Monday, July 16, 2007

The Virtues of a Research Journal and Tricking Your Brain

I've started to find that keeping a research journal has helped me articulate some thoughts when it comes to my project. It also helps me to keep track of my thoughts, the source of those thoughts and also the stream of consciousness that has led up to the thoughts. I can even say that, to some effect, keeping a research journal works as a way for me to map through my thoughts and the path of my topic.

Sure, I have yet to go back and take another look at this map that I've made. And yes, I'm still kind of lost on the matter of philosophical freedom, even though I decided somewhat on saying screw it to that part and moving forward. Like many people have told me in the past, the project doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough to get me a bachelor's degree, for Pete's sake. Someday, though, I have the feeling that I may think something like, "Huh. . .didn't I write down something about freedom? Philosophical freedom, at that? When did I say it, and why?" I can just go flipping through the journal to get some kind of idea what I was thinking and where I wanted to go with the idea.

The research journal, though, works as a great way to simply explore thoughts. They seem to go in the oddest directions, sometimes even taking spiraling or twisty-turny routes up and down some kind of metaphorical mountain. They can oftentimes come about while working on something marginally topical to the project.

One of my biggest breakthroughs came through a little more than a year ago, just before moving to Chicago, when the wife and I were seeing a couple's counselor for general maintenance and stress issues that usually come with preparing for a big change like a move. The topic of me getting my bachelor's degree and finishing the project came up a lot and almost became a central part of a session or two. After a bit of that, I had decided to work on a writer to my project sponsor's about possibly dropping the whole thing or changing its direction.

While writing a draft of the letter, though, I felt that I needed create a foundation and basis for the argument I would make. So, in a way, it felt like I was distracting my brain and making the whole project more personal by trying to come up with a direction for it that felt closer to my intentions and when I originally came up with the idea as a teenager/young adult. By the end of that night, I had the protean idea that I used to eventually finish a paper that I had been working on for more than a year!

Lesson of this story: taking another tact and approach to a related problem can help work on a solution. Sometimes we just need to fool our brains to come up with a better, innovative idea for a problem.

I'm not sure if I've really started tricking my brain while working with my research journal, but it's nice to have it available away from home and my project materials. There's plenty of scrap paper at work, but I generally just throw it aside when I get home and forget about it. Nothing comes of it.

Google Docs really helps with this part. As long as a computer has an Internet connection, I can pretty much hook into my docs there. In addition, I can give friends who have some pretty good opinions access to it. Instead of sending e-mails to all these different people, saying the same thing, sending an e-mail to one particular person then having to search for that e-mail later or dealing with the problem of flooding people with tons of e-mails (you know who you are!), if I had a great idea, I can put it in the journal, then they can just take a look at it during their own time. No one has seriously done so. Having the journal in a "central" place where I can retrieve anytime that I like really makes for the most beneficial aspect of this research journal thing on Google Docs, though.

Well, anyway. . .as you can probably tell, I'm pretty inarticulate at the moment. This idea has just popped into my head recently, and I've wanted to ruminate about it for awhile. I'm also working on the fumes from writing about an hour. I really hope that I get my articulate edge back soon. Just babbling gets a little boring and annoying after awhile.

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