What, Exactly, Are "Research Notes"?



12 February 2014

Historical researchers create various types of "research notes." When we read monographs and articles that present interpretations of the past, our notes typically summarize the author's thoughts. Occasionally, we may copy, exactly, a critical passage or a pithy quotation—with quotation marks around it, always, right?

When studying original documents, we employ a much wider range of options. We may abstract (summarize) the document. That abstract might include occasional extracts—word for word copying, with quotation marks around the copied words. We might transcribe the document completely—making an exact copy, word for word, that preserves the original spellings, punctuation, etc. We may need to translate a foreign-language record—rendering it literally in our own language, word for word. Or we might reduce it to a translated abstract.

Some notetakers still follow the traditional practice of creating note cards, with one subject or one record per card. Some make notes or photocopies on full-sized sheets of paper that are then organized in file folders or binders. Many researchers today make images and notes digitally; their materials are never reduced to paper.

The manner in which we create research notes may depend upon the level of precision a source needs. It may depend upon the restrictions imposed by a repository. It often rests upon personal preference. If we are analytical researchers (as we should be, right?), our notes will also include many commentaries, evaluations, correlations, and suggestions for further work. Regardless of the format we use to record our findings, however, all represent our "research notes."