It has been a long time since I wrote something about handling school work and such. I’ve been working on a couple of articles for some external parties and doing quite a lot of research and writing. The experience can be frustrating and tiring as I plow through loads of data, informative material and readings and then get lost in bits of thoughts here and there, never settling down to write. Such is research, you ask a few simple questions that you expect could be answered with a sentence or two but end up having loads of related answers and information that leads you to the fact that answers you’re looking for is way more complex. Then you realise you have got to put together evidence for each of your claims and explanations. People were asking me how I manage all that stuff, I told them that you’ve got to work out a plan somehow.
So in this article, I’d be discussing my method of planning writing and research. It’s by no means a definitive answer to managing your research or school projects but it might be an option you’d like to choose. I’m writing very generally about the kind of information research that leads to writing a paper/article; the sort that doesn’t require you to don on a lab coat and hold up test-tubes.
I recommend that before you start using Google, lay out some fundamental questions your paper/article would answer or specific information it will provide. It can be as general as an overview to a topic, or as specific as the number of petrol kiosk in a particular town. After listing them out, mark out the more specific questions and then hunt for the data first. These are usually the data sets you are going to use to introduce a particular claim or to support your theories. If there’s no such data available then you can find other proxy indicators or try and switch the type of evidence. It is important that you start off checking for the availability of the data you need or whatever you’re going to write would be groundless anyways.
After gathering the data you need, hunt for general articles on the topic that you are working on. These are the articles that refer to other more specific sources for information, or sites like Answers.com and Wikipedia. They serve as a directory for the topic and also to alert you or anything about the issue/topic that you might have overlooked. Often, these can also be blog entries that link up articles of related topic, much like the ones on ERPZ. When you’re clear you have a general idea of the topic and know briefly the issues involved, start planning your writing, listing the arguments, the progression of arguments and the sequence you present information to make your case. Often, some information you will need to provide are things you are not necessarily aware of, perhaps the revenue of a particular firm, the market share in an industry, or the response of a CEO to a recent affair. These are the stuff you didn’t initially set out to include but subsequently find rather significant.
Armed with the plan, start searching specifically for the information you need and formulate/sharpen your arguments according to these information. Unknowingly, you have actually slashed down the amount of content that you’ve read. By using general articles as signposts for your planning, you have drawn up the parameters of your research, something difficult when you’ve not read up anything or done any research. This explains the preliminary research into key and essential data you need as well as the general articles to get you started. The rest of your writing would build around these anchors that you’ve found in the beginning.
Then, follow through your plan as you write. This works for any volume of research, those that takes days to weeks and possibly months. For the ones where data sets have to be built from scratch either through ripping apart official statistics or carrying out your own surveys, the process would be placed between preliminary research and the ultimate planning. So happy searching and re-searching!