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Ambiguity and legitimate peripheral participation in the creation of scientific documents

Kalpana Shankar (School of Informatics, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 16 January 2009




The purpose of this paper is to report on a qualitative study of data management and recordkeeping in the research sciences and their roles in information creation and professional identity formation.


The study uses ethnographic fieldwork data in an academic laboratory to examine documentation practices as a part of the trajectory of scientific professionalization. The article examines ethnographic fieldnotes and medical records as cognate areas that provide insight into the topic.


The paper argues that scientific recordkeeping is essential for learning to balance professional standards and personal knowledge, establishing comfort with ambiguity, and can be a process marked by ritual, anxiety, and affect. The article does this by discussing the creation of record from data, tacit knowledge as part of that process, and the process of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP).

Research limitations/implications

The qualitative nature of the study suggests the need for similar studies in other environments.


The article emphasizes recordkeeping as a part of documentation studies by taking an interdisciplinary, ethnographic approach that is still emergent in information studies. The article is written primarily for fellow researchers.



Shankar, K. (2009), "Ambiguity and legitimate peripheral participation in the creation of scientific documents", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 65 No. 1, pp. 151-165.



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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