5.2 Personal research journals
A personal research journal is taken here to mean a form of diary or journal which is kept by the researcher as a means of recording and reflecting on the process of research and can be maintained irrespective of the other methods used.
In this sense personal research diaries are different to fieldnotes, which are used here to mean a particular method used to record participant observation, and research diaries, which are diaries kept by the participant to record activities or emotions. However, there is considerable overlap in the literature between the different types of diary or journal used in research and so you bear this in mind when consideraing which is most appropriate to your research.
Benefits of research journals
The key benefit of research journals is that they provide a way of keeping track of the different stages of the research and noting any changes that have occurred to the research questions, the plan, the methods, etc.
It may seem onerous for the single-handed practitioner researcher to keep a journal of the process of research but understanding why you did, or didn't do, certain things may well be important when you come to reflect on or write up your research. You may, for example, be called on to justify a change in method part-way through your research project and relying simply on memory won't necessarily provide a sufficient answer. A research journal can therfore be an important component in maximising the validity and reliability of your research.
A research journal can also be used not just for recording what happens but your own responses to what is happening, and why. So, you can record your disappointment that so few students chose to look at the additional material you provided or your elation that everyone finds your feedback helpful. Used in this way, a research journal can be a first step towards grouping and analysing your data.
Finally, if an explicit purpose of your research is to reflect on the research process then a research journal, used in the way mentioned above, can be a method of data collection in itself.
Most research journals are now electronic, which makes it easier to store and potentially to analyse using analysis software. Increasingly, research journals can also be in the form of a blog, particularly for recording the process of research. Obviously, care needs to be taken here to preserve the anonymity of the research participants.
Disadvantages of research journals
There are no real disadvantages to using research journals in practitioner research, other than to remind you of what a messy business research can be!
Guidance on using research journals as a research method
Birmingham City University produces an online journal, Research Issues in Art, Design and Media. The first issue of the journal focussed onDiaries and Fieldnotes in the Research Process, which highlighted some interesting issues.
It is worth noting that research diaries, as they are used here, are probabaly more akin to the research logs described in the special issue.
Southern Conneticut State University produces an insightful guide to keeping a resarch notebook, as part of its materials on action research. As above, there is someoverlap between the notebook as it is used here and using a diary as a means of observation. http://www.southernct.edu/~brownm/act4.html