Reviewing the archival process

How to review the archival process

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2017) ‘How to review the archival process’, and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. As other ‘how to’ discussions have commented, it is important to have a review process built into each day’s work, a point in the working day of halting the process of accumulation, and engaging instead in reflection on what has been done to date. This needs to be carried out on a regular and frequent basis in a research trip, for memory is finite and soon the minutiae of the activities engaged will fade unless there is some permanent record which is brought up to date in an iterative way, amending records because of the accumulation of new knowledge.

2. The working day is a suitable time-frame for this, carrying it out towards the end of the day, but with sufficient time allowed to repair any gaps that may be detected. This daily review process involves re-reading entries about documents or other materials that have been encountered and earlier written in a word-processing file or database, and also any more schematic notes of an aide memoir kind made in a research notebook. It can be used not only to spot gaps, but also to note puzzles, absences, and questions to be followed up. However, its main purpose is to make use of the fact that over the course of a working day the researcher’s knowledge will have increased about the materials they are working on, and so this accumulation of knowledge can be used to review and amend earlier recordings.

3. Loose ends and puzzles can be frustrating or even annoying because they signify gaps in either the research materials or in the researcher’s investigation of them. They are also sometimes irritants of a kind that can stimulate the mind into a different and deeper kind of reflection than a concern with detail, in stimulating the beginnings of a more analytical consideration of the research activities engaged in. Because of this, it is important to record them no matter how briefly.

4. The research ‘stages’ sometimes referred to separately as data collection, analysis, and interpretation, are actually more closely intertwined than this, less stages and more a complexly unfolding process. Analytical ideas often come to mind when reviewing a day’s work on a set of documents, and interpretation in its beginning stages can occur in reflecting on or practically dealing with puzzles that have been identified through the detailed engagement with some research materials over the course of the day.

5. As a consequence, it is important that the reviewing activities involved are not just thought about, but there is also some record of them, so that the accumulation of knowledge can be identified and built on. Writing a couple of paragraphs reflecting on the day and its high and low points can help in this and is time well spent.

6. A daily review process is not the only aspect of reviewing that is helpfully built into an archival research process, of course. The same kinds of activities can be carried out on a weekly or monthly basis, and also in a more detailed way at the end of a research trip. Again, the underlying principle is that knowing is a matter of accumulation, of incrementally adding to the stock of knowledge that the researcher has, and so it is important to capitalise on this through the activities of reflection, re-considering, and recording this, that have been referred to here under the heading of reviewing.

7. There is a reviewing stage beyond this, in the sense of overviewing. There is a ‘how to’ on finishing a research project that discusses this.

Last updated: 27 May 2021