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Keep a research journal

Your journal can become an instrument for your personal development and learning.

Keep a personal journal to document your increasing understanding of the field, help retain your focus and support yourself through the process.

You can use your journal to:

  • record thoughts, personal reflections or ideas
  • record research activities, personal impressions and reactions as you undertake the research as well as document progress
  • note ideas from reading and the particular information you learn
  • record insights/ reflections/ critical reflections

A journal can take different forms, and it is up to you to decide how extensive you'd like your journal to be.

For example, a journal can be:

  • a personal diary recording experiences, thoughts, feelings and wishes
  • a notebook
  • a research record to document the process, or note progress
  • a dream book, to help appreciate your subconscious
  • a document of professional accomplishments and a collection of related materials; or
  • a combination of any the above

A journal can be private, only seen and used by you, or it can be interactive in the form of a blog for dialogue with your supervisors or peers. You may well choose both.

However extensive and inclusive you choose to make your journal, writing a journal throughout your candidature can have a number of benefits.

Used as a reflective tool and notebook, the journal is a valuable friend and learning aid. Remember, through reflection, you gain new understandings.

It is a good idea to keep the journal with you at all times, next to your bed, as you commute, on your desk. It will then become your constant companion.

Document spontaneous ideas and thoughts, quick reading notes, impressions, thoughts, data interpretation, the research process, research accomplishments, and reflections on everything related to your research.

Often some enlightened thought, an idea will pop into your mind - this may be a critical insight that can be caught or lost.

Write it down! You can think about it later. Understanding can occur suddenly and at times when you may not be actively focussing on your studies.

Recording your research process can be very useful for later reference when the details of time, place and your immediate impressions may have faded. If you are undertaking qualitative research, your journal can document your reflections and that can become a part of the research.

Your journal can also be a place to do freewriting or the daily writing task that you set yourself. It can be accessible when your work space is not!

A research student's journal

Here, as an example, is part of a research journal that was kept bya PhD student in the Faculty of Education through the course of her candidature. The excerpts below are drawn from two different stages - February and August of one year. When this student was writing her thesis she looked at her journal for information and some of her reflections. She became aware that much of the material that she had spontaneously scribbled a long time before, was actually perceptive and illuminating. She ultimately included some of the writings from her journal in her thesis.

Click to view the Journal

Private Journal

2nd February

My high aspirations seem to ebbing, or am I a bad organiser?

The last few days of January I spent time on the article, yesterday I seemed to struggle through another mentoring paper. It was so relevant to my work I have been taking note, or rather writing from the article. Although this is time consuming, I find it is helpful to the process later.

Today I read N's first narrative and made notes. If I do this for each teacher I should be able to see common themes (I intend to jot these down) and identify questions for the 3 rd interview.

Although I'm in a muddle - probably because I am doing things in bits and pieces rather than 1 thing at a time — I'm getting there. Maybe I can survey the field now and see how things are fitting together. Common threads are emerging.

Tomorrow I shall work at home then go to uni on Tuesday and Thursday this week.

3rd February

Today I worked at home. My focus was Mentoring and I continued to summarise some of B's material. It would be useful to copy these articles tomorrow, as there are some excellent references I would like to follow up. I will prepare to do this because I will go to uni tomorrow, H. is here at the moment and I will head off when I take her to the train in the morning.

Some of the work is relevant and gives me food for thought. I'm uncertain whether I should follow up this issue in my third interview. I have a short questionnaire that has some very leading questions.

Tonight when I get on to the Internet I shall check the availability of some of the refs and hopefully spend some time in the library tomorrow. Before I pack up for the night I shall do a bit more work on A's 2 nd interview, preparing it as a narrative.

4th February

With one weary arm, I write. Sometimes I wonder if my arm will hinder me to the point of not being able to continue. Let's be positive.

I went to uni today. It was a bit social with L back, M going and T about to finish up. It was good. There were lots of moves going on but I felt so sorry for J who seems unable to find a suitable room. She's in a terrible state emotionally poor thing.

I copied B's mentoring material, read through part of K's interview and generally tidied up my papers at uni. It is amazing what I was able to find in boxes on my desk. It was a bit messy but needed to be done.

As I read now things are looking clearer. I know I need to write but I am favouring A's style of doing a bibliography. I feel if I go back to all my literature this way I can start to make sense of it at the level of understanding, I now have and can put it into a logical argument. Following on from my Index I shall categorise the pieces to do something like this. I'll start with Mentoring and at the same time look through my data for relevant detail.

6th February

I did a little yesterday though not a lot. It was my child minding day and I was lucky enough to get M, E and C off to bed during the afternoon. I read interviews while they slept and as I had lunch but it became soporific for me and I dozed too. As I went through K's interview, I marked reference to aspects of her Identity using both Gee's and Ivanic's models. It's interesting. As I do it I am reminded of the layers of my photos where I can bring one forward and superimpose it on another. As I notice with myself my sense of identity shifts according to the role I am playing or the context of the situation. Each of the teachers shows shifts in her self-perception as the interview unfolds. It's becoming interesting though as some are more self-focussed than others eg K is out looking while S reflects inwardly.

