Research logs used to irritate me while researching. All I wanted to do was reach for the next book and continue my research. The last thing I felt like doing was writing down what exactly it was I just finished with, especially when there was no usable information. That irritation was nothing in comparison to the frustration I felt trying to sort out the information I had gathered when I hadn't kept a research log. I learned my lesson quickly. Getting in the habit of using a research log can save hours spent retracing sources, speed up documentation and help you quickly get back into dormant projects.
A research log can be anything from a notebook to a computerized spreadsheet to individual notes on a .PAF file. A research log can be notes taken while at a repository or from phone calls and mail or e-mail correspondence. Find what is most beneficial to you and stick with it. The content of the research log is what is important.
One of the main purposes of a research log is to keep track of your sources. Always write down everything you can about the resource. The obvious things to note are author, title, call number and publication date. You can also include page numbers, repository and whatever will help you find the source again. This information will make documentation much easier as well.
Another good thing to put in your research log is the purpose of your search. This will be valuable in the future as you may not remember why you looked at a particular source. Also, this can help you jump back into a project that has been untouched for a while by outlining the problem you were trying to solve. Be specific when noting your purpose.
Lastly, if you find information, write down what you find. Again, be specific as this can help in the event that copies, notes or other information are misplaced. Research logs may seem like a burden while researching but are truly helpful in organizing your information.