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Journalling is not new, and the value of journalling is undisputed. There have never been more different categories of journals: learning journals; diaries; dream books or logs; autobiographies, life stories or memoirs; spiritual journals; professional journals; interactive reading logs; theory logs; and electronic journals (Hiemstra, 2011). And these nine types are before the notebooks, sketchbooks, art journals, ideas boxes, experiment logs and all the individual trackers associated with bullet journalling.
This book has shown that journalling means having a working document for your personal purposes, whatever they may be. We know that research journalling can be experienced as a difficult task, especially as it is associated with particular expectations of what journals and entries look like. Academic communities are often not helpful because many of us have developed our own personal practices over the years, without actively engaging in why particular ways of recording and writing work for us and why others do not. Also, what works for me may not necessarily work for others, and it may not work for you. The reality of journalling is best exemplified with an image from Aine McAllister, whose poetic inquiry journal entry was presented in Chapter 4. In addition to keeping a conventional journal in book form, Aine also often uses post-it notes, as a form of agile management. Journalling therefore is not always straightforward, but may make the journalling process look messy. What has not entered the conversation so far, however, is that in addition to her scholarly and poetic work, Aine is also mum to a cute toddler, and often works with her little boy Áedán on her lap, who will then also ‘work’ (see Figure 8.1).
Journalling, like any kind of sense-making, does not happen in a vacuum, but is shaped by our context and circumstances. For example, the choices we make regarding the materials we use for journalling may be dictated by the disciplinary conventions within which we find ourselves. Similarly, whether we follow the principles of visual narratives or of the written form will depend on our own cultural traditions and educational upbringing. Equally, our interpretation of what we can or should do ethically, and how we deal with potentially contentious situations, is governed by institutional directives as well as our personal moral and ethical compasses. Although I have drawn on or hinted at some philosophical, theoretical, ethical and/or pragmatic considerations throughout, Chapters 2 to 6 foreground the practical ideas and strategies for journalling and making the most of a research journal. In no way am I claiming that this book can provide a detailed insight into all considerations. Yet so far, I have introduced ways of working and prompts for journalling and making the most of research journals with what must appear like a reckless disregard for the wider issues of journalling and record-keeping. This chapter remedies that shortcoming, as this book would not be complete if I did not address some of these concerns.
Depending on disciplinary interpretations, personal understanding and scholarly conventions, boundaries become blurred between what constitutes philosophy or theory and theoretical frameworks or methodology, for example. Ethics may be described as part of and integral to methodology as well as a philosophical outlook and a foundation to research life, and life more generally (Kara, 2018).
Chapter 3 has shown that what constitutes an entry to a research journal may vary from to-do lists and trackers through to notes from the field. What has yet to be discussed, however, is what the notes from the field may look like. As has been stated, the aim of this book is to provide practical guidance for making the most of a research journal, but also to demonstrate the scope and opportunities of journalling. If we have misconceptions about what a research journal looks like and what we should record, then these misconceptions also seep into the question of how entries should be recorded.
Guidance around ethnographic fieldnotes reconfirms the myth that there is a particular pattern of working and way of recording: getting notes down in the field to formulate detailed descriptions at the end of the day (Emerson et al, 2011) and memoing or memo writing, as in the way it is associated with Grounded Theory (Charmaz, 2006). Although qualitative researchers regularly apply these ways of working, scholars have noted methodological and practical concerns: first, disciplinary conventions and trends dictate the kind of note-taking or recording that happens (Rapport, 1991). Second, note-taking and recording fieldnotes are processes that often reproduce existing knowledge and skills because records are written from the positionality of the researcher’s own background, tacit knowledge and implicit beliefs (Wolfinger, 2002). And third, even well-known ethnographers are not able to fully articulate what happens or what exactly it is they do when they decide what to record (Walford, 2009).
Within the social sciences, anyone who has ever undertaken or been involved in research, or who has attended courses and workshops on research methods, will have been told about maintaining a research log, journal or diary. Research methods handbooks also mention logs, journals or diaries (see, for example, Hatch, 2002; Hahn, 2008; Shaw and Holland, 2014; Silverman, 2017; Forrester and Sullivan, 2018). Mostly, we are told to keep a journal to record our reflections on positionality for a reflexivity statement, our thought processes involved in narrowing down research topics, and to maintain our fieldnotes more generally. Yet, there is no specific guidance and support on how to keep an effective research diary, which notes to take, or what to do with our entries in a research journal. While research logs, like other forms of journalling, require regularity and consistency, in practice, many of us feel under pressure to produce entries that are also relevant and appropriate. Consequently, many of us give up on our research logs early on, only to realise later in our research journey that some notes or entries would or could have been useful.
This book does not claim to be exhaustive. Instead, it should be used as a stepping-stone towards making better use of research journals. With this book, I hope to inspire you regarding the form, format and content of a research journal, to experiment with less conventional approaches alongside more traditional paths. I hope to offer you the confidence you need to be able to trust your own instincts and to challenge and break free from existing paradigms and schools of thought.
Providing practical guidance based on real-life examples, this book shows researchers different forms and ways of keeping a research journal and how to get the most out of journaling.
