2.1 Generate research ideas
Generating ideas for suitable research questions can be difficult but there are various approaches and techniques that can help.
Keep a research diary
You will find it helpful to keep a research diary. Its purpose is to form a permanent record of thoughts, actions, searches, notes, news items and references that you collect and generate when preparing, undertaking and reflecting on your research. A research diary provides a record of your personal learning journey and enables you to get the most out of your research. It acts as an important record of your work and progress.
Traditionally, research diaries have been paper-based and chronological or alphabetical in nature. The advent of electronic records offers new ways of keeping a research diary with some useful features, such as the search function. You may choose to keep your diary online, on paper or electronically using word processing or note-making software. The key point is that whichever method you choose, you should try to add regular and consistent entries, including reflection on your research, the feedback you receive and the progress you make.
It is important that your research diary is right for you and assists your research, so it is worth considering alternatives before deciding upon the format you want to use.
Throughout your research you should keep a record of your notes and reflections on the material you generate and collect. This can be used to actively learn as well as archive your progress. As you undertake tasks and activities, record any problems and ‘unknowns’. These may indicate gaps in knowledge and be the start of defining a suitable research question.
Your research diary is both a personal resource and a learning tool. It is a space to archive your notes, ideas, critical thinking, as well as reflection on your study and research skills development. To ensure your research diary is an effective learning tool:
- write in it regularly, even if entries are sometimes short
- use questions or prompts to help you focus on the task you need to complete
- think about whether your entry is descriptive, interpretative, investigative, analytical or evaluative
- consider illustrative techniques such as mind maps or diagrams using colour to make them more engaging and memorable (you will explore this technique shortly)
- review entries to see if you can find key themes and recognise what longer-term action you might need to take (e.g. to improve a particular research skill)
- spend some time at the end of each week reviewing and reflecting on what you have learned and planning how you will move forward
- remember that writing itself can be used as a learning tool, for example, to explore ideas as a way of understanding them.