In January, I started a research degree in early medieval history and hopefully, by November this year, I will have submitted a 20 000 word thesis! Since I’ve been out of uni for several years now, it’s taken me some time to get my uni brain back and I’ve been learning how to improve my research process: (you can find out more about my project on my Memoirs of a History Blogger post from the beginning of April if you’re interested). This post is for anyone who is thinking about starting a research degree in history or for those who have already started. Here are five research tips for new history researchers from me to you. I hope they can help you too!
Tip 1: Journal
At the beginning of this year I bought a notebook. Its a bit bigger than A5, has a hard cover, is a bright royal blue and is full of lined paper. In it I’ve been recording book titles, what I’ve accomplished, and thoughts about my research.
It has already been incredibly helpful; if I was wandering through the library wanting to find a book I’d looked up online; I’d whip out my notebook and find the reference. It’s also useful to physically write your thoughts; for me my thoughts flow more freely with a pen than when staring at a blank screen. A blank notebook is less intimidating!
So this tip is to journal your progress daily or at least weekly. As you go through the research process you can look back at it for inspiration and to see your thought progress.
Tip 2: Ask Questions
Research degrees require regular meetings with your supervisor. These are a really great space for asking questions. Don’t be scared off by their qualifications; they can give you lots of tips, inspiration and knowledge about your research project and progress. So, ask lots of questions!
You can also take a moment to prepare for your meeting. Think about what you’re struggling with in your project, if you’d like book reccommendations, and what questions you have. I’ve been doing this – not every time I admit, but enough to know that it is useful!
Tip 3: Organise your Resources
History research involves lots of books and articles. I would have quickly found myself overwhelmed if I didn’t attempt to organise the bibliographic information from the start.
So I have two tips for this. The first is to create a table of resources that you are using as you go. I started mine in Excel but I’m planning on redoing it soon: I need to organise the books and articles into topics. I used Excel because I haven’t used programs like End Note before and just needed to get started recording information. If your list is easily accessible when you’re wandering around a library that’s even better.
Second; start your bibliography list straight away. Decide on your referencing style straight up and include all those details for each of your resources. This makes it so much simpler later; you can copy and paste references straight in to your thesis or other essays.
Tip 4: Set up Your Desk
When I did my Honours year in undergrad I wrote a research based thesis with just my laptop. Now, I don’t know how I did it. But there were less resources available online back then so that may have been a success factor!
This time round I have both my laptop and another monitor. I can now have a journal article or chapter open on my monitor while I type up notes displayed on my laptop screen. So much easier! If you are able to; use two monitors. It makes all the difference.
Tip 5: Frequently Check Online Portals
Keep on top of information! i.e. Check your online class portals often so you don’t miss important information or events just because you didn’t get the notification email. Yes, unfortunately I am speaking from experience. I’ve been out of the uni game too long it seems.
Okay, so there are my first 5 research tips for the year! I’ve been following these tips for the last four months and working it out as I go. They’ve been really useful for me, and I hope they might help you too. Please comment below with your best research tips for new history researchers!