Research log: learning from experience

Todd Vandenbark

iPad and notebookIn a recent blog post, Meredith Farkas, author of Social Software in Libraries, points out that students doing research often do not take the time to reflect on their experience doing research — what did they learn from it, what can be done better next time, etc.

Because this reflection is not usually written into the curriculum, students don’t learn enough from their mistakes or even the good things they did. Having a research log helps students become better researchers in the future and, most importantly, helps them to develop a “system” that works for them.

Farkas goes on to share her system for doing research, including her favorite software tools:

  1. Collect items of interest using Delicious and Instapaper.
  2. Use mindmapping to brainstorm everything that might be of interest related to the selected topic
  3. Turn the mindmap into a research question and an outline for the paper. Farkas uses pencil and paper, but for those who prefer there are a variety of mindmapping tools available as well.
  4. Conduct the research, saving all interesting articles as PDFs in Dropbox. If a PDF of an item is not available, it can be printed to PDF using your computer’s built-in software or a tool such as PDF Creator.
  5. Update the outline based on new information gathered.
  6. Read and mark-up the PDFs using iAnnotate on her iPad, and save to Dropbox.
  7. Import the relevant PDFs into a Mendeley (citation management tool similar to Zotero) library, checking that the resulting citations are accurate.
  8. Write the literature review with marked-up content from the PDFs and other sources, and the rest of the paper.

Readers are encouraged to read Farkas’ blog posting in full as her writing is reliably thoughtful, thorough and encouraging.

What system do you use for doing research? Do you reflect on what you learn each time you conduct research? What important lessons have you learned? Tell us about it!