Notes from the field – Guest Blog

This guest blog post is brought to you  by Alli Coyle, PhD Student, African Studies & Events Administrator at IAD

Conducting research is arguably the most exciting part of any PhD, but it can also be the most stressful, no matter what the environment. I’m approaching the third year of my PhD in African Studies and having being in the field already, I am returning this summer for a further five months. My research “field” is Malawi and so finding a way to keep accurate and safe field-notes was a bit of a challenge.

Keeping up-to-date and thorough notes on research is really important, more so when your research relies so heavily on the quality of your notes. There is a somewhat romantic idea of writing up notes whilst in the field of – doing so in the evening, after a day of researching, of keeping them organised and knowing exactly where everything is. I say the idea is romantic, because in theory it is possible but in practice it never works for me.

I used to dread having to spend the evening writing up my field-notes, it wasn’t helped by the fact the sun had disappeared by 5.30pm, mosquitos were flying around and there were consistent comings and goings in the house. I kept trying though, writing up (or should I say typing-up) my notes in the evening and scribing the interviews from that day.  It wasn’t much fun and the thought of doing it every night for three months soon made start to think about other options.

What about Blogging? Well I have an “I’m in Africa” blog that I keep to update friends, family and colleagues whilst I am away. It’s a good way of letting them know what I’m up to, where I am and also of explaining the funny stories from that day or week. I decided to start a “Fieldwork” Blog which I’ve kept private (but both my supervisors can access).

So what are the benefits of blogging field-notes?

–           It can be accessed from any computer that has an internet connection

–           Supervisors can follow progress and leave comments

–           It’s easy to add photos, video, insert links

–           It’s already in dated order (so no trying to work out where I was on certain days)

–           It can be easily edited at a later date

These are just some of the benefits, I particularly like that I can access it from anywhere in the world and that my supervisors are able to check up on my progress (if they want to).  I also find it makes writing up sections much easier as I can look at my field-notes and my public blog and how they relate – I’ve even realised that I tend to write better in my field-notes when I’ve updated my public blog.

Everyone is different and blogging field-notes may not be appropriate for everyone, but if you already have a blog, then why not start one for field-notes.  It helped me keep my sanity and also solved my problem of linking up the photos with my notes.