Organizing FilesI love the hunt.  I love finding the clues and chasing them down.  I love the thrill of finding the answer.  Research logs and report writing, on the other hand, are not so much fun, but an essential part of successful research.  You need the log to know the sources searched.  The report sums up your search.  Often, it’s in the writing of the report that the you find the answer your are seeking.  

I really don’t like the research log that looks like a table or a form you fill in with tiny places to enter in the date, repository, date, source citation, and findings.   This form may be adequate when you don’t find anything and can put a zero in the findings column, but some findings take several pages to record, too many to put in the little spot for it.

I know.  You might say, that spot is just for a code or reference number to lead you to the actual document.  True, but I still like to be able to see my notes all on the same page.

I am also not a big fan of making more work or doing something over that doesn’t need to be done over, especially when it comes to writing a research report.  I’m all about streamlining the process. 

For those of you who love the hunt but find the logs and report writing not so much fun, I have a solution. [I have lots of solutions, but they are not the only solutions. It’s just one that works for me.]

So, here’s my solution:

My “Research Log” becomes my “Research Report.” 

Before I go to a repository, I open a file on my laptop for that locality.  I start a new Word document that may look like a research log, but it’s not in a table with little boxes.  I record all the records I plan to search, with the date, the repository, and  as much of the source citation as I can determine without looking at the source.   I add the call number. 

When I get to the archives or library, I pull up my plan on my laptop and begin with the first entry.  When I find the source, I refine my source citation.  I check the index for any extended family, neighbors, friends, and search them as well.  While I am searching the source, I take my notes right there under the citation.    I can also include the condition of the record, if pages were missing, torn, or faded.  

If I want to capture the image, I either scan it onto my flash drive or shoot a digital photo with my camera.   In either case, I can record in my report the image number or name of the file to which it applies.  I don’t normally insert the digital images into the text of my report but I do reference the document number.  Back at the office, I add my sources to the images, then attach them at the end of the report.   Some people may provide the link to the image within the text, and that works.  I just don’t like to have the distraction of the image right in the report.

Sometimes along the way, I may stumble upon a document I hadn’t planned on searching that appears to be pertinent to my search.  Not to worry.  I can insert this source and the notes right in my report.

When I have examined and recorded all the sources I planned to search, I recheck the library’s catalog for any other sources I may have missed and, if needed, add them to my report.

At the end of the day, I can recap the findings and make suggestions for further research, review all my notes, run the spell checker, attach the images at the end, and the report is DONE.  No sweating for the next couple of hours to write the report. 

What do you do with research logs and how do you write your reports?