My intention was to go to uni today but I spent longer having coffee with B so decided to work from home. Again reading the narratives had a soporiphic effect, however I am making progress. It's interesting to note how often they are excluded from groups. Some are able to cope while others hesitate; some fight while others take flight. Tomorrow I will be at uni and will try to do more of the same. Alternatively, I could work on my mentoring paper looking at Gee's frame, applying some of the mentoring literature and the reflections of my teachers.

13th February

This is terrible. It is over a week since I wrote in my diary. What is wrong?

Yesterday I had coffee with B. I gave her a brief description of Identity frameworks but thinking back this was terrible. Now I am at a loss and cannot see clearly what I should do. I've gone so far and can't seem to write a thing. It's all rubbish and confused. I really wish Supervisor L would answer my emails. I've got data and don't know what to do, an interview to do, and don't know what to ask, a paper to write and cannot put 2 thoughts together logically. It seems all in vain. Maybe it is other people who make me think like this. They think my time is theirs. They seem to treat what I do as a joke.

I would love time to sit here, to visit the library, work in my office at uni. I can't! Time is running out.

What to do? What should I do? Cry! That's how I feel. Maybe I'll have another attempt to meet Supervisor L.

22nd February

My meeting with Supervisor L went well as usual but I have come away with mixed feelings. On the one hand it seems I have been wafting around without a focus — I feared as much. On the other, Supervisor L has set me a couple of tasks to sharpen my focus once more. I need to look at my data in relation to the questions and make in order to clarify what I will ask teachers in the next round of interviews. Already I can see the point in this. She questioned my thoughts on Gee, not because of doubts but to make certain I can argue my choice. First I need to get the questions right then read Ivanic (I'm doing this) and Gee again very closely. I can use one or the other so must select wisely in relation to the research questions. What am I looking for?

I am looking to see how they identify self as a teacher. What makes them able to say this? What do they need to do or know? How should they act? How much do relationships affect this? I'll think more about this tonight and continue wit my discussion tomorrow. My reading of Ivanic (Intro) seemed appropriate today. I had under-read it before. It's pretty complex stuff and in line with what I aim to do.

25th February

I was at C's today so have done little — I read a few words while I had a moment but that's all. I deliberate about my frame and think I need to analyse Gee and Ivanic in relation to my research questions. That should help me identify which is closer to my purpose.

My first task is to get my interview questions to Supervisor L. I'm getting there &mdash they are taking shape. So far I've been through 5 interviews (Int 1) and have classified data according to the research questions. Hopefully tomorrow I can finish this set of interviews and get started on the group interview. Wednesday is my deadline. I'll try my best then I can move on to the other task. My work seems to be focussed now — I can feel it is becoming more purposeful and direct.

26th February

Today I got a set of questions to Supervisor L. She has not replied yet so I'm not certain whether they are suitable or otherwise. How do I feel? OK. Perhaps I should have included something on racism but it is difficult to know how to address this in a sensitive way.

Tonight, or is it this morning, I completed Interview 1 in relation to my research questions. Tomorrow I shall start on Interview 2, just to make certain everything is covered; maybe I can complete this before I meet Supervisor L. I should be getting on with justifying Gee. Maybe I will look at this too, and must review Ivanic. I feel she may be more appropriate after all. This looks like a good weekend's work.

28th February

so soon the year is well underway. My progress is slow but I have moved on since I got back to work a month ago — after the birth of Evie. I am still looking at the questions. Supervisor L made comments re my first attempt, however I am not 100% happy yet.

It's interesting because I find my relationship with Supervisor L is developing through this focus exercise. She stopped by today and we talked about them and about my decision to use Gee or Ivanic. It's not necessary at this stage, she says, to make a decision. My number 1 task is to get the questions right. Tonight I worked on them a while longer and made a few changes. In some ways, I feel better about this. My changes were to include a question that projects the teachers ahead 10 years so they can reflect about the steps they have taken and the contribution they have made. I really like this and may find it cancels out one or two of the other questions. As I found today, it does not take much to get a teacher talking.

Finally, I interviewed S today. It was a good interview. She is a much softer person than I thought after the other interview. She had been very strong then but now I realise she is a quietly determined woman. She has striven for the position she now holds and is proud of her achievements. She is one of several tall poppies in my study. It's interesting as they are at different stages of their careers — 2 in the early stages, 2 mid stage and 1 further on the way. In addition to working on my questions I will work on my transcription this weekend. Amazingly it is clear so I hope to get lots done. The weather is kind as it will be cool, grey and a bit wet. I should have a good start to March!


August entries

14th August

Half way through the month and I am just putting fingers to keys. I've slipped up almost a month. Actually, I've been writing so busily. On Monday, I handed in my literature chapter to Supervisor L. This was an achievement but I find so many little things I need to do or would like to add. I guess supervisor L will critique these. Oh dear! Suddenly I feel tired, but I seem to when I settle down to this late at night.

Having done my literature, I am moving on to my Method chapter. Supervisor L has lent me a thesis to look through but has pointed out it is different to mine. C's book has an interesting chapter on Method that will give some ideas.

