through a request to your supervisor. Platforms such as BREO/Blackboard provide an online learning journal function that can be used as research diary entries with the additional benefit of allowing your supervisor to track your progress and offer help and support as needed in written feedback to your entries.

Further reading

Hacking your Thesis using Evernote

Using Evernote for your Literature Review

Importance of keeping a Research Journal

Academic Journal article on use of Research Diaries and Reflexive Journals to improve critical self-eximination

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