Research Log: Whatever works!

If you have ever found yourself thinking, hey I’ve looked for this here already, then you really need a research log! Once you start using one you’ll never do that again and you’ll always feel that your time researching for something is well used. Plus, you’ll have notes about the ground you covered that can be double-checked for what was missed. So cool! You need this!

This is one of those things we know we should do but somehow, for many of us, it’s hard to do. I was reminded of how bad this can be for some folks by Janine Adams in her really nice blog, Organize Your Family History. This post covered the topic well, and as the title, “Creating a research log habit”, points out, it’s often not so much about the form of the research log as it is the habit of doing it. Good point, Janine!

Many researchers use a note taking app like Evernote or Scrivener which is more of a writing tool with a research component. For me, the thought of mastering a new app or software in order to be organized seemed somehow counterintuitive, like needing to get organized before you get organized. So I put off trying one of them.

For a long time I sought out a simple solution that was as fluid as my research was and allowed for all of the twists and turns that most research entails.

First let me say that I don’t know if this will work for you but I’m posting it here because it’s so easy that it can slip into any research approach. And you need to know that I’m awful about filling in forms and have tried all manner of research logs and none of them worked for me. But you might be a forms person and get pleasure from filling in boxes or running an Excel spreadsheet. But that’s not me.

Finally, one day I was tired of losing track of what ground I’d already covered, so I just opened a Word document and started making notes. At the top of the page went anything that I would be happy to be reminded of at a later time, such as the ancestor’s name and locations and what’s known and what’s being hunted for. Then when I started looking, I’d just copy the URL and click over to the Word doc and paste. I could also make a note about what was found or not found. I could make a note about anything at anytime. It was really working!

Now I wouldn’t think of starting even the tiniest of research tasks without making a research log like this. Quite often I need to stop what I’m doing and don’t get back for a while and I can tell you that having these notes is crucial to resuming right where I left off. Plus, as I move through the project this provides a thorough overview. The fuller the notes, the better off I am later.

A little while ago, someone volunteered to help out on a project and asked where I’d searched. I was able to send her my research notes. That felt very good!

If you’re not now using a research log, this solution might work for you. It’s super easy to try. Once you do it for a short while, you’ll probably never work without one again.

civil%20war%20veterans%20circa%201912%20frostburg%20mdTake away:

1. When researching, even for the smallest item, use a research log.
2. The research log needs to fit your work flow and personal likes and dislikes, not the other way around. If you have to change too much about the way you work, you won’t use it.
3. Try your new research log for one or two sessions and then give it a look to see if it’s doing all that you need it to do. Then make it your own, add or subtract whatever works for you.
4. You’ll need the best research log possible in order to do the best work possible!

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