Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Jul 27, 2022     Views: 27718

Keeping a research journal (or research diary) is simple, and it can do big things for you:

1.  It will save you time.   You'll know where you searched, which keywords worked best, what you found and how you plan to use each source in your paper or presentation.  Have you ever lost that perfect article, then couldn't find it again?  A research journal will help you get back to it.

2.  It will strengthen your writing.   As you search, you'll come across articles and books that give you new perspectives and ideas on your topic.   Recording these ideas in your journal as you find them will help you make sure they're not forgotten when it's time to start writing.

3.  It will help you avoid plagiarism.  It's hard to properly quote or paraphrase a source if you've lost it, or you don't remember which part of it you used.  In a research journal, you'll make a note with each source that you plan to use.  That note will include a citation and a note about what parts you planned to use in your paper.  All that's left is formatting your citations!

To start your journal, you just need a place to record some key details about each search that you perform.  You could:

  • Keep a Word document on your computer's desktop or in Office365, and keep it open to make an entry each time you sit down for a research session (save your work often!).  A simple journal template is attached below as an example (feel free to download it for your own use).  
  • Use a free online tool, like a journaling app or a blog.
  • Keep a dedicated paper notebook on your desk, and jot down the crucial details of your searches the old-fashioned way. 

Make sure each entry in your journal includes:

  • Where you searched.  Which library database did you use?   Did you try an internet search engine like Google?  Knowing where you searched will help you remember where you found a book or article (in case you need to track it back down later).
  • What keywords did you use, and how well did they work?   Effective keywords can make all the tracking them, you can pinpoint the good ones (and stop wasting time with the rest).
  • What sources did you find?  Make sure you have at least a citation for each source that you think you want to use in your paper.  That will be one less thing to do when it's time to write!  Saving each source's full text as you go is a good idea, too.
  • How do you plan to use each source?  Make a note to remind yourself of any new ideas that arose as you read it, or sections you want to quote or paraphrase.
TIP:  Use a citation management tool to help you with the last two bullets above!  You can use them to organize your sources by project, take notes and format the citations for you!   In conjunction with your search notes, you'll have a detailed, accurate record of your research. 


See also:  What's the best way to read a scholarly article?

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