This will be a good part as I can place myself in the thesis. I'll need to look at Casey again, and Ivanic, to see how they do this. There is some interesting literature on relationships that I have read and hope I can locate again.

Outstanding at present is my last transcription. Supervisor L suggests I do not need great detail so I'll borrow the transcriber then try to do one every couple of days. My method chapter is only 8,000 words so I should be able to manipulate the two projects. Doing it this way will jog my memory for the next part that is my analysis chapter. Oh! It's coming on!

During this weekend I want to go through the swag of texts I have in my black bag to make certain they are all in Endnote. I'll continue this at uni on Monday as there are a few references there that I need to put into my library. I can transfer my library across computers now with the flash disk. It's easy to do and means I have a back up of my work.

18th August

During the last few days, I've been muddling along with one thing and another. Probably my most demanding task has been updating Endnote. To do this I've gone through several among my pile of readings to review my notes in some cases and in others to add references and notes to my reference list. It's a time consuming thing to do but so important to get it right. I had planned to add them to my Endnote files at uni today but they did not transfer to my disk. Anyway, there was plenty to do.

I spent my time preparing to meet Supervisor M to talk things over. We had coffee at The Den then went to her room for more detailed discussion. She is very sharp and noticed some 'knots' in my literature chapter. This is very perceptive and I realise the 'knots' are where I began to repeat myself. In some ways, it would have been useful to chat with Supervisor M before I wrote but I believe it was better for me to expose myself completely to Supervisor L.

Supervisor M went through my Method headings today and made some pertinent points. I need to state what I mean by narrative — we think this is what my research is — case study and qualitative method. It's a bit strange because Supervisor L seemed to steer me away from this aspect. I'll begin work according to the plan I worked on with Supervisor M, although I'll review it as I go. It might be a good idea to send a copy to Supervisor L when I am happy with the content.

Tonight I'll start going through M's 3rd interview. I'm giving myself 2 weeks to do all the interviews and break the back of my method chapter. Funnily enough, it would be wonderful to curl up and have a nap. I must keep going.

19th August

It was my day at C's so I was unable to do a lot. This morning, however, I was able to get started on my Method chapter by cutting bits out of my earlier writing. I am constantly aware that I do this and am thankful that I have a rich source of writing to draw on. Tonight I've refined it briefly but feel weary so will spend a while working on the interview once more.

At the back of my mind, I keep wondering what Supervisor L feels about my work. I am unsure whether I should hide my head in shame or whether there are some virtues in the work I did. I feel insecure and almost afraid to come across Supervisor L at uni. Whatever the outcome I think I will need a box of tissues or a good supply of hankies when we meet. Enough of this — get moving!

20th August

It was a day for other people today. First, B, M and P came to talk about the quiet day, then L and others came to look at the house and land. After that, I met R before going to work. G wanted me to do 2 shifts but I only stayed for one tonight. However, I did an hour here and there, writing my narrative section, and went to the library to get some books. It was not a wasted day just a bit disjointed.

I've had troubles getting my narrative paragraphs to work. Either they were disjointed or did not flow well. Rather than a sequence of thoughts, they were unlinked ideas. I asked God to help me eventually and I know they read better now — just 3 short paras. The initial stages of writing a section are always the most demanding and I often wonder how I will develop it. Somehow, it happens and how thankful I am.

Tomorrow I'll do some more writing and pop in to uni for a couple of hours during the afternoon. Four hours in the morning and a couple at night should make me feel quite comfortable.

26th August

In the meantime I've been plodding on. A bit of writing, editing, rewriting and so on. I'm enjoying my Methodology chapter but find even this style of writing a challenge. I'm playing with the words and making them stronger, it's fun.

Friday was a workshop run by Barbara Kamler about writing abstracts. It went well and I realised my abstract was pretty good. It was a good day as the AARE paper was accepted and I met J on the stairs and was offered a job. Amazing! It's demanding, I'm working away slowly and gradually getting there. At uni I tomorrow I will do some library work, take notes from journals and borrow some books. Over and out tonight!

30th August

Chug, chug, chug! This is how I feel. Despite days like today when I work in the morning and the family come in the afternoon, my fingers are tired and my wrist about to break. I'm writing up bits of my Methodology, listening to S trying to keep abreast of my text book references and new articles. It's busy, busy! Over and out!

31st August

This has been a month of much writing. By this time of the evening I am 'written out'. Today I have been working on my Method chapter once more. I consider another 2 weeks is sufficient, although there is a heap to do. Bit my bit each night I do more transcribing of S- she is long winded — she calls it the gift of the gab. I'm getting some good information and a few relevant quotes.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with Supervisor L re my writing. At uni in the morning I need to get a tape so I can record the chat and prepare an agenda. Another must is my AARE registration. Although I sent the Internet booking form I have not paid at this stage. Tomorrow is the last day for early bird registrations.

I should be thinking ahead to the other conference too. Registration closes mid month. I think I shall base my paper on the work of He, perhaps do some comparative writing. This is such a busy, busy time but the next 2 months will be even busier with my 2 jobs. Where there is a will there is a way. I shall find a way.
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