If you are already undertaking research then you ought to give serious consideration to having three notebooks. If you are thinking about undertaking research then we'd strongly encourage you to keep an account of your explorations. You will find, in time, it is all useful data for your research.

You may already have this well in hand. Great!

The idea of notebooks is not new. The use of three as we suggest is adapted from Bruno Latour1. It does not matter if you use physical notebooks or digital ones, or a mix. The most important thing is to use them. Notebooks are not a matter for assessment or evaluation, they are data! If you do them well, they will be a sound basis for all of the writing that you do along the way. They will help you with your writing.

It does not matter what medium you use. It's always a good idea to carry a notebook with you no matter where you are going or what you are doing. Your unconscious2 does not pay much attention to the external world as it works on the problems you have been mulling.

The first notebook is where you write down everything you can about your journey.

The second notebook is for recording information about all the stuff you collect.

The third notebook is for your ad libitum writing. Think of this as the place where you make notes about all the good but distracting ideas I had while I was doing my research degree.

Apart from providing you with a rich and valuable account of your journey, you might consider using software that helps you find patterns of associations in your notes. Steven Johnson writes about this in his book, Where Good ideas Come From3. There is a presentation he gave to Talks@Google about his book on YouTube.

The Thesis Whisperer4 has some excellent notes on fast note taking.

And one day when you are famous…. this may happen.

If you are curious about how I make and keep notes, I have made some notes about what I use and how I use it.

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