Appealing to postgraduate students, new and experienced researchers, the book:
• provides a theoretical grounding and information about knowledge and sensory systems and reflexivity;
• presents a practical exploration of what a journal looks like and when and how to record entries;
• includes helpful end-of-chapter exercises and online resources.
Providing valuable food for thought and examples to experiment with, the book highlights the different forms of research journals and entries so that readers can find what works for them. Giving researchers licence to do things differently, the book encourages and enables readers to develop their own sense of researcher identity and voice.
What a research journal looks like depends on what, when and how you want to record your entries. This chapter should therefore stand alongside or after Chapters 3, 4 and 5. However, this chapter stands early in the book because most often our first thought relating to maintaining a research journal is to choose the right tools, and thus, to buy the right journal.
This assumption about the right research journal points to an important myth, namely that there is the research journal. In reality, we rarely get to see each other’s research journals, but when we do, our misconceptions may be skewed further. I myself have attended conferences or workshops where I ended up sitting next to the person with the research journal: a perfect, pristine, beautiful, well-organised, hand-paginated book with cross-references and annotations, containing key words and search terms along with an index, and all in perfect cursive handwriting. My own scribbles across several loose, unnumbered pages not only pale in comparison, but become a source of deep embarrassment, guilt and envy in those moments. What I have learned over the years is that for many academics the research journal they bring to conferences or workshops is not their only one, and that their other research journals look quite different.
Reading through research reports, journal articles and other publications relating to research processes, we are consistently confronted with outputs that claim excellence, originality, perfection and success. As researchers we all know that research is messy, chaotic, untidy, disorderly. Yet publications hardly ever account for this nature of research.
Maintaining an effective research journal consistently and efficiently is hard enough and often not talked about or taught. Within the traditions and conventions of ethnography, fieldnotes are a substantive element of the process, and are genuinely used purposefully to create a particular end product. In most other disciplines, however, journalling and journal entries are not shared. Somehow and somewhere in the process of being advised or made to keep a journal it is just assumed that we all know what we are supposed to do with our entries. Academic writing guidance and workshops focus on getting people to write regularly to become more proficient at formulating arguments. In an effort to improve practical writing skills and knowledge, it seems the practicality of dealing with the entries from journalling is neglected or ignored. Yet, if we spend so much time and energy on journalling and recording details, then surely we ought to do something purposeful and meaningful with those entries.
Let me remind you of two journalling principles mentioned elsewhere in this book: (1) anything and everything goes, and (2) tools and contexts need to fit the purpose. These principles also apply in relation to what to do with the journal and its entries. There are no limits, other than perhaps our lack of imagination, sense of adventure or flexibility. Naturally, within the context of academic careers and publishing, there may be conventions that we do need to adhere to, and where particular kinds of output are perhaps not considered as scholarly enough, or as too innovative or too risky (see Chapter 6 in Leigh and Brown, 2021).
As outlined in Chapter 1, the contents of journal entries depend on the overall purpose of the research journal, as the journal may be linked to professional development, qualifications and assessments. Within research handbooks, the outline of what to record is often limited to vague guidance relating to making fieldnotes and recording observations, for example. In reality, the choice of what must be recorded, should be noted or is written down is much more complex. We have all been in situations where we have had to ask ourselves if our thoughts or observations were actually relevant enough, or where we had had a conversation that was not strictly a fieldwork conversation, but that seemed important nonetheless. So should we then write an entry about that non-fieldwork conversation? And what happens if we do not make a note of that potentially irrelevant observation? Worse still, what happens if we do not make a note and later find out that the observation would have been crucial and not irrelevant at all?
Once I started asking myself these questions, I quickly spiralled into a phase of worry, anxiety and self-doubt. I worried that my journal entries were not right, I was anxious about missing important work, and I seriously doubted my own judgement of knowing the important from the irrelevant, which obviously resulted in more worry and anxiety. With this chapter, I hope to alleviate some of these worries by specifically focusing on the developing a specific attitude towards journalling: the research journal should not be a chore or a cause for concern or worry.
One of the major deterrents for journalling is the felt pressure of needing to meet particular expectations around the research journal. This relates to every aspect of journalling, from the format, design and layout of the journal, to what is recorded, how entries are made and when journalling is to happen.
Advice from research handbooks or journalling guidebooks and templates like those commonly used in bullet journals often adds to this overwhelming feeling of pressure. Resources like these are a great starting point to learn about keeping research journals, but the issue is that the guidance is often very specific regarding its focus on writing, a particular way of maintaining journals and regularity of creating entries. One such example is the recommendation to journal every day and to provide deeper reflections three to five times a week. Such recommendations are clearly well intended, but not really helpful. These guidelines put us journallers under pressure to write an entry, when we may not have anything important or relevant to say. As a result, entries become forced, superficial and meaningless. At the same time, the guidelines set us journallers up for failure. We know that we are supposed to journal once a day quickly, and three to five times a week for a longer, more carefully planned session. If we miss a session or two or three entries, we feel like we are not meeting our targets and not doing our work. Consequently, we begin to associate the journal with negative feelings, which will inevitably lead to us abandoning the journalling process altogether.