But, journals are for girls! – A case for research journals

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researchjournal_klein(Photo by me – here they are, my research journals!)


What happened?

… maybe journals are mostly for girls, who knows. But they are also for researchers. Journals in general are pretty handy little things: they keep your thoughts safe, and when you look back, they might contain very valuable information. So, just as a diary that serves as a reminder of what one did on a particular day, a research journal does quite the same. However, they seem to be quite rarely used, at least by the people around me. This should change!

First of all, what is a research journal? As already said, it is a journal that very much works like a diary, just for academic work. In a research journal one notes down thoughts on the research process, like on the topic, hypotheses, literature, possible interpretations, you name it. A waste of time, I hear? No, not all.

What do I think about this?

So, why do I think that a research journal is the essential tool in academia? Let’s cover the obvious first:

* Keeping stuff in order – first of all, everything is kept in a journal, which implies some kind of a bound notebook. In my opinion, scattered loose-leaf collections do not count as research journals since they are rarely put away in a fashion in that one can access what’s written on them quickly. And for me, time is crucial when it comes to finding and using my notes. Apart from that, if everything is kept in one place – whether in a notebook or in a folder  – things do not tend to get lost as quickly as they would otherwise.

* Keeping thoughts safe – related to the first point, but not quite the same. While going through a few things of my first year as a PhD, I found many, many notes scribbled on journal articles, worksheets, to-do-lists and so on and so forth. Many notes which would be lost if I did not decide at that very moment to transfer the most valuable ones into a notebook. Some of these scribbled notes helped me a great deal, over a year later that I wrote them! So, keeping things in one place helps not to forget what might be valuable information in the future.

* A nice memory and encouragement – okay, probably just me being girly here, but I like to look at old stuff. Also, it helps me to pick myself up at times when I think I did not achieve anything in months – not true. It’s all in the journal. Some days were slower than others, but all in all, I did achieve at least something and got nearer to my goal. So, a research journal can also help to get motivated!


So, all in all, just keeping a research journal can help the research process a great deal, especially when one is working on a single project for years, like a PhD. But I also think that keeping such a journal is very valuable when writing a bachelor’s or master’s dissertation. Even though the time frame is considerably shorter, gathering ideas and literature can be quite daunting. So, noting thoughts can be of great help when trying to figure out a topic or just checking which books were already read.

My experience with keeping a research journal is great. So, get one, too!


Summer, hot weather… and writing journal articles

german_smallBitte hier für die deutsche Fassung klicken!

journalarticleKlein(Photo by me)

What happened?

What to do – it’s over 30 °C outside, and it has been that way for the past two weeks or so. Not the best weather for getting work done (I admit, I work best in winter, but then again, who doesn’t?), but alas, I attended a writing course – yes, yet another, but this time on writing journal articles. This course was part of the Leuphana University Lüneburg’s PhD student training, and was taught by Dr Isabell May.

What do I think about this?

As said quite a few times before, I appreciate these kind of courses a lot, and think that they’re very important in any PhD programme. Why? That’s easy – a lot in academia may work through ‘learning by doing’, but I think that focused efforts on helping young academics, such as PhD students, can prevent quite a few pitfalls and obstacles.

Just like this course. It was open to all PhD students of the university, natural and social scientists alike. This led to disciplinary strains at times because of differences in conventions, but all in all, the advice I got was very valuable. So, what did I learn? Here are what I would like to call the ‘three top tips’:

Know Your Journal: Don’t start writing your article before you know the journal you want to publish it in (or maybe two to three journals). What do the articles normally look like? What kind of stylistic elements do they use? How would your work fit in there? Do not start before you know all this because this will increase your chances to get accepted quite a bit.

Use The Hour Glass Model: Imagine an hour glass, with its broad top and bottom, and its slim middle. This is what a good journal article could look like. Start broad in the introduction by getting from a wide question to your specific topic. Then get slimmer and slimmer, going from the literature review to results, and then get broader again in the discussion and conclusions part. This structure focuses on your specific findings, but also leaves room for showing how these findings fit in the broader academic debate.

Structure Your Sections: Do not only structure article as a whole, but also the sub-sections. Whether it’s the methods section or the results section, if there is a lot going on, sub-headings can work wonders. The reader gets a quick overview of your work even when just skimming the paper, and this could be a definite plus in a world where people have a lot to read,.

These are only three tips out of many, many more, but I believe these are very valuable. Whoever is interested in learning more, here’s the website that accompanied the course: http://writingajournalarticle.wordpress.com. Quite a lot of things to read, but it’s definitely worth it when a journal article is coming up.


All in all, I learned a lot in this course. With these things, it’s more about becoming aware of things than anything else – what are the conventions in my discipline? How do other authors structure their articles? And, most important, what can I learn from this and apply to my own work? So, I would definitely recommend to any PhD student to look for a course like this.