‘I Write Research Notes, But They Are Of No Value’. Don’t Think About Notes, Think About ‘Pieces Of Understanding’
Every researcher takes notes.
But what is inside of these notes? How complete are they? How do they make you feel? These are questions that we often don’t ask ourselves. Instead, we keep writing away until we feel anxious: “These notes are not good enough”.
We tend to think about notes as “pieces of truth”.
As we read the research literature or perform experiments, notes need to contain only the ultimate and complete truth. If that is not the case, we believe that these notes shouldn’t exist. The challenge is that we always need to read more, think more, experiment more in order to feel confident enough that what we are writing is actually “THE truth” (if such a thing exists).
The consequence is that our notes are rare and when it is time to talk about what we understand from our research field, we need to rely on our memory (and it WILL fail). Then, eventually, we believe we know nothing and start falling into a self-deprecating snowball of thoughts.
Time to stop that!
Time to think about notes as “pieces of understanding”.
As we capture our understanding as it is happening, our notes will start as poor and small seedlings. If the content of a note is still “not good enough” is because our understanding of the field is still developing. As we continue learning, we update the content of our notes to reflect our developed understanding of the topic.
The consequence is that our notes give a direct feedback of our understanding of a topic. The better the text, the more confident we feel about the knowledge in the note (whatever “better text” means to you).
And what happens when you are confident enough with your understanding? You publish.
So, want to extract real value from your notes? Think about them less as “pieces of truth” and more as “pieces of understand”.
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