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Factsheet: Research Notebook

This factsheet describes procedures for the research notebook. Also refer to the HPSC 3004 syllabus.

HPSC3004 Moodle page (link).

The research notebook is optional. It does not contribute to your final course mark; however, it may be used when considering your mark for the dissertation, as described below.

what's required?

HPSC 3004 students are expected to maintain an up-to-date research notebook throughout the year as a record of research activities.

Submitting your research notebook is not normally required. However, a student may submit their research notebook in conjunction with their completed dissertation if they believe it provides evidence for more substantive effort on the project than is otherwise indicated in the dissertation alone. 

Examiners may take this supplemental information into account when considering the final dissertation mark, but this is not required.

what should a research notebook contain?

Cantu (2000) discusses this kind of writing within historical projects.

In general, notebooks should provide a record of the research process, serving both as an accumulative store of material and an archive of work undertaken. Five processes should be documented in your research notebook.

analysis of sources

Don’t simply take notes on the content of texts. Keep notes on your impressions and critical thinking while they are fresh.

  • identify the thesis, argument, and evidence at work
  • identify the origin of the material – who produced it, what perspective does it represent, what sources were used in their research, is it reliable
  • identify potential problems or omissions
  • draw connections with other material you’ve encountered – compare and contrast
  • identify materials suggested for further study – check the notes and bibliographies used
  • reflect on the meaning and value of the material – where might it fit into your developing project, what chapter will it be used in, where might it fit in the broader framework of your topic
  • record bibliographic information and the precise location (library, call number, etc.) so you can find it again quickly


While researching, your mind will buzz with ideas and possibilities. Record these for later use.

  • list new questions, conclusions, possibilities, and avenues for exploration
  • list materials you want to obtain and record how they might be linked
  • record details of people who have assisted you – e.g., archivists, interviewees, etc.
  • record data you have collected
  • record methods you have used to collect that data


You won’t be working alone. When discussing your work in supervisions and elsewhere, keep track of substantive points.

  • record strengths and weaknesses in work thus far
  • record suggestions for additional sources or avenues for investigation
  • in anticipation of supervisions, outline your agenda for discussion. What do you want to report, request, and discuss with your supervisor


Honest self- and project-assessment are crucial for improvement. Regularly appraise your project.

  • review accomplishments at different kinds of activity – did a particular source provide what you needed, are you finding the kinds of material you need, is your strategy working out, what needs to happen for you to progress?
  • assess your own thinking – how is the evidence aiding your argument; how are the source materials coming together
  • consider your methods as well as the accumulating content – what problems might be arising with your methodology


Start a word processor file containing full bibliographic details of everything you read as soon as you begin. This makes generating the final bibliography simple. It also makes referencing straightforward in your writing and will provide an easy reminder of what you’ve already consulted.


Cantu, D. Antonio. 2000. The role of journal writing in historical thinking. AHA Perspectives 38(6): 58-60. (link)

Page last modified on 29 aug 12 08:17 by Joe Cain

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