Keep a Research Log to Kick Start Your Research

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If you want a successful academic career, be prepared to get down and dirty with research. This isn't news to aspiring academics, but just how do you do get started in research?

How to Find Research Ideas
Where do great research ideas come from? How do you figure out what to research? Research ideas can come out of nowhere -- but don't count on yours to just flash on like a light bulb. Look for ideas systematically and at all times.

Does that mean that you must constantly rack your brain looking for a topic? No! Just keep your mind open to new ideas and capture them quickly without judgment. Then consider each at your convenience later. Keep a record of your ideas and activities as an on-going log of your thoughts about your research.

What to Write in Your Research Log

  • Notes on your research activities and any questions that arise
  • Problems in your research: What's not working?
  • Possible solutions to research problems
  • Alternative solutions or explanations for problems
  • Articles to read and researchers to follow
  • Student and faculty contacts and comments on their work
  • Notes on articles and papers you've read
  • Ideas and comments on your term papers and class assignments
  • Plans for your own research

Begin your log early in your graduate school career, long before you're pressed to find a dissertation topic. Write freely.  Your log is for your eyes only.

Keep Notes on Interesting Articles
When you read an interesting article, record it in your log (even if you don't think it's an area of research for you -- you never know what you'll decide years from now!). Record the following:

  • The topic
  • How researchers studied it
  • What did they find
  • Ideas the authors suggest for further research
  • What was striking about the article
  • Your own ideas

Review Your Log Regularly
Every now and then, read your log. Over time you may notice themes, thoughts that seem to connect, and patterns. Recurring themes will suggest avenues for research to form your dissertation. Sure, not everything that you capture in your log will fit into your future research, but a log is an important way of learning about your research interests, defining them, and crafting workable ideas.

Regularly Update Your Log
As you find potential dissertation ideas, thoroughly read the related literature, noting your thoughts in your log. You'll never complete your review of the literature as new articles are constantly  published.  Be aware of the literature in your area and note how your work is different from others.

When you begin your research, note it's progress in your log. Write down questions, problems that emerge, and notes on your methodology and results. Your research log is a record of what you hypothesized, did, and found, as well as a place to consider the implications of your work. Continue to read current articles about your topic and record your comments in your log. You'll find your log, your research record, invaluable as you write your dissertation.