by Shamus Jarvis
As any scholar who has composed an extensive paper can attest, the research process plays an essential role in developing a thought-provoking and original piece of scholarship. Effective research methods include not only identifying appropriate sources, but also properly documenting those sources so that one can utilize the information gleaned from various books, journals, etc. when it comes time to write the paper.
A bibliographic research journal is one such method of documentation that is less formal than a complete annotated bibliography, but is nonetheless an exceptionally helpful tool to use when engaging in a project that will necessitate extensive research. Comprised of three essential elements—1) a proper citation, 2) a summary of the source, and 3) notable quotations—a bibliographic research journal allows one to record an author’s main thesis and identify other key ideas in an organized manner.
While you should format your own bibliographic research journal in a way that best suits your research needs, I will offer my personal format preferences as a guideline for what the journal might look like.
- The first piece of information included for each journal entry should be a properly formatted citation. Be sure to consult your professor as to which citation style he or she expects you to use (MLA, Chicago, APA, etc.).
- Next, create a summary of the source. What is the author’s principal thesis? Does he or she articulate any especially innovative ideas within the source? Be sure to include only summary information; do not comment on whether or not you agree with the author. This section should be roughly one paragraph long and only contain the author’s ideas.
- Thirdly, include quotations from the source. This is an appropriate section in which to jot down your initial reactions to a particular idea or the source as a whole. Do you mainly agree or disagree with the author? Does the source seem credible? Does the author reference any sources that you have already investigated? All of these are reasonable questions to ask yourself when examining a source.
If you anticipate analyzing a significant number of sources (e.g., fifty or more), it might be wise to include a slightly abbreviated summary section in order to save yourself some time. Again, a bibliographic research journal is entirely for your own benefit, and as you become a more proficient researcher, you will undoubtedly develop your own note-taking style that suits you well.
Shamus Jarvis is a senior theatre and English double major. He will direct a one-act play and present his postcolonial reading of Lord of the Flies later in the semester.