There are many ways to keep a digital research journal other than blogging

At a talk I did earlier in the week, I was asked about my focus on using social media to work ideas out in public. This is something I find myself talking about a lot, not least of all because it has been such a consistently valuable experience for me. But as the questioner observed, this isn’t appropriate for everyone. For instance, many people do research that it would be unsuitable, imprudent or unethical to rehearse in this way. Furthermore, it might simply be an approach that some people are uncomfortable with and there’s nothing wrong with this.

The question made me wonder if I overemphasise blogging as a platform for ‘continuous publishing’. My underlying point is as much about the regularity of writing as it is about doing this writing in public. I came across a lovely post by Jon Rainford recently that captured this nicely. He talks about ‘part-time studying but full-time thinking’ as something he’s been able to do through the habitual use of Evernote:

Often it is in the midst of my day job, or during my drive to work that the things I have been struggling with suddenly make sense. This is also something that needs to be capitalised upon as often these thoughts go and fast as they come. For this, Evernote has been a life saver, acting as a multimedia notepad that is with me 24/7. Sometimes, I write a note by hand and capture it with my phone’s camera, sometimes I do the same with a document and other times I type direct into it. This mental scrapbook, however, is what I believe has been the key to moving forward in my thinking even when I’m not technically working on my PhD project.

The way Jon is using Evernote is directly equivalent to how I’m suggesting blogs can be used. The peculiar value of blogging comes, in my experience, from the pressure it engenders to fully elaborate upon an inchoate idea i.e. you have to develop a line of thought in order to ensure others can read the post. But there are downsides as well, which I perhaps don’t stress enough.

Tools like Evernote, as well as apps like Day One journal, offer really effective means through which it’s possible to keep a research notebook. The point is to write regularly, most of all when the inspiration strikes you. When you enjoy what C Wright Mills called ‘the feel of an idea’. Mobile computing makes this possible in a way that would have previously been difficult, allowing you to keep a file where ever you are. More over, it’s one that can so easily incorporate multimedia, allowing you to capture artefacts of the world around you as part of this process of systematic curiosity.

Options like Evernote might be best for those whose research topics are at all sensitive. But this doesn’t mean blogging isn’t something that should be considered. After all, it’s possible to be a blogger without having your own blog. Such established platforms for guest blogging are particularly valuable to those doing research on sensitive topics because their specialised editors will be able to offer advice on potential issues the topics raise and be able to discuss any anxieties the author has about them.